As we have moved on into preparing for the 2019 Decathlon season, the transition has allowed me to really understand our own internal failures for the 91.8 points that we failed to capture. The silver lining for the future of our program is that by internally analyzing what we did poorly, rather than simply blaming others for our failures (see previous post), Dulles can hopefully come out of this stronger. It just hurts to see a good group of seniors go without hitting our stated goal from the get go. Before I do that, just a few points I want to get out there, both Dulles-based, Texas-based, and curriculum stuff:
- It certainly seems that the success we have had has started to pay off internally- we have the most students ever in all three categories, and while we will likely lose some of those during the summer, we should still end up somewhere between 30-35 students competing at the Katy meet in October. We did our usual literature testing, but with a short book that took only 8 days. We then tried to transition to economics, but with so many kids not in the class and facing down an avalanche of work and AP prep, we backed off of that to only those currently in the class. They seem to know micro incredibly well now, hopefully allowing us to build on that in the future.
- The curriculum for next year seems like it will satisfy those of us in the community who would like a tougher set of tests and materials. The page length really does determine a lot of the score potential, and it feels that next year could be anywhere from 700-900 pages which is exciting. Talking to Sam a few days ago, he was very proud of his great score but felt that the amount of 9k students this year diminished his feeling of accomplishment. I agree with this- lots of great decathletes got lost in the absurd amount of 9k scores this year. At Texas state, there were nearly 20 kids who broke 9k- insane. Hopefully we can get back to a point where scores can be properly analyzed in a historical context.
- Based on my early analysis, this year in Texas is undoubtedly the highest scoring ever, and shows that the teams at the top are some of the weakest historically in Texas history. I don’t believe this to be true, but with so many teams scoring so high, it makes the top level scores less impressive. It may be true, and the teams this year may not have been as strong, but to me it feels that Texas schools have stepped up their game. I especially noticed a great group in the scholastics this year. Last year the scholastics were Highland Park, then Dulles, then everyone else. This year, there were tons of amazing scholastics throughout Texas, and it showed with three 9k kids and a whole bunch just outside. However, this directs me to the varsity category where no one was near the level of the scholastics and honors, which leads me to think this was a bad year for varsities as a whole. There were very few above 8k, and only one above 8.5. Comparing Texas to California, it seems clear that is still the weak spot of Texas. I also believe varsities are where coaching comes in handy more than other categories or subjects. So, are the teams historically weak at the top? I don’t think so, I just think an easy set of tests and some high subjectives at large boosted a lot of teams.
- Quick coaching point I wanted to hammer home in case some coaches or students don’t know this- coaches should not teach the material to the students. Decathlon is too dense to be taught, and is mostly a social studies type of program in terms of what you’re reading- it needs to be memorized by the students individually. The coaches main job is to facilitate learning systems and create an environment that kids want to be in. The only exception to this in my eyes is economics- it’s a mature subject that requires the understanding of systems that lead to other systems; but it cannot be taught in place of learning, only taught in parallel with learning. Math is not something to be taught to them- if people are bad at math, they are bad at math because they haven’t respond to teaching already in their education career. Teaching them again isn’t going to make it click- they need to practice, practice, and practice some more. Even group teaching doesn’t seem effective- it just leads to those who do know math reinforcing their knowledge.
- Another one since I’m here- group studying is ineffective, but studying together is effective. Having the kids together in a room studying independently is good- having them study it together and immediately talk about it is not. They need to be isolated but in an environment that encourages studying. On my team at Pearland we called it study energy- if others are working hard, it encourages you to work hard too. I also think them studying the same thing can be useful over the long term. However, having them studying the same thing in the same space where they are at the same table or desks, and then having them discuss the material, is not necessarily effective. It’s the same thing with math- those who know the thing will reinforce their knowledge, but those who do not are simply being taught stuff they are very likely to forget. Create a place with good “study energy”, but don’t make them study together. To latch on to this, kids presenting info to other kids is an awful idea. Do not have your kids be responsible for a section of something, ignore everything else, and then have them present it to the others. This leads to two serious problems- first is that they only know one section really well, and second is that the other groups won’t get enough info out of the presentation. So you will have no one left who has a full grasp on thee problem.
Anyways, enough with the quick hits, let’s get into the post-mortem
What Went Wrong
Let me start this with praising Lubbock- their test scores went through the roof at state. While we still beat them in testing, they turned a 2k or so point gap to around 600 or so and then beat us with superior subjectives. They did the things we didn’t.
To understand why I believe we failed, I need to go back to 2017. That year, Dulles had a strong group of kids who were self-drivers and could push themselves without a lot of outside nudging. So, when the last month before state came around, I gave them full independence- study what you know you need to study. It paid off as we were able to break our deadlock with Taylor to squeeze out a large school title.
I thought I had the same type of students this year, and did the same thing- study what you need, because you know better than I what you are the worst out. Our team this year had a lot of self-motivated people, but there were also pockets where the team as a whole did not push themselves. I knew this and recognized it but did not change up our system- it worked the year before after all. What I should have recognized that what made us good was a system of internal competition, and I had removed that because we were running out of time- losing three weeks to a hurricane and a freeze put us behind the ball, and I was desperate to push them. We had a lead at regionals, but looking at the numbers the reason we had a lead was Lubbock seemed to be doing it the right way- they focused on each subject in great detail to make sure they were good to go. We took a shotgun approached and in the end we missed.
Another issue with this is that we had glaring weaknesses in terms of individual subjects, which we did not have in 2017. Now, my belief was that the kids knew what their weaknesses were and would cover them. What I should have thought was “hey, these have been weaknesses all year and we haven’t solved them. I need to step in and guarantee that we will be good in those subjects.” Music was a bad subject for us all year- it wasn’t just one person who was bad at it, it was most of the team. So instead of taking two weeks to quiz on it, I just told them to read it without forcing them to with the idea of competition. Did they read it was well as they should have? No. We were still 300 points behind Lubbock and Highland in music. Is it their fault? No. I changed the game on them and they didn’t respond. It’s on me more than it is on them. That doesn’t mean they’re blameless- they didn’t work as hard as they should have. But I didn’t give them the ability to do so.
We were very cocky going into state. We looked at the numbers post-regionals, and thought we had it in the bag- our subjectives will go up, we’ll keep our objective gap, and we’ll win. I think that cockiness was a major killer and allowed them to mentally hold up. That was on me more than anyone- all February my message was “as long as we do what we’ve been doing we’ve got this”. Lubbock turned it up to 11, we kept it at 10. That was worth about 91.8 points or so.
Another thing I felt we ended up doing is becoming the kings of short-term memory. The reason I believe this is the wild swings we would have from one meet to another- one meet we’d have 900s in lit or art, the next we’d have 800s. Instead of creating a base of knowledge in each subject, it seemed that we had to basically relearn each subject every time we picked it back up. We had tried to prevent this with some mechanics in the class, but that was thrown out the window after Hurricane Harvey. It felt that we didn’t use our recall memory enough to prevent knowledge loss, which meant we had to work incredibly hard just to keep our scores at relatively the same score. But when that meant we lost a question here or there, that was worth about 91.8 points.
The beauty in such a close loss is our ability to look back on the failure with clear eyes and try to understand what we did wrong, and how we can change it. I hope that several changes we are making this year will prevent failure from happening again. By keeping to what made us good, adjusting to different kids, and not looking ahead, I hope we can finally achieve what we’ve hoped for for four years.