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Competitor to coach, senior reflects on Odyssey of the Mind

Student leader: Shelby Robinett

Thornapple Kellogg — During 10 years of participating in Odyssey of the Mind, Shelby Robinett has traveled five times with her team to the competition’s world finals.

This week, a team of fourth-graders from Page Elementary traveled to Iowa for the event, thanks in large part to their student coach, Robinett, a Thornapple Kellogg High School senior.

“I prepped my kids for the judges because I’ve done it so many times and taught them how to prepare ahead of time,” Shelby said. “You have to trust your teammates and read the problem all the way through.” 

Thornapple Kellogg High School senior Shelby Robinett accepting one of six Odyssey of the Mind scholarships toward her studies at Michigan Technical University (courtesy)

Odyssey of the Mind teams work independently of teachers, parents or coaches to solve problems collaboratively from categories they choose at the beginning of each school year. They create their solutions in the form of written skits, demonstrations or contraptions constructed from wood to perform certain tasks. 

Shelby said serving as a coach instead of a team member has taught her a different side of competition. 

“I’m used to solving the problem myself, but it took more creative thinking to flip my mindset and think about how I would want to be asked the questions,” she said. “Now, I encourage my students to come up with their own ideas.” 

As a young competitor, Shelby said Odyssey taught her about critical thinking, creative problem solving and discovering self-confidence.

“When I was in third grade I was so quiet, but over the course of the year in OM, I learned it’s not scary to say the wrong thing,” she said. “I was a good student before, but the process of learning to do things in different ways applies to real-world skills.” 

OM competitions became even more of a family affair for Shelby this year when she coached her younger sister Cassidy’s team alongside her former coach: their mom, Melinda.  

“This year I realized I coach like my mom, but it’s a good thing,” Shelby said. “Her style of coaching is to keep asking questions and help them focus and figure things out for themselves, (then) figuring out how each kid works individually and as a team.”

She explained her coaching style as observing the team and offering to help students get their ideas over the finish line. 

“As a younger team, they really like cardboard and hot glue,” she said with a laugh. “They come up with complex designs, but they don’t know how to fully make them happen; that’s where coaches come in and help them get there.” 

Though Shelby won’t be traveling with her team to worlds — the competition and her graduation take place on the same day — Cassidy said she is excited for the opportunity and knows her big sister will be rooting for them.

“My sister made it to worlds and now I get to go, too,” Cassidy said. “We’re going to get to meet other teams from a lot of other countries … I just know it’s going to be a lot of fun.” 

Sad she couldn’t make it to worlds this year, but excited for the future of Thornapple Kellogg’s OM teams, Shelby reflected on how participating as a student and coach encouraged her personal growth in unexpected ways. 

“(Odyssey of the Mind) makes you a more well-rounded person … It set me up very well for college and made math, science and talking to people easier,” she said. “I also learned how to melt crayons and use plaster; it’s helped me in the weirdest little ways.” 

Her advice for upcoming OM competitors: “Don’t be afraid to fail. If you get something wrong, there is always something you can learn from it.”

Read more from Thornapple Kellogg: 
Next stop, Worlds!
Service day prompts students to ‘choose your legacy’

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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