There are a number of national and local debate associations and leagues that exist to provide different levels of support for schools that are working to develop new debate programs. Many (maybe even all) of these associations and leagues also offer the opportunity to qualify for and compete at year end championship tournaments.
The biggest difference between most associations and leagues for debate and those for sports is that these associations and leagues do not provide all the administrative support for organizing the tournaments, they do not run the tournaments, and they are not staffed with full-time or part-time employees. Most of the officers of these organizations are volunteer coaches.
There are a number of national debate organizations.
National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). This is the largest debate association in the United States, and I assume the world. The association has more than 3, 500 member schools and 100,000 active student members.
The NSDA provides educational support for coaches and students throughout the year through its website. After enrolling in the NSDA’s honor society, students can earn points from participation in any debate tournament compete in and earn awards based on cumulative participation and success.
Students can quality to compete in its annual national tournament in June through qualifying district tournaments. The national tournament features competition in all debate in speech events. With more than 4,000 competitors, its national tournament is the largest academic competition in the world.
Through voting of its members, NSDA selects the monthly Public Forum topics and the bi-monthly Lincoln-Douglas topics.
The organization has more than 20 full-time staff.
National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL). NCFL is a volunteer organization that provide support for debate in two ways. First, it encourages the development of local leagues that support small debate tournaments throughout the United States. The Washington area Catholic Forensic League (WACFL) is a great example of this. Second, operates a large national tournament each year that has more than 2,000 competitors. The tournament always occurs over Memorial day weekend.
Membership in the league and participation in the tournament are open to all schools, public or private. All religions are also welcome.
National Debate Coaches Association (NDCA). NDCA is a volunteer association of coaches whose teams are engaged (for the most part) in extremely competitive national circuit debate. Most of the members of the board are national circuit Policy debate coaches.
The NDCA has a championship tournament at the end of the year. Although it offers competition in all debate events, most of the teams that attend are nationally competitive policy debate teams. All members (membership is limited to coaches) are permitted to bring at least one team. Additional teams may qualify if they have earned enough points from participation at tournaments during the year (these points can be earned at any tournament they participate in).
Most states also have an organization that supports speech & debate in their respective state and hosts a state championship tournament.
A few examples –
Massachusetts – Massachusetts Speech & Debate League
New York – New York State Debate Coaches Association
Should you join the organizations?
I always encourage coaches to join speech & debate organizations because those organizations provide essential support and opportunities to many students.
That said, it is important that you join organizations that important to your own program.
First and foremost, I recommend joining any local league where membership is required to participate in the local tournaments. Participation in local tournaments is essential for all schools, so this is the most important organization to join.
Second, I recommend jointing the NSDA. They have valuable resources for coaches and students that come with membership and offer a spectacular national tournament.
Third, I recommend joining the NDCA. Although the NDCA championship tournament is very elite, the organization offers a number of free coaching and evidence resources through its website. These resources can be accessed without membership, but please support the organization if you use the resources.
Fourth, I recommend joining the NCFL. This will be necessary if the local league you participate in is supported by the NCFL and if you wish to participate in the NCFL national tournament. When I was a high school debater, I participated in a local NCFL league and then in the national tournament, so I’m very supportive of the organization.