Student, Teacher, Competitor… By: Eric Meinerding

How to develop the triple threat of being a club leader, as a student…

So, you’re a student leader in your club? You now have to balance your own busy tournament preparation schedule with the obligations you have to your club. If you’re attempting to rework your IO/Expos boards the week before a tournament where several novices are panicking before their first tournament, it could seem like you have a little bit too much on your plate. But luckily, these dual responsibilities aren’t as insurmountable as they may first appear. Being a student leader while a competitor can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have while participating in speech and debate. It gives you a unique perspective on forensics and, as a teacher, you will come up with new ideas that you normally wouldn’t have considered as only a competitor. I’ll be discussing some different methods to ensure you can succeed as a club leader or captain while also growing as an orator and logician…

Firstly, ensure there are clear expectations set between your clubmates, the parent organizing the club, and yourself. Does your obligation as a club leader end after your in-person club meetings, or are your students expecting you to do skype meetings with them or script reviews outside of club time? Whatever form your roll as a student club leader takes, it is vital to ensure your responsibilities are clearly outlined and understood by everyone involved. This will make your life so much simpler. You can clearly plan out how much time you need to spend every week without wondering if you are doing too much or too little as a leader. Now, from experience I can tell you that time commitment can very from week to week, especially during tournament season in the spring, but having definitive parameters as to what your tasks are can make even the most busy club meetings much more manageable.

Once you know what your job is and what is the job of the other club leaders or students, you can begin planning out how exactly you will fulfill your roll in the club. If you are in charge of, let’s say, interpretive and platform speeches for your club, you might plan out improv or blocking exercises for the early weeks before people have scripts and then set aside time later in the season for extensive speech feedback. However, if you have been around the block a few times in the world of competitive forensics, you have probably in one of those extremely awkward situations where it is time to participate in an activity or give speeches and your club gets cold feet. Don’t become discouraged. This isn’t your fault as a club leader. It’s simply one of the natural apprehensions new orators must overcome. Many students are forced to do speech and debate early on and will fall in love with the activity after they get comfortable (i.e. the writer of this article).

So how does one break the ice and host a productive club meeting? There are an overwhelming number of schools of thought on this topic so I’ll just try to suggest what I think could be one of the most important angles to view this particular topic from. I believe that early in the season you should limit the number of “forced participation” exercises. If you have students who are primarily focusing on platforms and debate and aren’t as theatrically inclined, a game of freeze would neither be as helpful nor as enjoyable for them as for a student planning on giving three interps this season. Do students of all forensics categories have something to learn from the styles that they don’t personally participate in? Of course. Probably more than most students realize, actually. However, be sure to set them up to succeed in what they are most passionate about. A lecture on research for a platform may bore your club’s best duo team while improv exercises could terrify a student with an excellent biographical. If students start to believe that every speech meeting is going to be a source of anxiety, they will be more reluctant to then turn around and work on the speeches they were passionate about to begin with.

To resolve this, feel free to split up the club into groups that allow them to develop the speaking skills they are most interested in and change things up every so often with activities that put people outside of their comfort zone. It’s very common for students to become apprehensive about going to a club meeting for a variety of reasons, providing as many opportunities as possible early on to grow in a more comfortable environment can go a long way in a student’s development.

Be sure to lead by example! This is absolutely crucial. If you are an evidence captain, submit your briefs not only on time, but early. Be ready as a speech captain to present your speech(es) before requesting any other students to give theirs. As I’m sure all you club leaders out there are very committed to working hard on speech and debate, setting a good example should come naturally for you. But do not forget to extend this to tournaments as well. Like it or not, when you are at a tournament, you are being looked up to and mimicked by newer members of the community. If you are unfortunately not speaking or debating later in the tournament, take at least one round to sit in and flow. Watching out rounds can be one of the most educational and motivating experiences for new competitors. I know it was for me. But if novices see the upperclassmen from their club socializing in the hallways every elim round, that can stifle a lot of that motivation. Now you don’t have to be sitting in on every single round you aren’t competition in, but inviting some of the younger students with you to watch some well blocked duos or an expertly crafted LD case can go a long way in their development and respect for you as a leader.

Teaching speech and debate grows the teacher along with the student. When I led my club my senior year, it provided with me a refreshing perspective on an activity I had been doing for almost six years. Having to re-explain information that had become habitual for me allowed me to take a step back and refine some of those basic fundamentals I had let slide after years of competition. Seeing the enthusiasm many younger competitors display at every practice and tournament in turn motivated me to work harder on my own craft as a debater. Leading a club is not simply an honor or responsibility, it is also a special opportunity for yourself. Take advantage of it and put in the extra time to ensure that whatever element of the club you are in charge of receives the attention it needs. I can ensure you that you won’t regret it.

Additionally, realize that you can’t do everything on your own. Even if you are a junior or senior and have been involved in speech and debate for over five years, if you want to continue competing you will need some coaching as well. When I switched debate styles midway through my senior year I received skype coaching from an alum and did some back and forth emailing on improving my LD case. In club, we would pay other alumni to judge rounds through video chats and give feedback. Suffice it to say, even my club, which had several veteran competitors, was able to gain crucial guidance from debaters and orators who had been out of the league for a few years. The recourses here at Lasting Impact are exactly what a student club leader can use to augment not only the skills of their club, but also their own personal competitive potential.

In boy scouts I had a scoutmaster once ask me if I’d rather be respected or liked as a leader. I initially answered that I’d rather be liked. I thought that as long as the people I was working with liked me, they’d follow my lead. His reply has stuck with me to this day and I believe it applies to this topic rather well. He said that, although friends may be willing to listen to what you have to say, they will do so only if they respect you on top of liking you as a person. Likewise, someone who may not like you or simply doesn’t know you very well will still follow your lead if they respect you as a leader. Setting an example, tailoring your plans to meet the needs of your students, and fulfilling your obligations can all go a long way in establishing yourself as someone worthy of respect. Leading a club requires committing time and recourses that you may have normally spent on your speeches or 1AC, or maybe catching up on homework or seeing a movie, but it’s also not an opportunity that comes every day. So spend that extra hour on writing out a lecture, or reviewing a novice’s first negative brief. Leadership is an attribute that will aide you throughout your personal and professional life for years to come and leading a club in high school is a perfect place to start.

Eric Meinerding is one of our amazing Lasting Impact! Coaches. He is perusing a degree in law at Liberty University in Virginia. Schedule a session with him or any of our other fabulous coaches to get a jump start on the season, guidance, direction, or encouragement. The opportunities are endless when you have a Lasting Impact! Guide by your side!