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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Student Relationships

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column 28, Coach Rick Dorn considers student relationships.

New Coach 411 - Column 28

January 2024 Article

Student Relationships

Hello!  I hope your season is going well, and I hope you are keeping warm this winter!  This month, I thought I would touch on the subject of student relationships.  We have talked about the tricky subject of coach/student relationships, and the information is still valid.  Coaches are the number one driving force behind recruiting and keeping students in the speech program, and that means building individual connections with the members on your team.  That is all still true, with the caveat of reminding you to be professional in your dealings with your students and fellow coaches.  We travel a lot and spend a ton of time with our students, so professionalism is vital for the kids’ and your own well-being.  Be smart.

This month though, I wanted to talk about student relationships.  First, partners need to be honest with each other, and that means curtailing grumbling and gossiping about each other.  Truthfully, it is the rare partnership that can go the distance.  Every team seems to have the worker and the talent.  This is a broad generalization, but it applies.  Don’t let your worker do all of the work, and don’t let the talent sit back and coast.  It doesn’t build a good rapport between the two because the resentment will build and disrupt their success.

Further, we are dealing with secondary school age teens which means the hormones are flying.  Be smart, and make sure to keep an eye on budding romantic relationships.  Truthfully, there is not much you can do, but you can protect the team as best you can.  First, try not to have romantic relationships be partners.  Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but it isn’t a great idea.  Chances are high that they will break up and then not want to work together anymore, and the odds are it’ll be at the end of the season at your culminating events.  Inconvenient timing, and it could ruin your chances of success there.  Also, whatever you do, don’t pick sides in the couple.  I know, it sounds like ridiculous advice, but teachers/coaches are human, and they tend to want to side with someone during a break-up.  

When these relationships are happening, make sure to not allow them to sit together on long bus rides.  Most importantly, no sitting together at night.  This applies to all romantic relationships.  My students grumble but they always switch when asked because I do it in a lighthearted way.  I frequently just make a comment in general of no PDA to keep everyone comfortable.  

Rooming for overnight stays is trickier.  I keep an eye on where their rooms are and have a strict rooming policy for no one to be in the opposite gender’s hotel rooms ever.  In addition, I room risky students with tattletale students I trust.  Our school has a strict rule of anyone caught outside of their rooms without permission after room check automatically goes home.  I warn them at the beginning of the season about how angry parents will be, and that I’ve had to make that phone call, and that takes care of it.

For gay and lesbian students, I still make sure to divide up couples.  They grumble but again, I just discuss it with them to clarify that any kind of couple is a bad idea to have sharing hotel rooms.  They usually understand.

Finally, talk to students about staying in public places during meets.  Schools are big locations, and it is a pain to lose students down the many hallways.  I also keep phone numbers available for when we need to find a student for meals/departures/issues or whatever.  I have students who make connections with students from other schools, and I also try to keep an eye on those situations too.  I have had religious coaches make unpleasant comments to my kids, and that can lead to all kinds of other issues, so learn who is who and keep your students in public whenever possible.

Hope these ideas give you something to think about!  As always, I’m happy to help if you need anything!

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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