ASO Coaches Handbook

These hints are derived from materials prepared by Mary Wilde, Charles Bopp and Tom Wellnitz as well as numerous conversations with other coaches. Have more suggestions for fellow coaches? Visit our Contacts page to email us.

About the Alabama Science Olympiad Inc.

  • AlSO is part of the national SO academic program based upon the successful athletic model of teamwork, practice, competition and recognition.
  • The program is under the operational leadership of the State Director - Jane Nall.
  • Until a regional tournament site is determined, direct all your questions to the State Director via our Contacts page.
  • All Alabama B & C regional and state tournament sites are expected to run all 23 official events, are encouraged to run trial events as well, and may be asked to pilot a new event under construction.
  • All B & C tournaments are held on college or university campuses and most events are supervised by faculty.
  • The official National SO web page address is


  • The completed registration form and appropriate fees are sent to the State Director.
  • Late fees must be included when registration forms will be received by the State Director between November 1 and December 15.
  • No team registrations (B & C divisions) are accepted after December 15.
  • Your registration will be acknowledged and directions to access the online event materials will be made available (when posted by the national office).
  • Register as early as possible to have more time to practice.

Working with your School Administration

  • Advise the appropriate persons that you will need transportation to a regional and possibly the State tournament so they can budget and plan.
  • Advise them you will need several hundred dollars for supplies.
  • Advise them that many schools provide a stipend or coaches supplement for coaching SO.
  • You might seek Eisenhower funding to attend workshops or purchase materials.
  • Make sure that the school mail sorters know to get Science Olympiad info to you ASAP.

Organizing Help from Teachers, Parents, and Others

  • With the exception of some high schools where students virtually run the team, you will benefit a great deal with help from others, especially your fellow teachers although there are many 'coach only' teams.
  • Not all event coaches require a science background (e.g.: Road Scholar-social science, What Are You Trying to Tell Me-math, Write It/Do It-anyone , etc).
  • Many teams have one or more assistant coaches.
  • Recruit older students (like HS) to train younger students (MS and ES).
  • Parents can free-up coaches by helping in coaching events (especially Division B), team travel (for training or competition), logistics (including coordinating other volunteers), and fund raising (try local utility companies and service organizations such as Rotary, Optimists, etc. as well as PTA.
  • The team members should spend their time training, not fund raising.
  • Place articles in local papers asking the community for help.
  • BE SURE TO THANK ALL CONTRIBUTORS (and volunteers) IN WRITING. Students can help with this.
  • Local colleges and universities will usually help students in specific disciplines (e.g.: a geology dept helps in rocks, fossils and minerals).
  • Never lose sight that SO is a team effort for coaches as well as students.
  • Consider local retirees, especially scientists and engineers.
  • Look to local nurses and physicians for health related events.
  • Have a SO display and/or demonstration at a PTA meeting to generate interest and support.
  • Recruit a volunteer hobby videographer to develop a video of your team's road to the Science Olympiad.

Selecting the Team

  • Advertise the possibility of being on the SO team by using bulletin boards, daily announcements, school newspaper, etc. beginning several weeks prior to the organizational meeting.
  • Have science teachers do SO demonstrations in their classes.
  • At that first meeting, describe or demonstrate some events to build student (and parent) interest and introduce the coaches.
  • In some small schools or most first year schools you may need to take all comers in order to reach the limit of 15 students.
  • Ask prospective team members to indicate, in priority order, which five or so events they would be most interested in to keep event staffing uniform.
  • While ability is valuable, a student's commitment to come to practice and competitions is equally desirable.
  • A mix of students is good, include some quick thinkers.
  • It is okay to start small (fewer than 15 students) but, eventually, it is good to have 3 to 5 alternates in addition to a full team.
  • Consider your school's transportation requirements as you select the number on the team and who will go to the tournament.
  • Consider two teams if you have at least 25 students. Usually a team of 12 can do all the events.

Coaching Materials

  • Try to attend training workshops led by experienced coaches.
  • Obtain test packets and other publications advertised in the Coaches Manual.

Training the Team

  • Training regimens vary from school to school, but might involve before-school, after-school, during club periods and/or week-ends.
  • It is best to train at school, but small groups will often work on specific events at their homes as this helps involve parents.
  • The training schedule is somewhat determined by the number of helpers.
  • Organize events into each discipline (biology, chemistry, earth sciences), process skills (nature quest, write it-do it, etc.) and building (trajectory, mission possible, etc) and have each group arrange their own training schedule.
  • The students must learn to work as a member of a team and to be cross- trained in other than their prime events and flexible enough to work with anyone as a partner.
  • Students should keep notebooks for all "academic/knowledge" events for handouts, etc. - this gives them an organized method to study independently.
  • For many events, quick recall is important so if reference materials are allowed, organize them to be used quickly.
  • For device building events, encourage divergent and numerous efforts.
  • Try to keep the training as much fun as possible (music, snacks, etc.).
  • Set goals like "everyone getting a medal or ribbon" or "qualifying for the State Tournament".
  • Plan activities to bring the entire team together periodically like field trips, pizza parties, swim parties, etc.
  • BE FLEXIBLE - if you want a well-rounded team you will need to work around their other activities let them help you set training schedules - don't set arbitrary times and expect them to be there.

