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When you’re one step ahead, you can help those one step behind. But which step to take? Clare Downing wrote a post based on her experiences as a student coach.

A Student-Coaching Dilemma: It Depends

by Clare DowningOSASuBX1SGu4kb3ozvne_IMG_1088

One of the best things about the Homeschool Speech and Debate community is the willingness of the upperclassmen to give back to their younger counterparts. However, for many of us student-coaches, this gift can also be very challenging. We get to experience the light bulb moments with novices all over again, but we also have to sit through their less than stellar arguments.

We’ve all been there. A novice stands up and pitches an idea. Before they get two sentences out the cynical voice in your head is telling you to inform them how unlikely it is to win on that argument. As a student-coach who is hardwired to refute anything that comes your way you have two options. Either you can shut down their train of thought and save them some embarrassment in years to come (no more “hey remember when you ran that argument lol”) or you can let them figure it out on their own terms, in their own way. Here’s a bit of a pro/con list for student-coach interference in argument generation.



  • Club Reputation – Whether you like it or not, when you coach someone, you put your name on them. Especially when you’re dealing with a novice. It would seem to be in your interest to insure that nothing sketchy happens, even if it’s just a weird argument.
  • Competition – Chances are, the _ahem_ creative argumentation won’t do super well with judges who are expecting to hear pretty basic stuff. Advanced debaters have enough trouble selling out of the box ideas; it’s exponentially harder without the years of communication experience. At least, that’s what we like to think.
  • Look to the future – We all have that argument that we regret running. That one round we wish hadn’t happened. Perhaps if someone had explained to us why it was a bad idea to argue that Iran having nukes isn’t bad, or that giving classes to criminals would turn them into white-collar con men, we might have been saved some embarrassment down the road.



  • Leadership, not Management – A coach is primarily a leader, not a manager. That means that your job is to inspire, not control. No one likes to be micro-managed, and the fastest way to turn off a potentially brilliant forensics competitor is to tell them that their idea is bad. This community in particular attracts stubborn personalities who value intellectual independence. As a debate coach, it’s important to stay away from a position of control, and step into the spot of role model.
  • Creative Process – Novices and the upper echelon of debaters have more in common than you might think. They both know the importance of the creative process. If you’re never willing to try something new and break out of the mold you’ll never achieve excellence. Stifling the unfiltered mind of a novice is the fastest way to shortcut their natural thought process and limit their growth as a debater.
  • Limits Potential – In much the same way, the easiest way to break out of the box is to never be there in the first place. If you tell your students than they have to fit into a certain mold to do well, they’ll stop pushing the envelope. The fastest way to create a supremely average debater is to give them a framework that lets them stop thinking.


So what’s the solution? Well you definitely don’t want you student to go into a new situation blind. Find a way to work with them to make their idea as good as it can be. As much as we may wish otherwise, students are not our mouthpieces. They may find themselves in sticky situations, they may run arguments they regret, but not letting them learn for themselves is a far greater disservice. Plus you never know, maybe the zany idea will work.

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