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Isaiah McPeak posted in 2015, showcasing 4 different case studies of how to start a club. Two of those models, I ended up coaching long after he had moved on. I helped coach the PHC BP team, as well as Vector Debate (for 2 years).

This post, however, is more informational on how to RUN a debate club, and how to COACH existing or new teams, allowing them to learn, grow, win, and access their potential. Coaching is similar across many sports – and that is no different for debate. When determining how to better run and coach a club, you need to break down your skills into two key categories:

  1. Leadership and Administration (logistical, and relationship)
  2. Debate Coaching, Knowledge, and Experience (debate debate debate)

Running a club requires organizational skills, dealing with parents and kids, as well as basic orchestration of details and announcements. If you are reading this, then you probably already grasp that. Let’s dive deeper into some more helpful questions and examples.

  • Create camaraderie: even if the club is split up into debate styles who practice differently, make everyone start club off together. Create a habit where students can bond together and even laugh together. What does this look like?
    • Do a mind game that takes 10 minutes for the start of club.
    • Run announcements at the beginning rather than at the end
    • Give a quick presentation on a book helpful to debate (or assign it to the students, a different student every week).
    • Do debate or rhetoric drills, that are interactive with the students who are sitting down AND the student presenting.
  • Don’t do it all alone
    • Recruit Parents
    • Setup a “Board” or “Group” of parents who make the executive decisions for the club, while you can focus on coaching.
    • If you are running a club based out of a private or public school, set up student leaders to run each style of debate, whom you can delegate too.
  • Setup the Calendar ahead of time. Plan out potential tournaments, off weeks, school breaks, etc.
  • Admit your short-comings, and find people who can help. If you cannot plan out the season well, ask a seasoned parent to help, or ask a student what the tourney calendar for last year looked like. Even better, contact a representative for whatever league your club is competing in, and they will help you find the calendar you’re looking for.

Coaching debate teams the right way, so they get better, and win more, is not easy, but also not hard. You need everyone to remember that debate club is a time where no one is allowed to goof around. Here are some scattered tips:

  • If your debaters have never had a crash course on syllogistic or dialectic logic, bring someone in to teach it. Teach them to differentiate between a Major Premise, Minor Premise, Conclusion etc. Many of them will have already been doing this subconsciously.
  • Prior to the start of the season, run a half-day long workshop for kids who have never competed in debate, and are joining the team.
  • OR at the beginning of the season, go over ALL the basics with EVERYONE. To avoid older students getting senioritis, have them give some of the topic lectures on more general subjects in debate. This will help with the camaraderie point above.
  • Ensure you have enough time to accomplish your goals. Debate Club usually cannot be shorter than 2-hours.
    • Establish regular practice rounds EVERY week. Make sure every form of debate gets time to practice a round, see a round, flow a round, prep a round, etc.
  • Run post-tournament de-brief sessions with all the debaters. What did they do well, what can they work on?
    • Never settle for letting a student blame their loss on a judge. Can judges be stupid sometimes? Yes, but always draw out of the debater, a way in which he or she can do better.
  • Spend extra time with your best teams. Make sure they are set up for success and don’t feel “left-out” because your focusing on the new kids, and know they will be fine.
    • If this means outside-of-club skype sessions to talk over tournament results, case-reviews over the phone while they travel, make sure to do it.
  • When teaching – utilize the Socratic-Dialogue when teaching. Ask questions, and lead the conversation to a pre-determined end. This has two benefits
    • It allows your students to better grasp the subject, because they are engaged in the conversation, not passively listening
    • Your students stay awake
  • If your club or group is filled with naturally quiet kids, call on kids to answer. Don’t be afraid of a little silence.
  • Spend a good amount of time and energy ensuring all research is split up between students. Delegate a student to assign briefs, and have all students turn in briefs every week.

Have suggestions, or thought I left something out? Comment down below.

Have questions about running or starting a club? Shoot us an email at contact@ethosdebate.com

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