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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Team Strategy

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #26, Coach Rick Dorn considers various approaches for teams to strategize for success.

New Coach 411 - Column #26

Team Strategy


In this month’s article, I thought I’d bring up an area that coaches don’t typically get taught. We learn the basics of running a tournament and recruiting and coaching practices, but in the speech and debate world, strategy plays a key role. Let’s be honest, programs that are less successful are frequently targets of budget cuts, and school boards want to recognize successes. In the speech and debate realm, there are strategies you can use to build up the team’s success rate.


First, let’s talk about the need to diversify. Most meets will have events in interpretation, platform speaking, and debates. If all of your entries are in one area, or worse yet, one event, you will perpetually struggle with getting enough points to be competitive. My recommendation is to convince students to enter at least two events for several reasons. The team needs the points, and having more than one set of points coming in means you have a better chance at winning meets. Debates are the hardest to get new students in a new program going, so if you are in that position, let them sit empty for a bit. I would try to judge some rounds though, so you can get the hang of the debates, and then when that student walks in who is a born debater, you can assist them in getting started.


Materials are available from NSDA, NFHS, and One Clap. If nothing else, get your students watching or listening to recordings about the new events. Perseverance is key, so if they try at first and don’t succeed, try to keep them going. I’ve had students who didn’t win a round freshman year go on to win the entire state championship by their senior year. Provide the help they need, and if they stick it out, they will see success eventually.


Having a well-rounded team is always a good start, but there are other little things you can do to improve your chances. Alternate meets between small and large competition pools. The small ones can help you enjoy some success to build the students’ confidence, but the larger ones will give you an idea of improvement and true competitiveness of the team. I would never attend only small or only large meets because it’ll either fool you into thinking the team is invincible or it’ll crush their spirits.


When finding entries, look at the events’ typical entry numbers. If the oratory has a large pool, but informative is small, move more of your students to informative. If everyone is entering LD and PF, then try to put a team in CX Debate. I always have my debaters learn the basics of CX anyway because it makes the other debates look much easier to prepare. I have had to make hard decisions about students who are really good at multiple interp areas, and if it looks like the competition pool is weaker in one area, I’ll try to enter them in that area instead of the hardest one. Of course, students have their own opinion, so please respect their wishes as well.


Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you to improve your team’s chances. I’ve been fortunate to have some success, but even so, nothing is ever guaranteed. If your students are learning and growing their skills, then your team is successful! That’s what matters the most.

Till next month!


If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at rickdorn1@yahoo.com.


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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