top of page

Outside Assistance

What is Outside Assistance? How Can You Avoid It?


By Cathy Parker, Redwood Region, CA


Plainly stated, Outside Assistance is any help, through actions, directions, or ideas that the team receives that is directly applied to any aspect of its long-term solution. This Outside Assistance can come from a coach, a parent, team supporters, or even someone who works at a fabric or home improvement store. Often these people don’t realize that they are providing outside assistance.

So, in other words, the only minds that can contribute to the team’s creation of its long term solution are those of its team members. Teams receiving Outside Assistance are penalized for receiving help from non-team members.


“It does not matter who it is speaking. It matters that (a) it is presented to the team, and (b) the team takes it to heart.” – Sammy Micklus, Odyssey of the Mind Program Director


Coaches,  early in the Odyssey Season, it is a very good idea to have the team brainstorm polite ways to let well-meaning people know that they are not a part of your team and cannot offer suggestions or help.


All ideas for the long-term and style solutions must be the team’s own.


All work on long-term and style solutions must be the team’s own.

Let’s get very specific:


  • The theme must be the team’s own.

  • The script must be the team’s own.

  • All materials chosen and used for the team’s long-term solution must be by the team’s decision.

  • Any construction of backdrops, props, vehicles, balsa structures, etc., must be the team’s own.

  • Any engineering must be the team’s own.

  • Any creation of songs and dances must be the team’s own.

  • All stage direction and blocking for the team’s performance must be the team’s own.

  • All costume and appearance decisions must be the team’s own.

  • Any application of makeup and putting on of costumes must be done by the team.

  • Any aspects of the team’s long-term solution that were taken apart for transport must be reassembled by the team.

  • The choice of style items must be the team’s own.

New! Click here to read over various scenarios and learn if they are OA or not!

Ownership & Teamwork


In other words, creating their solution totally on their own, a team will feel an overwhelming sense of ownership of their long-term solution. The team alone is completely responsible for their accomplishments and defeats. Because of this fact, participants will not only feel more pride in their solution, but will push themselves into learning new skills and flexing their creative thinking. The concept of “no outside assistance allowed” is one of the key features which sets Odyssey of the Mind apart from other educational programs. It is all about the team’s work, aka...teamwork!

Team Stuck? Learn the Art of Asking Questions!


Adapted from Maine Odyssey


When the team is having trouble coming up with ideas, coaches should not say, “What about doing thus and- so?” Don’t lead the team to what you know is obvious, or what you think is the correct solution. Coaches need to be aware that the WAY a question is asked may limit the creativity of the answers. By following the guidelines shown below, you can avoid providing outside assistance to your team, and extend their thinking.


Here are some general, all-purpose questions you can use with your team(s):


  • Do you think any other team would think of this?

  • Can you think of a more creative way to do this?

  • What other materials could be used to (create this effect, to make this move, to make it lighter in weight, to make it funnier, etc.)?

  • What kinds of things do we need to find out in order to do this?

  • If teams is stuck trying to make something, like a stained glass, you could ask what elements make up a stained glass window, or what makes it looks like a stained glass window?


And now, for some ideas to use when you want to say something you’re not allowed to say!


  • How else could you…?

  • Why did this happen?

  • Where could you find out?

  • Is this your best…?

  • Does this meet the standard?

  • Is this job done?

  • What do we mean by style?

  • What should be done?

  • When should it be done?

  • Who should do it?

  • Can this be tested?

  • Can we combine ideas?

  • Why is it necessary?

  • How else could this be arranged?

  • What should come next?

  • What makes sense? What makes nonsense?


Ask questions. Make the team THINK.


Basically, it all comes down to one big idea: the team must learn to do things for themselves. Team members must learn to ask themselves the right questions and come up with their own answers.

For more specifics regarding Outside Assistance, visit the Redwoodomer website.

bottom of page