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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Student Advice for Coaches - Expectations

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column 30, Coach Rick Dorn explores student advice for coaches regarding expectations.

New Coach 411 - Column 30

March 2024 Article

Student Advice for Coaches: Expectations

This month’s column is continuing the advice received from students for new coaches. In other words, what students wished new coaches knew.  Last month we looked at their opinion on attendance to both practices and meets, and they had some wise words.  This month, we are looking at expectations.

The first thing they commented was that new coaches should understand that people and situations are different.  The same advice or technique that worked on you as a competitor may not work on every student.  It seems like common sense, but it bears repeating.  We all need reminders, and this advice actually works really well for the more experienced coaches too.  Every student is unique, and practice techniques, discipline methods, heck, even tough love tactics may have a different effect per student.

Here’s an example:  I knew a coach who was indifferent to kids on his team living in poverty.  He thought that because he never struggled, the kids could handle coming up with their own money for food to nationals. Needless to say, he was wrong.  He had a young man on the team whose parents were not compassionate and sent him off with nothing. I figured it out, and I bought some breakfast supplies to keep in the hotel room, and the young man was invited to come eat whatever he wanted because I “bought too much.”  He did, and with the lunches provided at Nats, and an occasional dinner treat from someone, he made it through the week.  That young man needed a coach to be more than a coach, and the coach should have been there for him.

Here’s another example:  I have had kids who needed to work due to homelessness caused by family strife.  The student went to quit the team so they would have more time to work.  The student did not want to quit the team, but was concerned about finances.  I worked out a compromise and that student came to practice one day a week, and took off an occasional meet, and the boss was kind enough to work around the schedule.  As a senior, that student had things calm down at home, and was one of my most dedicated team members.  As a graduate, they still come by to work with students.  A little bit of understanding goes a long way.

Here is one I struggle to understand: not all parents are supportive of their kids’ activities.  I have had numerous kids whose parents either didn’t bother to show up at all for their kids’ performances, awards banquets, or whatever.  Be there for those kids.  They deserve to know an adult cares for them, and will show up when they are doing something remarkable.  One of the students whose parents were the most dismissive is now a debate coach himself, and has created a good life for himself.  I am so happy to have done some little part for that young man.  I currently have a young lady whose parents regularly rip into her as “not doing anything in school,” when she has been our most successful competitors on the team.  The parents think anything that is not sports is unworthy of their attention.  It is frustrating, but I will do my best to watch out for her.  Do that for your students!

Next month, I will continue the student advice.  Good luck at your culminating events!

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.


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