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Setting Your Team Up for Success!

Defining Success

There are many different versions of success when it comes to speech and debate. Some schools define success as winning a state or national championship. Other schools define success as going to a tournament and surviving! Your definition of success should be tailored to the needs of your coaches and your students.

When defining success for your own team, you might consider:


    • What is the current skill level of your students? If you don’t yet know, how will you first determine their skill level before creating a definition for success? 
    • What level of skill do you/your fellow coaches have? How can you best serve your students? What do you need to learn or explore in order to better serve your students as a coach?
    • If you are joining an already existing program, how does your definition of success differ from the one the team already has? What can you do to help shape the culture of the existing team so that you all define success in a way that works for everyone? It will be important to get support from your administration if you will be making changes to the way things “have always been.” 
    • What are the expectations/definition of success that your school’s administration holds? How does your definition align with theirs? If it doesn’t, how will you manage the “gap” between the two definitions? How can you advocate for closing that gap? 
Defining Success

Once you have determined what your definition of success will be, it is important to create some goals—both short-term and long-term—to help you focus your season. Over the course of the season, you may set and accomplish many short-term goals while working toward a bigger long-term goal.

Be sure your goals are something you can actually control—competitive success is good, but there are confusing judges and bad rounds. Try to make goals not based on competitive success. Consider things like culture and climate of the team, coaching staff management, peer coaching programs, filing or evidence systems, participation levels, and skill development.

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?

Financial/Fundraising Policy

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?

Partnership Policy

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?

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. 

Use these resources to get started on your team’s handbook. 

Downloadable Resources

Speech and Debate Glossary

As with any specialized activity, jargon and abbreviations pervade speech and debate activities. This guide covers some of the most essential terms of art that will alleviate your uncertainty as a new coach, as well as the hesitancy any students new to speech and debate may feel.

Team Recruitment Strategies

While speech and debate activities provide an enormous potential benefit for every student who participates, many students do not realize it! For this reason, recruitment is necessary to build a successful program. Get the guide to building your program

Attending Your First Speech and Debate Tournament

Tournaments are the best method for getting new students hooked on speech and debate. This guide is designed to help prepare new coaches for what they and their students should expect at their first tournament experience.