Regional Tournament Prelude

  • Keep in mind that your first tournament is part of the learning process.
  • You may not want to compete in every event, especially if you have a small team, but you are encouraged to participate in as many events as possible to learn for 'next year'.
  • The dates of the tournaments and sites are on the Alabama web page.
  • All communication will be with your regional tournament director once you have completed registration and paid membership fees.
  • The regional tournament director will ask what events you plan to compete in. Your prompt response allows them to develop their competition schedule.
  • The regional tournament director will then send a (tentative) schedule, campus map, parking information, etc. Respond quickly with any questions, since coaches often can point out problems.
  • If your site has a coaches meeting (usually several weeks before the tournament), then make it a point to attend!
  • If there is no coaches meeting, try to visit the site in advance anyway-since competition day may not be the time to find buildings and rooms.
  • Prepare a master schedule for your school - who is where and when, and put a map on the reverse side. Each student should have a copy and it would be good to brief him or her before arriving at the tournament.
  • Organize materials for each event in bags so the required materials (pencils, goggles, etc.) are ready to take on tournament day.

Regional Tournament Day

  • Don't forget that the most important task is to get the students and their equipment to the correct room and on time.
  • Arrive at the tournament in ample time to register, learn of any changes, impound devices, etc. - Teams that arrive late have a hard time "catching-up" and waste their valuable training.
  • There may be sign up events at registration, so the sooner you get there the more likely you will find a time slot advantageous to your team. If you have organized events by time slots and by available students you can quickly complete the sign up and/or make changes to your team schedule.
  • Assign students to impound devices so they will know where those events are held and may learn something about how the event is being run.
  • Many devices are fragile and do not travel well so consider having them ride in a parent's vehicle where they are less vulnerable to student damage.
  • The most stressful part of the day may be the first hour as the coach checks in and signs up for events, locates rooms, unloads equipment, gets devices impounded, sets up base camp, etc. The more that can be done in advance, the easier the day. Adult assistants can be especially helpful then.
  • You will want to set-up a 'base camp' where team members can come between events and where messages can be exchanged. Bring paper and markers, try to keep someone on duty at all times, perhaps with snacks. Also, have extra pencils.
  • Publish competition date(s) early and get commitments from parents and students.
  • Expect some of your team to be no-shows (illness, etc.) and be prepared to juggle the remaining students to cover the schedule (having some alternates is valuable).
  • Expect some events to start and/or run late and have replacement students in mind if the desired student is not available when an event starts.
  • Students do not need to be team members to compete in trial events (where medals and ribbons are awarded but no credit given toward the team score).
  • Students in device events don't have to be the device builders, but the medals and ribbons generally go to the builders. Students doing the event must know the device and rules of events.
  • Whether prepared or not, try to be in every event to get a participation point and learn for "next year."
  • Try to debrief students when they come out of an event or as soon thereafter to see what they can remember about it. A form can help accomplish this.
  • Your team should be prepared for events that may not run exactly according to the rules in the Coaches Manual and do the best they can under the circumstances.
  • Encourage students to thank event supervisors who are volunteering their time.
  • At the end of the day, often an hour or so after the last event, an awards ceremony is held to award medals and ribbons to individuals in each event and trophies to the top three teams so going away empty-handed is unlikely.
  • Some coaches collect all medals and certificates and award them at an in-school awards ceremony.
  • If staying for the awards ceremony, develop a plan to entertain the team for the last two to three hours when fewer events are scheduled.
  • Scoring for team awards is typically 1 point for every first place, 2 points for second, etc. Therefore, the lowest point total wins. Teams not able to finish the event will receive one point more that the number of teams competing (n+1), teams not participating in ay event receive n+2 points, and any team disqualified in an event will receive n+3 points.
  • At each regional, the top three teams or approximately 20% of the number of teams registered by November 1st are invited to compete at the state tournament.
  • If you cannot accept your invitation to State, please decline promptly so that another team can be invited in your place.
  • Thank the tournament director for his or her efforts.

State Tournament

  • All of the regional tournament suggestions apply for the State Tournament.
  • Many first year teams have made it to the State Tournament.
  • You will notice more people (teams are more likely to be full strength).
  • You will notice tighter scheduling (all teams enter every event).
  • The top one or two teams in each division are invited to the National Tournament (the national office determines the number of invitations based upon the size of our program compared to other states).

Science Olympiad Code of Conduct

Review and print the Science Olympiad Code of Conduct and Pledge.

Team Coach Requirements

Requirements for coaches of any ASO team.

Varsity and Junior Varsity Teams

The Alabama Science Olympiad's state policy on schools with multiple teams and state tournament qualification.

Special Participants

The ASO policy on 9th graders in division B or C and requirements for home school students who wish to compete in Alabama Science Olympiad regional and state tournaments.

Alabama Events

Notes on tournament events selected for Alabama B and C regional and state tournaments.

Sample Tournament Schedule

Look over a sample regional tournament schedule.