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COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Avoiding Burnout, Part 1

In his fifth column written to provide new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching, Coach Rick Dorn takes on a very real issue for Speech and Debate Coaches: avoiding burnout.

New Coaches 411 - Column #5 Avoiding Burnout - Part One

Welcome back everyone! If your season is like mine, you are now getting into the busiest part of the year. My state has the bulk of the season between January and March, and other places I’ve lived have had the busy months hit between February and April. Either way, it’s time to think about how to allocate your time and energy. We do this through careful planning when it comes to scheduling.

I asked for ideas from coaches I work with in our state, and the number one issue brought up was burnout. Speech and Debate coaches have some of the highest rate of turnover of any extracurricular activities, and that’s for several reasons. First, Speech and Debate tends to have the longest season for any activity. My state runs roughly October through March (with national events falling in May and June). Other states have different start times with Texas, for example, starting in September and running through April. That’s a heck of a long season, and we definitely don’t get paid commiserate with our time of season.

Second, we have a confusing event to coach. Every state features different events, but the average in the country is 12 events offered. As you have now figured out, those events are sometimes very different. To compare, it would be as if you were the distance coach, the sprint coach, the throwing coach, and the jumping coach for an entire track team. But many speech coaches work alone, or maybe get one assistant. It can feel quite overwhelming. I’ve been coaching for 15 plus years, and I still feel overwhelmed at times.

Finally, our principals or activity/athletic directors usually have no idea what we do. That can mean a limited amount of support or help from our superiors. You can feel very alone and adrift during the lengthy season.

That brings us back to the topic for this column - avoiding burnout through planning. Let’s talk about scheduling. In Texas, the schedule was so long, that most schools tried really hard to only schedule a single meet or two per month throughout the year. It definitely prevented immediate exhaustion from setting in. If your season is more concentrated, then you have less wiggle room. At the beginning of the year, look at offered meets in your area (we get ours mostly set up in September), and remember, plan some weeks off into the schedule. You will feel energetic and the beginning of the year, but plan those weekends off anyway. Your parents will thank you, your administration and teachers will thank you, and your family will thank you. Ironically, the group mostly likely to grumble will be certain students. You can take it under advisement, but remember the mental health and well-being of your team (including you) has to take precedence. It’s a balancing act, because you don’t want to take too many weeks off in a row or you can disrupt the growth of your team’s skills and development.

While picking meets, try to pick occasional big meets to get a feel for how competitive your team is, but don’t forget to mix a few small meets in as well. If you overload on powerhouse meets, your team made up of beginners may decide it’s hopeless and you’ll start losing members, A small meet sprinkled in to your schedule can help get some success for those beginners, and build their loyalty and dedication to the activity. Nothing builds loyalty like getting on stage once in a while. Be careful not to only do small meets, or the huge championship meets will be a crushing blow to your team.

I also like to switch up the long and short distance meets if possible. In my state, that’s not always an option, but if you are in a bigger state, it’s nice to not have the ridiculous late night returns every week. It keeps the AD and the bus barn folks happy too. If you look on, you can look at each meet’s pages to consider distance, events offered, and even the number of schools attending. If the meet has 20+ schools in attendance, it will be a bigger meet, so you can plan your season accordingly. If you are brand new to coaching, reach out to coaches at nearby schools to pick their brains about planning the season.

Next time, I will give ideas for ways to schedule practices and maximize your time. As always, if you have any questions, email me at

Till next time,

Rick Dorn

Worland High School

Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition.


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