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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Student Advice for Coaches - Practices and Tournament Attendance

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column 29, Coach Rick Dorn explores student advice for coaches and considers practice and tournament attendance.

New Coach 411 - Column 29

February 2024 Article

Student Advice for Coaches

Up to now, I’ve been giving advice based on my experiences as a coach.  This month, I decided to start opening up the floor for advice from students.  I asked some of my experienced students what they would want the new coaches to know.  Here is the first piece of advice they had for coaches:

  1. Coaches should be understanding when students have to miss a practice or even a tournament.  

Let’s unpack that a little bit.  Coming to practice is necessary if you want to succeed or improve.  Still, the season is upwards of five months long, so life sometimes gets in the way.  If you want to chase students away, yelling at them for heading to a part-time job once a week is a good way to do it.  Families have plans, and sometimes practice needs to be missed for the sake of family harmony.  If it becomes consistent or too much, then yes, maybe a discussion is a good idea.  I still wouldn’t recommend yelling at a student over it though.  Guidelines in a team handbook is a good idea.  If a certain percentage of practices are missed, then be prepared to have the student miss a meet or two.  If it continues, then more elevated discipline might be necessary.

Tournaments are a different matter.  I still feel like the season is so long that missing a meet or two is okay.  Illness happens of course, and family trips can sometimes need to happen.  I’ve had some difficulties though with this one.  For one thing, I’ve had students who thought it was okay to only pick when they ‘felt’ like going.  I have difficulty with that idea.  At some point, the coach has to be allowed to have their team available.  

Further, I’ve had families schedule vacations on top of culminating events.  This one really bothers me.  I wanted to ask the parents if they missed volleyball state for a family trip, but I never worked up the nerve.  Still, there will be times where it can’t be helped.  Being reasonable will do more long term goodwill than anything else you do.  Last year, I had a student whose family member bought airline tickets for a vacation without discussing it with the family first.  He would miss his final state meet his senior year.  His parents discussed it, and they transferred the ticket for the student and his mother to fly out one day later so he could compete at state.  They spent a large amount of money doing so, and the mom told me it was well worth it so he wouldn’t miss his final state competition.  That’s the goodwill you want to build in your parental community.  (Happy ending:  the student won state in his event, and mom happened to be there due to the flight the next day!).

I have had to be flexible.  Sometimes, there are custody requirements, and sometimes the kid just needs a break.  Try to find a meet where the absence isn’t too important.  Parents really do appreciate consideration of their needs.  

I hope this helps!  I will continue with student advice next month!

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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