New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #24, Coach Rick Dorn gives an overview of coaching Congressional Debate.
New Coach 411 - Column #24
The event coaches complain the most about is Congressional Debate. It is the hardest event to categorize, and it is the hardest to get students to move from sitting passively to actively participating in the round. So, let’s break it down.
Congress (formerly Student Congress) is a great event. It allows your improvisational students to shine, and it can be done with little prep. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. If you hope to succeed, preparation is extremely important, but it is flexible enough that you can wing an occasional speech. The more experienced you are, the better you are at reading the room and learning the tricks of the event.
I like to throw new students in Congress because it’s a low pressure way to get started. The catch is to make sure they are comfortable claiming a speech for themselves. Too timid of competitors will not get points because they become nervous about standing up for a speech. My requirement is that the goal for each new competitor is to give at least one speech at a meet while they figure out the ins and outs of a meet, and of Congress in particular. I have had students who took advantage of that, and I’ve had to pull them from Congress so they don’t waste valuable entry money and space.
So how do you prepare? The session will have a set docket most of the time. The docket is made up of bills submitted to the meet ahead of time. My students will get the docket and then brainstorm ideas for and against each bill. I try to make sure they have at least bullet points with statistics and quotes for both sides because if the room is overwhelmingly trying to go Affirmative, then your competitor has a better chance of making a speech on the Negative side. Students argue with this because they usually agree with one side and would rather give a speech on that side. Convince them otherwise.
In today’s political climate, it can be difficult to not get too political. Remind your students to avoid making one side the devil in their speech and stick to facts. You don’t know what your judge will be thinking, and if your entire speech is Biden/Trump is bad, you have a 50/50 chance of dooming yourself in the rankings. I make the same points in preparation for Extemp.
Learning Robert’s Rules of Order is vital and that’s the reason to throw novices in to see how it works. Eventually, your better students will want to try chairing, and they will need to know the rules very well to do that. Having a gavel is helpful, but practicing before a meet is the most important thing you can do if you want to chair at a meet.
Finally, the bills must be written ahead of time. Typically, a student will write one or two a year. Overachievers will do more, but one or two is sufficient. NSDA has the format on the website, so look at that to get an idea of the formatting and even what to write. Remember points to support your bill go in your authorship speech, and not the language of the bill itself. Try to pick a bill that is controversial. If you pick a resolution like increasing the punishment for a crime, that is probably not controversial. But if you pick a topic with plenty of arguments for and against it, that will be a popular and successful bill. Topics can include things like creating regulations for business, dramatically changing the national government, legalizing something that could be dangerous, etc. If you can brainstorm three easy points for and against your bill, then you’ve got a decent topic. If you can think of a topic out of the traditional box, that is good too. No one wants to argue about eliminating the penny for the thousandth time.
Feel free to let me know what I missed! Congress is complicated, but a lot of fun!
If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
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. He was recently honored as the 2022-2023 Communicator of the Year by the Wind River District.
Check out the 2023 August Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter from One Clap: