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A simple, step-by-step guide for starting an Odyssey of the Mind membership and/or team in Illinois.



The *best* way to learn how to do Odyssey of the Mind is to just do it!  First year teams learn so much along their journey and return their second year stronger, smarter, wiser, and ready to take on the world!  However, we want to make the process of joining as *easy* as possible.  Please read the step-by-step instructions below so that you can bring the Odyssey of the Mind program to your school, community group, and/or city today!



Step #1
Step #2
Step #3

Become a member.


A "membership" entitles a school, community group, or public entity (e.g., a community library) to participate in the Odyssey of the Mind program for the current academic year  (August 1 - June 1).  Membership types vary (e.g., school, library, community organization, homeschool), but the price does not: Odyssey of the Mind has kept its membership $135 so that kids everywhere can benefit from the program!  Membership includes all the Long-Term problems for the current year, as well as practice Spontaneous problems, and other resources.  Be sure to check and see if your school, school district, or local library already has a membership.  If they do, you can most likely compete under their membership; if not, you simply need to purchase *one* membership. Information on memberships and purchasing information can be found here:



Rally your troops.


Odyssey of the Mind allows *many* students to participate under one membership.  Each team typically consists of 5-7 students, and  one membership permits a group to enter a team in each of the five Long-Term Problems in each age division (grade school, middle  school, high school, university) covered by membership.  This means a K-12 school could have 105 students  (5 Long-Term Problems x 3 age divisions x 7 students per team) competing under one $135 membership (roughly a $1.29 per pupil cost...not too bad for a life-changing school program!). Teachers and/or parents often serve as coaches or co-coaches.  Other parents often volunteer some of their time to help, as well.  The best thing to do is to have an informal "informational meeting" to which you invite as many interested students, parents, teachers, and school administrators  as possible.  There, you can present the Odyssey of the Mind program, show some online videos (YouTube) that help explain the program, and discuss the current year's Long-Term problems and Illinois tournament information.



Form your teams.


Once you have a solid grasp on the number of interested students, the Long-Term problem each would like to solve, and the level of teacher/parent/school support you have, you can now start dividing your participants into teams.  Some coordinators let the students choose their Long-Term Problem; others assign based on stated preference - it's really up to you!  The important part is to have a good, consistent coach (it could be you, a teacher, a parent or some combination thereof) working with a committed group of students.  Some coordinators/coaches have their teams sign "good team member" contracts in which the students sign off on and agree to uphold specific rules about what it means to be a "good team member." Once teams are finally formed, you should be sure to register your teams for the Illinois state Odyssey of the Mind competition.

Step #4

Solve the Long-Term problem.


Teams spend the most time solving the Long-Term problem their team has opted to solve.  Some teams begin in September when the full Long-Term problems are released.  Other teams wait until January or even February to get started. Truly, it doesn't matter as long as teams use their time efficiently.  NOTE: ONLY the team members are allowed to solve the problem.  No ideas, work, suggestions, or input of *any* kind can come from anyone else.  Experts in particular fields can teach general skills to the team members (e.g., an architect can discuss principles of building and design, a musician can discuss the songwriting process), but specific solution suggestions are what we call "Outside Assistance" and are subject to penalties.  We want the students to learn and to solve the problem, not adults.  Plus, this keeps the playing field fair.  It is ESSENTIAL for every team member and coach to read the official Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, which is both included in the tangible membership packet and available online for free at You can also find it here.

Step #5

Practice Spontaneous problems.

Although the Long-Term solution is an important part of a team's Odyssey, even the best teams have won/lost their competition based on their performance in Spontaneous.  The day of competition, the team will enter a room and be given a problem to solve -- the team will not know the problem until they enter the room and they are not permitted to talk about the problem until after competition is over.  Spontaneous problems range from, "Name as many green things as you can," to, "Here are some random props - you have 1 minute to create a play and 5 minutes to perform it."  Expect the unexpected, but one way to be prepared is to practice, practice, practice using the resources included in the membership packet and online resources!

Step #6

Make sure your solution has Style.

Part of a team's Long-Term solution includes what is referred to as Style.  The way we like to think of Style in Illinois is by considering examples in the world of art and music -- you recognize a Picasso, even one you've never seen before, because you know his cubist style.  You know a song is a Beach Boys song, even if you've never heard it, based on the instrumentation and style of the song.  Style in Odyssey is the same: a team's Style is their *unique approach* to solving the Long-Term problem in a way that differentiates them from the competition, is memorable, and creates a consistent theme across props, costumes, dialogue, backdrop.  When the judges think back to your team, they'll remember you as "The team that did [fill in your Style here]."  Note: if a specific element is scored in Long-Term (Section D), that specific element cannot be selected as a "Style" free choice.

Step #7

Fill out all your required paperwork.


Each team needs to fill out 1) Materials Value Form, 2) Outside Assistance Form, 3) Style Form, and 4) a Required List (if the Long-Term problem specifies a Required List).  It's a wise idea to make several copies of these forms and to have backup packets ready to go the day of competition in the event that a packet gets misplaced.  The forms are used to help the judges and officials better assess the team's solution -- that is, the forms allow the judges to direct their attention directly to the scored elements the team wants the judges to focus on.  As such, it's a good idea for teams to fill out their forms carefully, making sure they are clear, concise, and complete!   For questions regarding forms, particularly assessing costs on the Materials Value Form, please refer to the official Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (available in hard copy in the membership packet, for free at the Odyssey of the Mind HQ page, and in our page of resources for Illinois teams here).

Step #8

Order your Illinois state pins & shirts.


Each year the Illinois association has a theme associated with its shirts and pins.  Most teams order shirts for the Illinois tournament day, as well as purchase pins prior to the big tournament.  Teams advancing to World Finals are required to purchase shirts (so that they can sit with the Illinois association at the massive Opening and Closing Ceremony events) and are strongly encouraged to purchase pins to trade with teams from all around the world!  If a team is ordering shirts and/or pins prior to the Illinois tournament, they should get their order in no later than one month prior to the big day so that their merchandise is ready for them at sign-in the day of competition.  Order forms for shirts and pins can be found here.

Step #9

Compete at the Illinois tournament.


Teams from all over the state of Illinois will convene at the Illinois tournament to present their solutions. Each team competes with the other teams who have selected to solve their specific Long-Term problem in the same age division (Division I: elementary, Division II: middle school, Division III: high school, Division IV: university). One to two weeks prior to competition, the competition schedule will be posted and emailed to teams (Note: the schedule can only be produced once the Volunteer Coordinator is able to place judges following the judge trainings, which usually occur a week or two prior to competition).  Each team will be assigned a Long-Term performance time and a Spontaneous time.  It is wise to check in *at least* 15 minutes prior to Long-Term and Spontaneous at the respective check-in sites.  Of course, all teams should sign-in at the welcome desk the morning of competition.  Once all teams have competed, final scores are calculated and the Awards Ceremony is held.  First- and second-place teams win the right to advance to the international Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in May! 

Step #10

Go to World Finals OR prep for next year!


Teams advancing to World Finals will receive a packet of information regarding what they need to do to prepare for the global event.  Our Illinois teams then travel to the World Finals host site for that year and spend several days making new friends from around the world, sharing their solution with these new friends and enjoying the solutions of others.  Our Illinois teams not advancing have other opportunities, including designing ideas for the upcoming year's Illinois shirt and pin theme and dreaming about what solutions they can come up with based on the synopses of the following year's problems (the synopses are usually released sometime in mid-to-late April).  Before you know it, September arrives, and it's time to start all over again on another memorable Odyssey!

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