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Coaching Online Debates

Author: Marge Strong

With the rise in e-debate, so comes the rise of e-coaching. As a Luddite, this terrifies me – how do I keep the same enthusiasm I have in person? How can I tell if my debaters understand what I’m saying without seeing their faces? How do I know where their files are/how do I get them to know where their files are? How do I deal with the influx of chats? It’s a lot. Luckily, I’ve had some practice after missing a few tournaments for chronic illness.

1. How do I keep that same energy?

Put yourself in a productive setting. This can be at home in a workspace, at your office, or if this pandemic ever ends, maybe a coffee shop. The energy of a debate tournament is so different than the energy outside of one. Can you do your homework while watching TV? Maybe. Can you engage in high-level coaching that will win an elim round? I sure can’t. Getting yourself as close to the mindset of a tournament as possible will ensure you have close to the same output as usual. Hole yourself in a “war room” and avoid the outside world.

2. How do I know if my kids understand me?

Body language is a huge part of coaching for me. Some kids are too embarrassed/proud/nervous to admit they don’t understand, so they just nod unconfidently. The problem is there is no “unconfident nod” button on any keyboard I have seen. You need to talk to students ahead of time about the need for explicit communication to fill in. One way of checking for students’ understanding is making them re-explain things back to you. If all else fails, you can Zoom each other during pre-round prep time.

3. How do I show my kids where their files are?

Prep your prep session! You no longer have the option to say “here let me see your laptop, I’ll find it” Take some extra time before you talk to the kids to locate the files you need. You can copy and paste file pathways for them over Dropbox to quickly move on from the file location portion of prep. Slacking kids’ files directly is also an option. I guess screen sharing is a thing if your super desperate.

4. I don’t know where my kids’ files are?

The same advice applies. Take some time before tournaments to get familiar with each team’s Dropbox if you aren’t. Make sure they know they need to have an organization system, and not a single folder with every file ever in it. Or ten folders called “top-shelf impact turns,” “must-reads,” “neg goodies FINAL FINAL FINAL,” “werk moo”, etc.

5. How should we communicate?

You should pick one platform. I suggest Slack because you can group message, channel communicate, attach files to messages, and a bunch of other cool features. If your school has a specific platform that they would like you to use, then go with that one. The point is that you pick one medium – getting gchats, texts, slacks, Facebook messages, and whatever else is going to lead to you missing something. Keep the conversation in one place to streamline everything.

I don’t think e-debate is going anywhere anytime soon. The sooner we get used to it as coaches, the better the experience for the students. I highly encourage y’all to throw out any other tips you’ve thought of in the comment section!

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