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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Retention

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #23, Coach Rick Dorn offers advice for ways to retain students in Speech and Debate.

New Coach 411 - Column #23


Hello everyone! It’s time to head back to school, so I thought I’d bring up an interesting dilemma that every sport and activity deals with - Retention. As in, how do we retain our students? Maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but I’ve had students who were amazing competitors freshman year, and then chose not to continue in future years. Truthfully, this column is aimed at myself as much as anyone because few things are more frustrating as a coach.

What are the reasons why we lose students? I’ve heard a variety of reasons:

The time commitment is too long.

They choose to do another activity or sport.

Their friends on the team have graduated.

They are getting a part-time job.

Other reasons may pop up, but those seem to be the most common. Let’s approach them one by one.

1. The time commitment - I am willing to work with schedules to be reasonable, but it should be understood that if they drop their commitment level to minimal effort, they will provide minimal reward for themselves. Discussion is key here, because if they need a weekend off every so often, then I think that’s fair, but there has to be reasonable limits.

2. They choose to do another activity or sport. Some activities share, but some do not. Some coaches/sponsors are willing to share, so if you can live with it, you might throw that option out there. If they are determined to do the one that doesn’t share, let them go. I still like to maintain good relationships with students, so don’t burn the bridge. Sometimes the other activity isn’t what they wanted after all, and they come back. If you berated them for leaving, they won’t choose to come back.

3. Their friends have graduated. This is tricky, because I want to be snide when I hear this reason. I’m not a fan of the clique mentality, and if they are only willing to hang around with one or two teammates, then you might be better off without them. The only advice I can give here is to remind them of the others on the team who might be good friends too.

4. They are getting a part-time job. This is the one that needs a logical response. Teenagers don’t always get logic, but do you best. Most part-time jobs are willing to work with high school students’ schedules, so make the offer to have them practice only on certain days so they can work on other days. I also remind them of the scholarship offers that come from competing at the collegiate level. I have negotiated compromises with students to attend certain meets so they can fit in work, and it works sometimes. One particular example I can think of was a student who was trying to move out of a bad home situation. I worked out an abbreviated schedule with them, and they stayed on the team. This year, they came back fully committed and with big plans for the future, and they enjoyed the most successful year of their high school competitive career. It can work, if the student is willing.

That brings us to the sad reality of the situation. Not every student enjoys their time, or has the work ethic to be successful. If they choose to leave, that is not on you. I hate to see kids miss out on opportunities, so I try to keep everyone involved. Because of that, I have a big team, but not everyone is fully committed and we frequently lose at the culminating events to smaller teams with more fully committed students. That is one of my weaknesses as a coach.

If any of my advice works for your retention, then I am happy to hear it. If not, well, all you can do is keep trying! I hope you have a great beginning to your school year!

If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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. 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:


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