Key Steps in Starting a New Debate Team


Starting a new debate program in a school can be a challenge, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to make the process easier.

Set goals. The most important thing to do is to set goals for the development of your debate program. These goals are likely to change based on student and coach interest and finances but it makes sense to start with establishing some basic goals.

-How many students do you wish to have on your team in year one? Year two? Year five?

– Do you wish for your team to be locally, regionally, and/or nationally competitive? Would you like the team to travel abroad?

– What events do you want your team to participate in?

Establish a budget. Even if you do not currently have an existing source of direct financial support (your school), you still need to build a budget to estimate the likely expenses that you will have given your goals.

After you have your budget established, you will need to reconcile the budget with your goals, and that may require a modification of the goals.

Seek funding. After you have established goals and a budget, you will need to seek funding to support your program. This funding may come from a combination of sources including your school, student (family) contributions, and outside fundraising.

Again, you may need to modify your goals and your budget based on available funding.

Find a coach. You will need to find a coach to direct the team. You can do this before you start the above steps, but you can also do it after. If you do it before, you can include the coach/mentor in establishing the goals and the budget. If you are the coach/mentor, you can skip this step and start with the first two :).

Regardless of where you put finding a coach in your sequence, you may need to modify your budget and goals once you have a find a coach who agrees to support the program in particular ways. Also, you may luck out and find a coach with experience in one of the events, meaning that event will be a great one for the team to start to compete in!

Local mentors. Unless you are able to find a coach with a substantial amount of previous experience, which is difficult, it is important to help coaches connect with at least one other coach in the area who can answer frequent questions that will likely develop over the course of the year. That local mentor coach can also provide valuable support with instructional materials.

Provide training for the coach. If the coach does not have previous experience with debate or has not been involved in debate for length of time, coaches will need some training. This training is available through online tutorials, materials that can be found on the internet, books, and summer programs.

Promote the debating team. In order to recruit students, the debate team will need to be promoted at school. This can be done through emails to students and parents, notification in school bulletins, and posters and signs on the walls. Once a few students join, news about the team can spread through word of mouth.

Establish a debate class. Many schools offer classes where students can learn about debate, prepare to debate, and develop basic argumentation and speaking skills. There is a strong correlation between the opportunity to take a debate class at school and the size and strength of debate teams.

Establish a tournament schedule. As discussed in the post on debate tournaments, there are many different types of debate tournaments that you will likely have access to. Since competition is a strong motivator for students, it is important to establish a tournament schedule to create momentum for your team.

Join a speech & debate organization. As discussed in the post on speech and debate organizations, you should join at least one local organization that provides some support to your debating efforts. You should also consider joining at least one national organization.

Encourage summer workshop participation. Most competitive debaters participate in summer debate programs to develop and strengthen their debating skills. These programs also provide opportunities for students develop social ties with students from around the country and now around the world.