NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Introduction and Overview of a New One Clap Column

Introducing a monthly column by Coach Rick Dorn designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching.

Welcome! This blog is being written for any new speech and debate coaches who are wondering what this crazy world is. You have taken a scary step into a new and wonderful realm of possibilities, and all experienced coaches want you to succeed!


Speech and Debate has been around for many years (hence the old name of our governing association, the National Forensic League or NFL for short). You will see many acronyms and abbreviations in your time. I promise you it is not a foreign language, and you’ll be using them all before you know it.


Speech and Debate is typically governed by the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA), although there are other groups out there having tournaments and competitions. NSDA is the grandfather of the other organizations. Speechanddebate.org is the main website, and it will have events and rules available for you to see. Every state has its own rules and events that are prioritized, and you can find that in your state pages.


Right now, you might be saying, “What have I gotten myself into?” We’ve all been there, so I’m here to help. Every month, I will write something to focus on an area in which new coaches might be unfamiliar. It is just observations or advice that you can choose to ignore if you wish. Our activity has a tendency to burn out coaches, so this column is designed to alleviate your stress.


In my home state of Wyoming, the main events are Humor Interpretation, Original Oratory, Poetry Interpretation, and Extemporaneous Speaking (the HOPE pattern), and Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Cross-Examination or Policy Debate, Public Forum Debate, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation (the D pattern). Also available are Congressional Debate, Program Oral Interpretation, and Informative Speaking. Other states will have additional events, such as Impromptu Speaking, Prose Interpretation, and more. The events are different from meet to meet, based on the interests of the hosting community and whichever new event the national office has introduced.


As a new coach, it would be impossible to learn the ins and outs of all of those events quickly. You have two options available: 1) if you have varsity members with experience in events, have them walk you through their events and work with new members to ease your load, or 2) if you are building a brand new team with no experience, pick a few easier events and focus on those events until you are comfortable. For example, in scenario 1) I have students who are strong and experienced in Congressional Debate, so I send the new recruits to work with them a bit to help them get going. In scenario 2) I might keep them looking at Poetry, Humor, or Drama, which are easier for me to learn while working with them. Trying to do too much too fast is what causes new coaches to give up in despair. Pick a handful of events, and get comfortable with those events first, before trying the more difficult ones to teach.


In future columns, I will be writing about recruitment, fundraising, keeping happy administrators, and more. One Clap has wonderful episodes dedicated to each events, so use those to help familiarize yourself with different events. Email me if you need more immediate help!

Rick Dorn

Worland High Head Speech and Debate Coach

Worland, Wy


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.