Hopped up on the speech?

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Unless you are fortunate enough to attend a large school with an established forensics culture, odds are that your team is small. Size should not matter, but sometimes small teams often feel diminished and unimportant. Perhaps as a small team you feel shunned by your school and like a reject activity which no one has ever heard of? In short, does your small team not feel like a tight, confident family?

Fear not! A small team does not have to feel small. A speech team should be a family. By bringing everyone together and forming a safe/fun environment, competitors’ speech pieces can flourish and rank. Besides, small teams can still rank well as a team if competitors are double entered and offer strong performances. So NEVER count a small team as nothing! But how do you improve moral for a small team that feels like a tiny gnat in the big world of forensics? There are several actions that can be taken to instill life into the smallest of teams:

1. Dinner rehearsals—-a supper, I mean super method to bring a small team close together is to have a tight knit rehearsal with food. Of course practice with a coach and individually still apply, but why not bring the team together for a special evening of practice showcases/constructive criticism? Have everyone perform their piece, and while people perform the audience take notes on positive ways to improve the piece. If the team is already fairly close offer some vocal suggestions. Either way, have all notes passed back to the performer so they can read the suggestions of improvement. Anonymous slips of notes are suggested to avoid any confrontations. After rehearsal food can be served and the mini dinner party ensue! Not only does this help bring the team closer together (which promotes risks and energy at practice/tourneys), this also offers a way to have multiple eyes view a piece and thus give various insight.

2. Locker signs and team hoodies—-one thing I did while I was team captain was place locker signs of good luck on every competing speechie’s locker on the Friday prior to a competition. It took me perhaps a total of 1 hour to make the signs and place them on the lockers. I also designed and took care of the ordering process for team hoodies. These simple acts of team building did wonders to boost team moral. We felt like a team—-and one that had some school recognition. These small gestures gave the team pride and joy which translated to happy speechies on the bus at 6 AM. Also, happy speechies often translate to ones who work together, practice hard, and thus raise the probability of ranking. Locker signs and hoodies also mean publicity for the team. People rarely want to join something that appears to only have a few members who care little for the activity, but by showing our team had pride often translated to queries from non-speechies who wondered what was speech (and possibly when/where weekly team meetings were held).

3. Public performances—-a wonderful way to raise awareness of forensics is to have a public performance. At my high school, we would have a Group Interpretation and Speech Highlights presentation. The speech team would present a few acts prior to Group Interpretation’s performance. This duel evening performance worked out well as both speech and GI gained viewers/support from the other group’s following; theatre kids saw what the speechies were doing and vice versa (although, everyone in speech were the hardcore theatre kids who mostly went on to become theatre or film majors). Either way, my small speech group was exposed to a larger student population who knew nothing of speech. This free publicity helped to gain members or at the very least student support for the team. This also, again, helped to raise team moral by showing the team they are important and that not only judges and other speechies will see their work. Public performances give teams a chance to show parents, friends, and a fresh audience what it is they do with their time.

4. Team games/warm-ups—-the team that plays together stays together. Any theatre kid can tell you that working together alone does not a close family make. Trust is built by human interactions that often happens outside of the business of work/rehearsal. Although speech offers little free time to chill and hang out, it is important to take time to build connections. Without them, there is no trust. No trust means little chance of risks or support, which often means a lacking performance. This applies to individual events as well. Little to no team support means fewer eyes to view and critique your work. Further, feeling like you lack a team while at a tourney affects performance (if you dislike waiting between rounds because your team is all disjointed, odds are you will not give your best performance). Take time to play games designed to build team communication and trust. Variations on tag, catch, the floor is lava, etc all work wonders—-and many more can be found on-line with instructions. Also, doing team warm-ups prior to a tourney or practices helps build unity and offers giggles to set the mood for a good, constructive time.

5. Warm fuzzies—-compliments always make people smile and get them excited to take part in whatever activity it is they were praised. Have everyone on the team write one note card per team member of something nice about that person (so I would write a card for every team member). It can be a compliment on personality, performance, dedication, etc; the note card should leave the reader with a “warm, fuzzy felling” after being read. I would save warm fuzzies for the end of the year, prior to a big tournament. Pass them out on a rehearsal before the big tourney, at the end of practice, and watch the team moral soar. Note: these are to be anonymous.

6. School announcements—-to give the team support from the school it is a good idea to have any team accomplishments/news read during morning announcements the Monday after a tourney. It is exciting to hear your name read for the whole school when you have done well at a tournament. Sure, it is a bit of an ego trip, but everyone deserves acknowledgment for success. This also is free publicity for the team and could hook new members when interested students question those whose names have been read why/what they did.

7. Confidence—-as stated earlier, just because you are a small team does not mean you cannot rank. Remember, ranking in a round has nothing to do with school size. You can have 7 members and still make a mark. Believe me. My team had anywhere from 7-12 people compete per weekend. Yet we knew our material, double entered, and often broke to finals if not rank high. The thing was we never let our size phase us. We saw speech as a fun yet challenging form of competition. We practiced endlessly and went out to enjoy ourselves and entertain our audiences with our pieces. This joy of performing often led to good ranks. And we were a tight team too because of our lack of concern for being small. It was what it was and we did the best we could.

These seven steps are a surefire way to bring a small team together and instill them with pride. Remember, it’s not the size of the team that counts but the performances you deliver!

A dinner rehearsal?!?! Man, I wish my team would have done one of those around regionals!

I always liked hearing speech announcements of how our team did on Monday. Even better was when we had speech showcase and some of the team would go to the office to give the announcement of when it was :)

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