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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Casting the Net – Recruitment Basics

The second support column for new Speech and Debate Coaches by Coach Rick Dorn takes on the basics of recruitment.

Greetings! Last time I filled you in on the purpose of the column and some basic information about the speech and debate organization and events. For this column, I think it is time to discuss recruitment and strategies.

Many school teams wither on the vine due to lack of engagement. Even statewide, we sometimes struggle to have enough competitors to host events (I’m looking at you policy). The debate team has gone from being a premiere activity to being an afterthought to many students. So how do we fix this issue?

First of all, it should be stated that size doesn’t really matter for team success. If you have five really dedicated students, you can still have tournament victories to bring home. Some small schools struggle to have more than a few, and that can be difficult for long term sustainability, but don’t think your team won’t succeed if you don’t have 30 students.

Speech and Debate is similar to Track. Yes, having additional athletes is nice for flexibility, but there are enough areas and events for you to enjoy success from just a few talented members. Once you have a few students dedicated to the cause, spend your time and energies helping them to improve. With success will come future recruits.

How should you get started? If you have returning members, discuss with them ideas for recruitment. You as the coach can definitely reach out to students, but the most effective recruiter is the upperclassman talking to friends and peers. Have a meeting to fill in interested prospects on the program. Announce it through school methods and social media. If you have a ninth grade orientation, go and talk up your program. If you have connections with eighth-grade teachers, have them talk to students. If you’re permitted, make an appearance at a class meeting with current team members. I’ve known of teams who mailed invitations to prospective students and/or had a get to know you barbecue. Any way you can get students to be aware of your program, you can grow.

Who should you recruit? I’m a firm believer in throwing a wide net. Too many teams seem to only recruit that single genius that may or may not have the time or inclination to join. Have you considered how many truly bright students are hiding under the surface? If you are a classroom teacher, you have a window into a wide pool of possible students. Think of that student that quietly shows capabilities. Think of the student with the gift of gab or an outspoken sense of humor. The percentage of students involved in extracurricular activities seems to drop every year. Find that student that hasn’t found their niche yet. I tell my students to be involved in anything! It’s been proven that being in an extracurricular activity improves graduation rates dramatically. If the A-B student in your class isn’t doing anything yet, that’s your target!

Make the meetings fun! Yes, there is hard work ahead, but if the students enjoy being with you, they are more likely to return! Talk to as many of your individual team members each day as you can. If they feel a connection, you will have loyalty to the program. Everyone wants somewhere to belong, so help the speech team be that place. You’re helping students who may feel adrift, but you’re also building a program!

Till next time,

Rick Dorn

Worland High

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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