When Should Your Child Start Speech and Debate?

It’s that time in the season again and Clubs are starting back up, and parents are trying to find the balance between all the different activities and options for their children. The question is, when should you start Speech and Debate for your child?

After coaching 100’s of kids, I feel like I have an understanding, perhaps a different perspective or another perspective, that I would like to share with you. In addition to coaching, I have served on tournament staff for six years, specifically leading Communications, I see the tournament in my own way.

Because leagues are starting typically at age twelve, I will use that age for my list of things to consider (of course in no particular order)…

1. Twelve years old is too young. All homeschoolers tend to do things when it is good for them. Most are not defined by their age. There are various maturity factors when defining an age. I know of several kids who qualified to Regionals as well as Nationals this past year. My own son qualified to Nationals when he was twelve. This was a great experience and a building experience for him. Speech and Debate build’s upon itself every year. I am thankful I made him start when he was twelve.

2. Speech and Debate is a high school event. I can understand this point. However, when given the opportunity, younger kids can shine and are up to the task. I think one of the main reasons we don’t see more Speech and Debate in Public Middle Schools is due to lack of funding. Now it is true, in Debate, a twelve year old going against an eighteen year old may seem a little silly, but iron does sharpen iron. And just like I can see the benefits for the twelve year old, I can see the benefits for the eighteen year old. We don’t just need to learn how to communicate against or with people like ourselves. This is excellent practice for life.

3. Twelve year olds aren’t ready. Some sixteen year olds aren’t ready either. This year alone, I had a number of first time twelve year old competitors break (in both Speech and Debate). These competitors did raise the level of competition despite their age.

4. There are Junior Tournaments. The twelve or sometimes thirteen year old competitors who are interested in competing can just compete at a junior tournament. I’m sorry, but kids who are interested in competing want to compete!! Most junior tournaments are for fun or practice. They can also sometimes be judged by peers. If your student is looking for merely exposure, then this could be an option. But probably not the right option for the competitor.

5. Down Time at Tournaments. This can be a drag. But some kids use it as a learning opportunity, whether learning different elements of competition or socialization. A lot of learning can take place at tournament. Talk to your child about what they should do during their down time- homework, draw, timing competition, watch debate or speeches, etc.

6. Emotions of losing. I have seen this quite often. Losing is hard at any age (you should see me during playoffs with the Packers). However, learning to continue to persevere, to try harder, to work at something is an amazing accomplishment.

7. Learning factor. By allowing your twelve year old  to compete in Speech and Debate, they are available to soak in all the elements of a tournament, club-time, and the art of communication at younger age.  This allows them the opportunity for more learning with their over all journey.

8. Age.  After coaching numerous camps, I see many nervous, quiet, shy twelve year olds. Although they may be reluctant at first, they are still willing. My opinion by waiting another year, when they are thirteen or older… You might lose them all together. Honestly, with so many other avenues of socialization and opportunities for homeschoolers, we should want them to get excited at twelve years for speech, especially if they are willing! By waiting for another year, they will have more opportunities to try other things, and perhaps not have time or interest in speech when they are older.

9. When they want to compete.  If a twelve year old is really interested in competing… Let them. Their motivation will propell them through their journey.

10. Time. No one can predict what their “speech journey” should or will look like or when it should start. Each student is unique! Some students will need more time to grow, some might not. I have seen many kids ready at twelve, but some who weren’t necessarily ready, yet needed the extra time that their twelfth year gave them. Remember, you are in charge of how much you put on their plate.

Ultimately, you know your son or daughter/future competitor. Knowing when to jump in, dive in, or just stick your toe in the water is your call. Learning the art of communication is a life long process. Some leagues have junior competitions (competitions geared for younger than twelve year olds), some cities across the county offer junior speech. So obviously, you can start younger than twelve. The purpose of this article was to assess the “considerations” of starting your twelve year old in Speech and Debate. I believe that whenever you and your family is ready- it is a perfect time! Just know that you have me praying for your beginner- whatever their age!