There are different paths to achieving what you want to achieve. Nearly everyone agrees that there's not necessarily one "right" way to do something. This applies in spelling bees as well--some study online, some with paper lists, some focus more on roots, and some focus more on vocabulary. However, one common trait of people who place highly at the National Spelling Bee--or are successful in any other facet of life--is that they have people who help them along the way. I am thanking my coach (and inspiration to begin coaching) Dr. Scott Isaacs today because for me, he was one of those people. Without almost four years of his coaching, I would never have been able to finish fourth at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
When I was ten years old, I qualified for my regional bee for the first time. My regional bee is the Denver Post Colorado State Spelling Bee. Although it's not technically a state bee anymore (there's a separate regional for Boulder), it is the same bee that Dr. Isaacs won years ago. My brother and I, who were both in the bee, really had no idea what to study. However, in an article about the previous year's bee, we had seen that the winner of the Denver Post bee, Frank Cahill, had been coached by Dr. Isaacs. We contacted Dr. Isaacs and got advice from him. He coached my brother and I that year and the year after; then, when my brother was ineligible, he coached me individually for two more years.
Dr. Isaacs taught me a vast amount about all things related to spelling. He gave me "mock bees," created word lists, quizzed me with vocabulary questions, and almost anything else you could think of. The most important thing I learned from him was the patterns of various languages and how to deduce a word's spelling from its language of origin. I ran into several words at nationals, both in 2015 and 2016, that I had not seen previously, and was able to put them together using knowledge of the word's language. Without coaching from Dr. Isaacs, I would have been eliminated much earlier in the competition. Not only was he a source of information for me, he also helped me to prepare for the bee psychologically, in terms of confidence and mindset. He was always available to answer any questions I had, and he adapted what he was teaching me to effectively suit the level I was at.
While having a coach is not always necessary to do well in the bee, one cannot achieve one's goals without help from someone, be that a coach, parent, or friend. For me, Dr. Scott Isaacs was one of those people. He has been that person for countless other spellers as well, and I'm sure that he will continue to be that person for spellers in the future.
(For anyone who is interested, Dr. Isaacs' website is pandaspell.com.)