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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Avoiding Burnout, Part 2

In his sixth column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching, Coach Rick Dorn continues his discussion on a very real issue for Speech and Debate Coaches: avoiding burnout (part 2).

New Coach 411 with Rick Dorn: Avoiding Burnout, Part 2

Last time, we talked about scheduling the season to help new speech coaches avoid burnout. Today, let’s talk about methods of helping yourself in the week-to-week setting. How you set up practices can help immensely.

Some teams have the entire team come every single day after school. If you have a small team, this works well. Dividing up 4-10 students to work with either a coach or each other can be a very useful practice time. If you have a large team, that becomes more difficult. Having 20 students practicing or researching in a single classroom becomes a little too chaotic. Your options are to either find additional spaces in the school, such as a neighboring classroom, an empty room, the library, or the stage. I’m lucky in that I have my own classroom, a debate room (we use it for storage and practice), a stage (it helps that I’m the drama director too), and even sometimes nearby teachers’ classrooms. Supervision of multiple spaces is tricky, so I stay moving quite a bit during practice.

A suitable location is vital to your mental wellbeing. Those of us who are teachers in their day job are fortunate in that we normally have a classroom we can use. My room is filled with scripts and books to allow my competitors to dig for pieces. For those of you who don’t have a classroom, reach out to friendly teachers/librarians to borrow space. Unfortunately, some teachers get grumpy about their space being used, so you may have to move spaces occasionally. Having your students treat the borrowed spaces with care is extremely valuable.

The daily or weekly schedule is up to you to design. There is something to be said for dividing up events to assigned days (Poetry/POI on Mondays, LD on Tuesdays, etc.). Having the students in the same events at practice on the same day is extremely helpful. Not only can varsity members help novices, but actual practice rounds can be held. I try to follow a schedule, but I find that many students either can’t come on their event day, or the debaters want to come every day to keep adding to their cases. Some prefer to do the sports method of every team member comes every single day. I do see some value in that too, especially in the beginning of the season when pieces are being cut and memorized.

Whichever method you choose, I would add these additional wrinkles: 1st - a mandatory team meeting and 2nd - a set beginning and ending time. First, the mandatory meeting is extremely important. It gives you a chance to meet up with everyone. It helps for distributing departure times and returns for upcoming meets, and it gives you a chance to confirm entries each week. This is nice because all coaches sign up students early in the season for meets as tournaments can fill up quickly when they open for registration. I have students signed up through the end of January by the middle of December sometimes. Things change, or competitors become unavailable, so confirming your entries at the beginning of the week is helpful. I also use the weekly meeting to assign tasks for that week, and when you decide to host a tournament, that becomes very helpful.

Second, you must set practice times. High school students have a tendency to not follow loose start and stop times. Having them begin at a set time stops the straggler effect of missing team members while they visit friends, go get food, etc. You end up waiting for hours waiting for some to come back. The stop time is just as important. I love my students, but if I don’t set a firm ending time, some of them will stay all night long! Knowing that you have a set hour or two to practice helps keep the focus during practice.

Right now, you are thinking I am crazy because maybe you are energetic and young, but believe me, you will appreciate saving your energy in the long run! Hopefully, these ideas help you. If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please 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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