Debating Resources for the World since 1994



Jay VerLinden
Humbolt State University

Reprinted by Permission From The
Northern California Forensics Association Coaches Handbook

One of the most rewarding parts about coaching intercollegiate Forensics is getting new people interested in the activity, preparing them for their first compedtion, helping them have a positdve experience in that compeddon, and seeing them continue on in the activity. Sometimes, however, that first competition doesn't turn out to be as positive as we envisioned because of unforeseen events that happen at the tournament on top of the natural confusion inherent in doing anything for the first time. Since those of us who coach can easily forgo what it was like to go to our first tournaments, it's easy to forget what to tell the new students will happen. Even when we do remember, trying to explain all possibilities and what to do about them easily leads to information overload and, even then, the unexpected will still happen. So it's a good idea to take some time to think about ways to help students new to Forensics get through their first tournament.

Most coaches have some ideas of how to handle the integration of new students into the world of Forensics cornpetition. The following are some ideas I have about hdping novices through their first tournament.


The first way to help novices have a positive experience when they go to their first tournament is simply to help them become fully prepared to compete. Even students who knew their events very well a week before the tournament find themselves worned about remembering their speeches when it comes time to perform. The students who don't know their events well before the tournament usually have even mom difficulty. The more prepared a student feels going into the tournament, the better chance that student has to cope with the new and the unexpected.
Of course, another part of preparing a student for the first tournament is explaining what happens at a tournament (such as the explanation found in Intercollem= For A Particioant's Handbook) and what to do when the unexpectedw competitors need to know that often problems can be solved by double checking postings or, if they're confused, asking someone else to explain a procedure. Novices also need to know they won't always be able to get in touch with their coaches and they can‹and should‹go to the tournament director when something goes wrong with the way the tournament is running (but not for moral support when there's something wrong with the way their speeches are turning out). Many problems are fairly easy to solve, but they seem much more difficult when the student has to discover how to solve them in the confusion of the first tournament.


Being prepared to compete is only the start to a positive first-tournament experience, though. Equally important is developing a realistically positive attitude about what the novice student will face, among both the students and the coaches. I think there are four important aspects of a good attitude for that first Forensics tournament. Flrst, everything should be kept in perspective. The first competition in novice division is important for what it can lead to in the future, but it isn't terribly important in and of itself. It simply will not make or break a student's Forensics career or life. The first tournament is the time to find out what it's like to go to a tournament, to get used to perfor ning under
pressure, and do the best one can under the circumstances. It's not the time for coaches to put pressure on students to win, or for students to put that pressure on themselves.

The second part of a good first tournament attitude is to realize that something will go wrong. That is simply a fact of tournament life. The student isn't listed on the schedule in the proper event, the student writes down the wrong room for a round, the student is scheduled in a room that doesn't exist, rooms that do exist are hard to find, rooms are locked when the students get there, the judge is a half hour late, the judge leaves before the student arrives to compete, the event's divisions are collapsed so the novice has to compete with last year's national qualifier all three rounds, etc. Sometimes tournaments even get behind schedule. It also seems to be a fact of life that, if something does go wrong at a tournament, it happens in novice division. Students going to their first tournament need to know that these things happen, that they're normal and they should be ready to deal with them. If they think everything will run smoothly they're not ready to adjust to unforeseen circumstances, but if they expect the unexpected they can cope more easily.

A third part of the attitude that all students‹regardless of their level of experience should have is that helping other students is part of the activity, even when the other students are from other schools. There is no doubt that Forensics is a competitive activity, but it is also a cooperative activity. The cooperation, in fact, helps to make the competition better, by creating an atmosphere where everyone is competing at their best. Novices ought to feel comfortable approaching students from other schools for help understanding what's going on at the tournament, and all students should feel comfortable providing that help. My experience has been that the best competitors in Forensics are very helpful to others, even those with whom they are directly competing.

The final part of the attitude that helps novice students have a better experience at their first tournament is the attitude among coaches and judges that they are there to help all students, even those from other schools. The competition, of course, is set up so coaches/judges help students from competitor school improve, by having coaches judge students who are in competition with their own students. We accept that as how the system works, and it works remarkably well. Most coaches and judges I know extend that ethic outside of the individual round of competition and will help students find their way around when their coaches aren't available. Novice students need to know that help from strangers at tournaments is available.


Despite the best efforts of any coach there is always the chance that a problem that wasn't discussed will arise or a student will become confused and forget instructions when faced with a real tournament situation. (Or, perhaps more likely, a problem will arise that was discussed when the student wasn't paying full attention, so can't quite recall what he or she was told to do.) Ideally, the coach would be immediately available for the student to turn to for help, but, since coaches often have lots of students to supervise and problems seem to arise most often when the coach is judging a round of competition, it helps to have another person to turn to for help.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, Jack Kay had a system that worked well and which I've adopted with very good results. It's a simple buddy system. Before the tournament each new competitor is paired with someone who has more tournament experience and who is given the responsibility of helping the novice student get through the toumament. The experienced"buddy"has responsibilities such as making sure the novice gets up in the morning and gets to whatever transportation we're
using on time, showing the novice where the postings are and how to read them, helping the novice read the maps and find rooms, showing the novice where to go if there's a problem, and meeting the novice between rounds and talking about how the tournament is going. Usually, novices need such a buddy for only one toumament, but having the buddy helps them get through that tournament much better.
Experienced coaches know that some novices do well in competition and at their first tournament no matter what; that some novice aren't thrown by the unexpected or by events that would be a hardship for other students. And most of us have known some students who are so highly competitive that they would put Pressure on themselves to win no matter what. I think the majority of students do better when they've gotten some help ahead of the tournament Preparing for the experience, getting a good attitude about the tournament, and know there are people they can turn to when they need help.