Tips for Creating Speech & Debate Team

Could you imagine your school without a speech and debate team? Many of us have rich memories that include our experiences from our forensics years. The wins. The losses. The silly Saturday mornings. The grueling, yet satisfying rehearsals. Yet for many, a speech or debate team is something their school does not offer. It takes a pioneer with gumption to get a team started. But how?

Below is a set of guidelines of items that should, or might need, to be in place for a team to arise at a school. This might not fit the exact protocol for how to start a team where YOU'RE PERSONALLY located, but this should offer the groundwork to get you and future team started.

While it is possible to start a team a bit into the school year, earlier is better.
There are management issues that will need to be sorted out before the first tournament, such as budget concerns or the compilation of a pieces inventory (see here for ForCom's collection). Starting early simply equates to more time to devote to "working out the kinks."

Speak to whomever is in charge of extracurriculars at your school
See what sort of budget your school has to spare to help support this team. Ask if there are any guidelines or rules you must follow to be compliant within your school. See if can they spare buses for meets. Get a realistic idea if budget-wise it would be feasible to get started this or next season, etc. Make sure you can do it first (or see what they need to know before they give the okay) beforehand.

Contact whichever league is the one you wish to compete within to see what they need from you to acquire membership.
What's the good of having a speech and debate team if you don't have a place to go compete in tournaments? Every league will have their own set of guidelines and an application process, as well as possible fees, with which your forensics team will have to be compliant. A majority of leagues will have their "how to join" webpage readily accessible. If you're having problems finding the correct spot, no worries. Find the contact information for the league and message/call the person whose title sounds like they should know about the joining process.

Talk to students you think would have interest and invite them to the first meeting.
Even though the school year is young, teachers tend to have a good idea of who might be suited for the life of a speechie or debater. It might be that you have had them in a class before, you've done another school activity with them that relates to forensics, the students is very dramatic in your class, or they mentioned something on the first day's Getting to Know You extravaganza that was memorable for performance. Regardless, teachers know. And make a general announcement in class in case you did miss someone because they are shy. Tell them to bring any friends they think would enjoy forensics too.

If you're a student, talk to all of your friends and convince them to join if you think they would like forensics. What's better than a speech and debate team? A speech and debate team with your buddies on the roaster.

Message any teachers you think might be interested in helping to coach or judge...better yet, ask everyone!
A team can only survive for so long with one coach. As the numbers grow, you will need more people to aid with coaching and to judge at tournaments. You might be surprised by the random teacher that once did Original Oratory that would like to join the team to coach once a week. Further, stress that even if a person can only judge once a month, that's still one more judge than you had at the start of the season. Every little bit helps form a strong team.

If you're a student trying to start a team, you will need a teacher to be your coach/team sponsor so the school will allow you to even officially meet and exist.

Establish when you want the first team meeting to be and start getting the word out.
Post signs, put out "an ad" in the morning announcements for the week or two leading up to the first meeting, ask teachers make announcements in their classroom, etc. Do what you need to do to get students into that meeting. My speech team had approval one season to go into participating classrooms and perform a snippet from pieces we had used the previous year. This not only demonstrated to students that speech team was not "just talking," but was an interactive way to peek interest in what we were doing.

Establish a set weekly team meeting time/day/place.
Consistency is the trick to many well-done things in life. Maybe choose a Thursday/Friday before a meet to prepare and organize your team? Most leagues begin Novice Tournaments mid to late September. Better to get started early to get some experience under your kids' belts.

Create practice sign-up sheets with days/times that coaches have okay'ed, or set times for when certain events/teams meet for rehearsal.
Again, consistency is vital. Create a procedure for scheduling rehearsal time that works for the environment of your forensics team. Meet with the coaches you have to discuss and brainstorm practice procedures prior to your first meeting so this information can be given to your team at that meeting. Why not even sign up those who know what events they want to pursue at the end of meeting one?

GET PARENTS/GUARDIANS INVOLVED.
You'll need people to judge, and parents/guardians can be a resource. Your speech and debate team might also need help raising funds for buses or tournament entry fees, and parents/guardians (sorry parents/guardians) are also a good source of fundraising help. Try doing something fun for fundraising that is active and exciting...and different than boring, bland chocolate bars. (Also, there are teams out there that even have a fee for joining - so do not be scared of doing that if necessary and possible.)

At the start of the year, possibly have a team meal where parents/guardians are invited to view a showcase of pieces going off to seek tournament glory. At the end of the year, have another showcase for parents/guardians to show them what their kids have been doing every Saturday for the past several months. Too often speech and debate teams do not do things for parents/guardians to see what their child is involved with, so adults have no clue what forensics actually is. Creating a feeling of community with adults will pay off--even if it is just so a team member can finally perform for their parent/guardian and see the look of pride in their eyes.

Ask around.
Speech and debate coaches from nearby schools with established teams might be willing to offer "insider info" to a new coach trying to get a team established. Do not be afraid to ask a nearby coach for tips (unless there is a HUGE rivalry).

To conclude, basically get the behind-the-scenes organization mostly established before meeting with your potential team for the first time. How the team is run will depend on the size of the team, the involvement of other teachers, the budget you have, the availability of your team for practice, etc. It's okay not to have everything ironed out, but you need a general plan so mass chaos doesn't ensue.

As a new forensics coach, you might also want to read these related articles about organizing your team and ways to get it growing as well:

1. More advice on creating and growing a small team.
2. Team Organization.
3. Hopped up on the speech? (Basically a way to get kids excited about forensics and create unity.)

Please share your own personal advice, struggles, concerns, and triumphs below! And good luck, speechies and debaters.