How to Run Your Team as a Student Coach

In my time as a student coach for the Pace University National Cyber League (NCL) team, it was my responsibility to organize the team and plan the training content and schedule. As a busy student, this can seem like a wildly overwhelming task, but that’s why I’m here.

Step 1 – Rally the Troops

At the start of the semester, start putting out the feelers to see who wants to be part of the team for the season. I always started by reaching out to everyone who participated during the previous semester. Most of the time I would just ask in-person, that way if they said no or maybe I could nudge a little to convince them, but this was during the before COVID times, so you may just need to send some texts and emails. As for recruiting new players, I would make an announcement every week leading up to the end of registration during our Tech Collective club meetings, although I was the secretary of the club so I had the authority to make those announcements. If you’re not in the position to just make announcements whenever you want, ask whoever leads the club meetings if they can announce it, or if you can make a quick announcement.

Another way to find some new players is to reach out to some of your favorite professors and ask them to tell their classes. If they’re not completely familiar with NCL, give them some information to show them the importance of NCL and then they’ll also have information to give to their students. Some students may be more inclined to join the team if they hear that professors support participating in NCL outside of the classroom.

My final step for player recruitment was to have the computer science school post the finalized schedule on their Instagram page. I would create a graphic with the dates and times of the practice schedule and would include my email at the bottom for people to reach out with questions, and then ask for it to be posted. This was a pretty easy task for me because I worked as a student assistant for the computer science school and my boss was one of the people who had control of the account. My guess is that this will not be the case for 99% of people, so you’ll probably have to put a little more effort in if you plan to utilize social media. My first recommendation here, if you don’t know who runs the social media pages, is to talk with some of the administrators of your school to figure out who runs the page and then talk to them about posting the schedule. If you can’t figure out who runs the account, then you can just send a direct message to the account and ask them to post.

Step 2 – Set the Practice Schedule

Once you have a general idea of who is going to be on your team for the season, start figuring out the days and times for practice. I would generally come up with the schedule based off of my schedule and the schedules of the students who were on the team during the previous semester and were planning on participating for the current semester because I needed to come up with a schedule before practices started.

In order to do this I asked everyone who I knew would definitely be on the team to send me a copy of their class schedules, and if they could, their work schedules. I then did my best to coordinate a schedule that would work for everyone. We always had two practices per week to make sure everyone would be able to attend at least one session and each session was two hours long. We found this to be a super effective way to make sure no one was discouraged from participating because they couldn’t make it to practice. You don’t have to create your practice schedule this way if it doesn’t work for you or your team, just do whatever work best for you.

Be sure when scheduling your practices that you have a location set. For my team, this meant practicing in the student lounge, where we had a large white board and TV that we could HDMI into for teaching purposes, and we all used our own laptops. For you, this might mean talking with your team advisor or an administrator about booking a classroom or computer lab to use for practice. If you’re doing remote practices, I recommend setting up a Slack and/or Discord channel for you practices. Discord does have audio/video and screen sharing capabilities, which my team found super helpful during the Team Games.

Step 3 – Plan the Training Content

For my first season, I was fortunate enough to have Kait passing the baton to me so she helped me come up with a great schedule, which we have made available here. The basic gist of this schedule is based on the two practice sessions a week method. For each session, we would recap the category of the previous session and then teach a new category. If you aren’t able to use the two session per week method, I still recommend using the sample schedule as an outline. You can also adjust to teach several categories during one session if that works better for you. This schedule does leave out some categories that we either didn’t have time for, or didn’t know enough to be able to teach. I definitely adjusted the training content a bit for my second season as the coach because I used my team as a resource and had more skilled players teach the categories that I couldn’t.

One thing that has changed since my time coaching is that the Gym now opens up a lot sooner in the season than it did before. It used to be that the Gym would open up about a week before Preseason which made teaching a little bit of a struggle, but after hearing feedback from a lot of teams and coaches, Cyber Skyline and NCL decided to open the Gym a lot earlier in the season. For practices that happened before the Gym was opened, we would keep a small repository of challenges from previous seasons to be able to practice. We do not recommend doing this though, as you cannot post these anywhere that is available to the public and you will need to make sure it is password protected so that only current members of the team can access them. The only reason we did this was because we did not have as many resources for our team as are available now, there were not as many training blogs and challenges available here on the CryptoKait blog as you see today, there were no big CrowdCast sessions that we were able to tune into, and we only had two practice sessions to use the Gym. I think you see where I’m going with this and that is, again, do not create your own repository of old challenges. In my time since becoming a Player Ambassador, we’ve seen a lot of teams get into trouble with having their own repositories, and it’s usually students using the repositories during the Games to cheat. It’s really not worth it when you consider the amount of resources there are available now, especially in the time and effort that it takes to upkeep something like that.

Step 4 – Checking In With Your Team

For me, communication with my team inside and outside of practice was critical. The more I communicated with my team, the more engaged and excited they were to participate. If you notice someone has stopped coming to practice, reach out to them to see what’s going on, sometimes they’ve decided that they’re just too busy to play that season. Other times it’s that they want to play and they’re still planning on playing in the NCL Games that season, but the training sessions don’t work out in their schedules.

At one point, I had a lot of people that just weren’t able to fit the training sessions into their schedules, so I decided that I would send out recap emails to the whole team every weekend about the categories that were taught that week. It was somewhat of a mini lesson within the email and I would link to any online resources that I has used during practice and tell them to reach out to me if they had any questions. There were even times where I would video chat with players on the weekend if they weren’t able to make it to practice, but were struggling with a category. These sessions were definitely not something that I planned, but if a student wasn’t able to come to practice and they asked if I had any free time to go over it with them, I would try to make it work. These two things are definitely something that you do not have to do, and are definitely a bit over the top. If you’re too busy outside of practice with classes, homework, studying, or work to do these things, don’t push yourself to a breaking point to try to get it done; in fact, there were some weekends where I just didn’t have time to send email recaps, so I didn’t. Also, be sure you’re never sending any type of practice recap emails during the Games.

Speaking of communication during the Games, there generally shouldn’t be any, unless it’s during the Team Game, of course. I would send the entire team an email the day before before an active Game started to remind them of the days and times the Game was happening. The only time I emailed players during the Games was to remind them to play, and I would specifically only email players whose names were not on the team leaderboard yet. During Preseason, this meant sending an email halfway through, and then another one during the final weekend of Preseason if there were still students who hadn’t participated yet. During Individual, I would send the email in the late afternoon/early evening on the Saturday of the Game. I gave my players pretty much zero chance to use the excuse “I forgot the Games were this week/weekend.”

Well, these are my tips for running your team as a student coach. If you have any other tips, be sure to leave them in the comments below!

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