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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Tournament Etiquette

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #19, Coach Rick Dorn discusses the expectations for etiquette at a Speech and Debate Tournament.

New Coach 411 - Column #19

Tournament Etiquette

Welcome back! This month I decided to take a break from tips by event to cover something that came up at our state contest last month: etiquette!

Yes, you’re sure to have heard similar ideas brought up, but I feel like it’s always good to refresh everyone’s memory. This has been an ongoing issue for years, but after the pandemic and year of virtual competition, it seems like it’s even more pressing.

Let’s start with audience etiquette. I do Theatre as well as speech and this is vital in both areas. First of all, there are some obvious things not to do in a round. At the top of the list is talking. Do NOT have private conversations while someone is performing! Even in between speakers, keep any conversation to a minimum. A debater in the middle of the round is an exception because they might need to strategize for their next speech. But even a debater should keep it quiet, and never talk to a spectator.

Other things to avoid as an audience member - making faces, playing on their phone, and being generally disruptive. Competitors, when you are not competing, pay attention to the other speakers, and follow general audience rules. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t like it while you’re performing, then don’t do it during someone else’s time. This applies to time in the hallway between rounds too. Many competitors forget that rounds can be happening and they can get loud in the halls. I can’t believe I have to say this, but do not bring stuffed animals into a round as a pillow so you can sleep while people are performing. How about no sleeping in a round?!? I’m sorry to go so basic with these ideas, but these are things we have seen on our circuit this year!

Other etiquette for audience members: don’t go into a round and only watch your own school’s competitor and then leave. In addition, it is bad form to go into a round to laugh extra loud at your own teammate and then refuse to react to anyone else’s performance. No food or drink in the round is also a good rule to follow. Finally, please keep your shoes on during the round. If you wouldn’t do it in church or at a wedding or funeral, don’t do it in the round. Consequences could involve having yourself ejected from the room, or you could cost your teammate the round.

Competitors, a lot of these ideas apply to you as well. Extra things to consider include not trying to play mind games with your opponents. I’ve never understood the bad sportsmanship I’ve seen at meets. If you aren’t good enough to win your round, then work to get better. Don't try to sandbag your opponent. One extra etiquette rule for competitors: don’t leave the round until it is over unless you are crossentered. Even so, do it politely. There is no excuse when 10 members of Congress getting tired and choose to leave with 20 minutes to go in the session. Emergencies can happen, but if you are leaving every single round early for no reason, please stop doing that. When entering a room late, please try to make sure a competitor is not actively speaking.

Finally, coaches, let’s talk about your etiquette. When judging, it is important to put your phone away. Nothing is more distracting than a judge who is not paying attention to the piece. I recognize that sometimes emergencies can happen, but the less you are doing other things, the better. If judging a debate, maybe return that vital text during prep time? Finally, make sure the typing you are doing during a round is related to the judging. There have been rare instances of a coach writing blocks to a debate case while judging a round. That is totally inappropriate and a good way to develop a bad reputation on the circuit.

Ninety percent of this is probably unnecessary. Still, it’s good to remind ourselves about manners at a debate meet! If I have forgotten something, please let me know for future reference. As always, if I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me!

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 April Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter from One Clap:


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