One of the most useful tools that I used when preparing students for competitive mathematics, was something that I referred to as the “reeling-in” technique. Whether this technique was used on an individual or a team, the purpose was for students to set a target and then gradually approach the target by their performances at mathematics tournaments.
Each student on my team was provided with a team member or opponent that was performing better than they were. Initially, they were made aware of how their performances compared to those of their targets. As the weeks progressed, I updated them on results at tournaments we were attending, making them aware of whether or not they were getting closer to their target. In some instances, the target would be outperforming them by 100 points. After each tournament, I would show them results and they were asked to see how close they were to their target. The goal was to catch up to or exceed the performance within a specified amount of time. In many instances, the time period was controlled by the approach of a district, regional or state meet. When the degree of difficulty of a test made their efforts to reel in a competitor less likely, I made sure that they were aware of it. Difficult tests usually made it less likely for a student to close the scoring gap between them and their target. Many times, my students had more than one target. From the onset, they were aware that the reeling-in technique was about motivating them to improve, not about winning. There was never a time that I wanted my students to feel that not catching up to a competitor should be viewed as a defeat. In general, students on my team knew that they were competing against themselves. I found that it motivated them to work more toward improving.
The reeling-in technique was also used to reel-in other teams. Early in the school year, I would inform team members of teams that we were going to target. I usually focused on the best teams in the state as my main targets, but secondary targets were teams in our district and in our region. The process was similar to the one described earlier. Throughout the school year, I kept students informed about how our performances were comparing to the targeted teams. This was done in each of the three events that my teams competed in (Number Sense, Calculator Applications, and Mathematics). During my career, my teams set lofty goals. Our main goal was becoming the best team in the state. Although we were not always state champions, we always ranked among the state’s best. Students took individual and team pride in their capacity to use the reeling-in technique to motivate themselves in performing to the best of their abilities. They always viewed themselves as being successful because they focused on improving instead of winning. It is interesting to note, that this approach reduced stress and made participation in competitive mathematics more enjoyable.