Creating a Team Handbook
A team handbook is an excellent way to begin shaping the culture of the team you are coaching!
First, seek guidance from your school’s activities director or another administrator who oversees activities like speech and debate. Ask them what policies and procedures your school or district already has in place and how they will apply to a competitive speech and debate team. This would be a good time to ask about transportation policies, if/how you will collect fees from the students, and if there are any other things your administration wants you to do.
Next, consider your goals for your team as well as the culture you want to create among your students and coaches. Use this information to shape the policies you develop. Determine how specific you would like to be, or if this handbook will be more generalized. It is wise to have your handbook approved by your administration before publishing.
When you’re brainstorming elements to put into your Team Handbook, consider the following:
Team Mission and Vision Statement
A mission statement, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. A vision statement on the other hand, describes what your team aspires to be and do. Together, these two statements can help lay the foundation for the culture and climate of your team.
Practice Behavior Expectations
Are students required to attend each practice? What is expected of the students while they are in the practice space? What will happen if a student isn’t respecting the practice space (e.g., is goofing off, distracting others, late, etc.)?
Tournament Attendance Policy
Is tournament attendance required? How many tournaments must students attend? What happens if a student registers for a tournament but doesn’t attend? Review our suggested Dress Code to see how you can help students dress for tournament attendance.
Travel Behavior Expectations
What rules does your district/school provide that govern off-campus travel? What additional rules do you feel would be needed? Be sure to consider hotel/overnight expectations.
Student Leader Expectations
How will you utilize student leadership within your team? Will you have team or event captains? What happens when a student leader does something inappropriate? Explore this subject matter in depth in the free How to Build a Student Leadership Program course.
How are tournament costs handled on your team? Who do students pay? What are they expected to pay for? Who handles the money?
Required Parent Involvement
Are parents required/expected to volunteer or donate? What will you do when that doesn’t/can’t happen?
Evidence Sharing Policy
Are students expected to share evidence/cases/files? Can students share evidence with other teams?
How are partnerships decided? Do students select their own? Is it done by the coaching staff? What happens if partners aren’t getting along?
Intra-team Conflict Resolution Process
If/when conflicts arise among teammates, what will be your conflict resolution process? How will you handle bullying or cliques? What will happen when a student is disrespectful to a coach? To explore this subject matter in depth, take the free Building Supportive Cultures to Prevent Bullying and Harassment course.
Coach Contact Information
Provide as much contact information as you feel comfortable. Consider also providing “office hours” that explain when you will answer emails/texts/calls. Balance is key!
Samples of Forms
Include forms for easy access and understanding (permission slip, health form, sign up form, etc.).
Any Required School Information
Check to see if your school requires all activities to include certain information in their handbook.
Be ready to know what you’ll do when a student “breaks a rule” in a way that demands a consequence:
- Who decides what is a “broken rule” on your team? Only you? Assistant coaches?
- What happens when a student “breaks a rule” while traveling? During practice? In class?
- Does outside-of-debate behavior impact debate?
Finally, be transparent about all rules and consequences. Take the time to go over the final (administration approved) product with your students. Answer questions and get feedback. A handbook can be edited as the year goes on in order to better serve your team.