Coaching 101: A Student’s Perspective

Here's some tips from a former UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge champion on what makes a great team coach.


Sofia Liemann Escobar

11/23/20235 min read

Congratulations! You’ve been asked or are thinking about coaching a team for the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge.

Whether it is your first time, or you are a seasoned coach, we wanted to share a few tips so you can support your team as they embark on this new and exciting challenge.

But first, a brief overview of the challenge…

What is the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge?

The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is a unique cross-disciplinary cyber security student competition that provides students with a deeper understanding of the strategy challenges associated with cyber security and conflict. By focusing on inter-disciplinary problem-solving and cybersecurity acumen, students develop skills in policy and technical analysis, while also refining their presentation and briefing abilities and other complementary but critical skills.

How does the competition work?

Students are confronted with a challenging and evolving cyber security scenario. They take on the role of advisers to senior government decision makers, and based on the intelligence they are presented with, must provide a situation assessment and policy recommendations. There are three rounds in the competition, with new intelligence packs that update the scenario in each round.

The judging panels, that play the role of senior government decision makers, consist of a range of cyber security experts across academia, industry and government. In the past, this has included incident management leads, policy advisers, and global CISOs. Students rarely get the opportunity to meet with individuals in these positions, so it's great to give them the opportunity to practice their briefing skills and gain invaluable advice from people who have walked the walk!

Tips for Coaches.

As a former competitor and finalist, I cannot overstate the importance of our coach in our team’s success and overall experience in the competition. He was able to guide us and give us confidence, but also gave us enough space to individually learn and face the challenge as a group. As you embark on this challenge with your team, I can share what we as competitors found most useful from our own coach.

1) Guidance

This may seem obvious, but our coach was important in always keeping us on task and reminding us of our audience and the job we had to do. It is very easy as competitors to get lost in the analysis of what we are encountering and forget the importance of how to present the situation assessment and policy recommendations. Having somebody to bring us back to the main task and keep reminding us of the audience we would be speaking to was essential. Furthermore, given that only two of us in the team had done policy briefs in the past, our coach was also key in providing us with an idea of what was expected when it came to the structure and format of the documents we were submitting.

2) Practice & Feedback

Practicing was key to delivering a confident presentation in the first and second rounds. When we ran some of these practices with our coach, he was able to provide us with feedback which helped us gradually ameliorate our briefing. He provided feedback not only on what we were saying but also on how we were saying it and how this was received.

It should be noted that the feedback given between the rounds was also vital. Coaches are allowed to be in the room when their teams are briefing the judges, allowing them to observe the reaction of judges and take notes on the feedback they provide. This is important because sometimes during the adrenaline of it all, we as participants might not always register all the feedback given to us by the judges. Having a coach there to point these things out and lead a debriefing session after we presented was an essential step in the learning process and being able to incorporate some of the feedback the judges provided in the next round.

3) Devil’s Advocate

Coaches can also play the role of devil’s advocate. For me, this was one of the most important functions that our coach played when we did practice runs. After we did our practice briefing, the coach got into character of the judges and pushed back on some of our assessments and asked us as many questions as he could think of on the policy recommendations we were making. Doing this meant that we were able to think through the areas that we maybe had not considered, or if we had, now had the opportunity to practice articulating the justification for why we were suggesting a certain policy or making a certain assessment.

Going through this practice Q&A with our coach also removed a bit of the fear we had at the start. This is because knowing we could answer some of the harder questions he was posing, gave us more confidence going into the challenge. Often the part students find most scary is not the presentation as such, because this is the part we can control and have prepared for the most. Instead, it is the unknown character of the Q&A because you do not know what is going to be asked or whether you can answer it. So going through possible questions really becomes a vital exercise in the preparation for the challenge.

4) Support & Encouragement

Going into the briefings is scary. Seeing a familiar face rooting for you in the room is therefore really encouraging and having them there afterwards to help us reflect and offer a supporting perspective was invaluable too. Sometimes the help is not so much on what a coach says, but just the fact that they are there. Present, and with an encouraging smile!

Additionally, as a coach you provide a vital, yet often overlooked role, in liaising with the organising team and making them aware of any accessibility or additional considerations that would help your student team perform to their best on the day.

While it is great if you can join your team in person, we also understand that other obligations mean this may not be possible for some coaches. Support can nevertheless still be provided along the way even if you are unable to accompany your team in person on the days of the competition. We would suggest you schedule debriefing sessions following the team’s presentation, to talk through how it went and go over some of the feedback provided by the judges. Maintaining a constant channel of communication with your team, even if virtual, can be incredibly helpful as the team reflects and prepares for the next round.

Finally, on behalf of all the organising team and the student competitors, we are grateful for you being willing to take on the role of coach and we hope that you along with your student competitors enjoy the opportunity to support their development and participation in this initiative. So thank you!

We look forward to welcoming you and your team to the next instalment of the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge! A coaches session will be held in the new year, so keep an eye out for the invitation. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch at

Find out more and apply for for the 2024 competition here.