NCL Coach Question: How Do You Group Teams?


Recently, the National Cyber League received the following inquiry about how to best group teams:

“I currently have 45(ish) students registered and was wondering if you had any recommendations for grouping them for the post-season. I was hoping to know what brackets they were in so I could put similar skillets together.”

Having been a player, team captain, coach, and now the Chief Player Ambassador for the National Cyber League, I have tried things a few different ways and I’ve spoken with people who have tried other ways. In the end, I feel most educators have one of two goals. Winning or Growth.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying you will only get one or the other. What I do believe is that it’s important to know which one is your priority. I will start with Winning priority as it’s more simple to explain.

Note: You currently do not have to register for team until after Pre-Season.

Winning Priority

Let me start by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with having one high ranking team as your goal. I’ve done it when I was a team captain and we were one position shy of the leaderboard (11th in Silver). This strategy is accomplished by ranking the students by their regular season scores and breaking off the teams by the top 5 scores in team one, the next 5 scores in team two, etc. What this strategy does well is that it pairs more advanced students with each other and pairs more novice players with each other so that everyone is competing with someone of similar skill level to them. It’s sort of the idea around the bracketing system in NCL.

That being said, I find this limits the growth of the majority and discourages anyone that is not in the top few teams.

Growth Priority

If overall growth is the metric by which you define your success, then I recommend an alternative strategy. Take your top x players (where x is the total number of students divided by five). These will serve as your team captains. Think of these as your Gold players (regardless of actual bracket rank).

Next, divide the remaining players into two levels. For ease of analogy, your Silver and Bronze players. Do this before you even start to make teams.

Once you have your Captains, decide which skill each captain excels in. This may have overlap and that’s 100% fine. For example, I’ve had two captains to excel in password cracking. To determine this, you may have to talk to your captains and get to know what they really excel in and what was lucky guessing for some last minute points.

Then take one student from your Silver group and one player from your Bronze group that struggle in that subject area. They will be paired with the Captain who excels in it. Now you have teams of 3.

Finally, use the leftover Silver and Bronze players to fill in (one from each group).

Your team should end up with one advanced player, two middle-level players, and 2 novice-level players. Your Captains’ jobs will be to help everyone make sure they understand and agree to each answer BEFORE any answers are submitted. No one is allowed to approach a challenge alone.

See my upcoming blog about “How to Go from Solo to Team in NCL” for more details on how to function in these teams.

The benefit of this methodology is that your top players reinforce their skill by teaching, your novice players get one on one help from more experienced players, and they all learn teamwork and grow in the field as a collaborator. The downfall of this methodology is that it doesn’t promise high ranks. It promises a great learning experience.

In the end, both methods are effective in accomplishing their goals. It all comes down to what is important to you as a coach. Hope this helps!

Happy Hacking!

2 thoughts on “NCL Coach Question: How Do You Group Teams?

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