How to Travel 100+ Students to a Debate Tournament…It’s So Worth It!

Stefan Bauschard

All of who follow-her on Facebook are blown-away (to say the least) by Rachel Mauchline’s accomplishments as a coach, not the least of which is her demonstrated success not only in taking 100+ students to an overnight debate tournament, but bringing them all back. After admiring her from afar for awhile, I thought I’d ask her to write-up how she does all of this!

Rachel Mauchline — “It’s So Worth It!”
Director of Debate, Cabot High School

Often when I make posts on social media of our classic “bus selfie” on the way to tournaments, I’m left with comments questioning my rationale and possibly even my sanity for taking so many students to tournaments. I never think there is an ill intent to these questions or comments, but instead opens an opportunity to provide a perspective. Running a large program is no easy feat, especially as the sole 9th to 12th grade coach for a program of approximately 120 students. But even in moments of stress or being purely overwhelmed, I wake up knowing I have one of the most rewarding jobs with amazing students, incredible administration, and great community. 

I figured the best way to answer many of the questions that are often posed about being the Director of a large program was in a FAQ format – 

Wait… how many students? 

Depends on the weekend. Sometimes 6. Sometimes 15. Sometimes 60. Sometimes 110+. Yes taking 110+ students to any tournament, especially an overnight one, is a huge undertaking financially, logistically, and mentally, but the opportunity to watch students experience the joy of an in-person again makes it all worth it. With that many students, it’s not always about the sweeps award or the plaque or the bid. Some students it’s about getting a specific comment on a ballot. Some students it’s about breaking with a piece they’ve been fine tuning for months. Some students it’s about sharing their message even if they take a 6 in every single round. The joy of watching students of all skill levels find success in the way they want makes the bus ride getting home at 2am with singing kids worth it (depending on what song they are singing) 

How do you have such a large program? 

There isn’t a simple answer to that question. It certainly wasn’t something that happened overnight. We do lots of different recruitment activities and methods to engage students. We do elementary tours by doing speech performances and debate activities in our local elementary schools. We have a social media presence where we post our tournament results and the fun we have at these tournaments. We do recruitment directly in the middle schools with explaining what the program is and the benefits that you can come from it. We do actions in our community to showcase what forensics and debate is all about and the skills that can be gained from it.  

Simply asking the question to a group of junior high or middle school students – “Who here likes to talk?” and you’ll get lots of hands in the air. That desire to speak their mind is all that is needed to create the foundation for a program. 

What is your motivation?

This is a question that can be asked of any coach. I love these students. I know that each and every one of them will make a difference in the world. Even with weekend after weekend of travelling around the country, we always make memories. Last weekend we hosted our tournament (shameless plug here) and watching the excitement these students have to host this event for the community is a joy to watch. In the wake of two years of online tournaments, this year the motivation has been more evident than ever. It can’t just be a coach motivated to win, but the team that is motivated with the mentality of success not just being about the awards, but about being a team to be proud of. 

Wait but you run a program with so many events… How do you find the time?

This is a question that I constantly struggle with and is probably the most difficult component to my job. I’ve got students in the following events (some of these are NSDA and some of these are local circuit events).

  • Humorous Interpretation
  • Dramatic Interpretation
  • Dramatic Song Lyric Interpretation 
  • Mime 
  • Duo Interpetation 
  • Duet Improv Acting 
  • Program Oral Interpetation 
  • Prose
  • Poetry 
  • Storytelling 
  • Original Oratory
  • Informative
  • Impromptu 
  • Declamation
  • Extemp 
  • Words and Music
  • Readers Theatre 
  • Policy Debate
  • World Schools Debate 
  • Big Questions Debate
  • Congress 
  • Lincoln Douglas Debate
  • Public Forum Debate
  • IPDA Debate 

This is a long list and I’ve probably missed some event. This is hard to manage and balance. There isn’t a correct answer to how to do it. These are just some of my tips – 

  1. Create Student Leadership – Create structures event by event. This doesn’t happen overnight. For example, I started by focusing on a specific type of debate in Debate 1 for multiple months while also teaching other standards. They became the “experts” to others even if that wasn’t the type of debate they ended up doing at tournaments. I currently have seniors who have never taken LD to a tournament but know all the fundamentals enough to help support, aid, and mentor a younger student. Each year I focused a few months on each style in order to create the base. This also applies to Forensics. Often my leadership of students in forensics is more technique based such as popping, BNB opening, characterization, etc integrated into specific events and performances. Giving students these leadership opportunities helps all involved even if the process is long.

  2. Create a purposeful schedule – When I sit down and plan the month, quarter, semester, year – I am very intentional with my scheduling of practices. Either rotating between specific events or finding time to pivot between both groups or subgroups constantly during that time. This is hard and means students do need to be motivated, but that buy in comes from the desire to find success. This also means sometimes rather than teaching to the event, teaching to skill or technique means they can then take that content and apply it more crucially and efficiently to their event they are specializing in.  I’d also HIGHLY recommend finding time to breathe. Take a night each week for you. That balance is so important to not be constantly juggling all the plates.

  3. Utilize online resources – We know in teaching sometimes there is no need to constantly reinvent the wheel on content. There are SO many amazing resources out there to utilize from the NSDA, UKTOC, NDCA, DebateUS, etc.  The list is so expansive on the resources. Rather than explaining for the millionth time the best way to answer a link turn on a disad or how to best vocalize dramatic literature, turn to the resources available. I know that the STUDENTS in the NSDA Final Rounds provide eduction that I cannot mirror in a lecture setting. It’s okay to rely on these resources as a supplement to educating and perfecting our craft. 

What tips do you have for travelling with so many students?

When you have 100+ kids, it’s important you create a strong foundation of support. I have some amazing parents and ask our junior high coaches to come on trips to make sure I am able to deal with all the inevitable situations that arise. The main thing to keep in mind is that sometimes things go wrong and it’s better to prepare that it will and be ready to handle any situation. I’ve seen all the situations from milk pouring down the floor of the bus on all the kiddos luggage to having a student sick at the side of the road at 3am. It’s about smiling through even the most stressful moments and having the best time with kids. 

What moments have inspired you as a coach?

I actually in high school wanted to be a paramedic (which is simply because of my love for Greys Anatomy) until my senior year. The change happened when I was giving more opportunities to do mini lectures and teaching in my debate class. Being given the opportunity to teach content I loved made me realize my desire to continue to be involved in this activity. This inspired me to continue to coach both in college and beyond that. 

As a college student, I volunteered at another high school which wasn’t my alma mater. Watching a team that I coached independently win the JW Patterson Invitational and the Glenbrooks in Novice Policy was a real motivation. I realized the impact that a single individual can have on students. And I love hearing about that same novice policy team going to win and have success on the collegiate level.  

And even now as a coach of a program I love hearing about students I’ve worked with and the impact a single educator can have on them whether they continue debate beyond my classroom. 

How do you have any time for anything outside Speech and Debate? 

This is a question that as a young professional is very hard. I’m only 25 so I do struggle to balance all the many things going on. I don’t think it’s maturity, but simply being a coach of any size program. I live constantly with a post it note (or multiple) on my desk that the list never gets any smaller.  If anything, it’s usually growing by the minute even as I write this article 🙂 

Even though I travel 20-30 weekends a year, I make sure to find quality time with loved ones and also some time to be simply alone (without children constantly singing on the bus home) It’s all about being intentional with every minute you have at practice, in a classroom environment, on buses. 

My biggest piece of advice is the same piece of wisdom that my High School Debate Coach shared with me on my last day in her program –

“Choose a career you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”