April 1, 2017

Lessons from Coaching Youth Debate


Public Speaking , Faculty , Three Things , Instruction , Tips

“Speaking is like sports. It’s all about muscle memory. Youth debaters who establish good habits early on can go far.”

– Buckley coach Jana Daley, who also coaches high school debate teams

A member of the Buckley faculty since 2000, Jana Daley has been volunteering to share her expertise as debate coach at the high school level.

The competition is keen and the speakers are serious about practice, improvement—and winning. 

Arguments prepped and battle shoes on, Jana's debaters are ready to compete.

Last month, Jana helped coordinate a multi-day regional competition and cheered her debaters to some satisfying wins. Among those excelling were her own daughters Anna Katherine and Liz.

Jana flanked by her champion debating daughters Anna Katherine (left) and Liz (right).

Jana suggests three things you can use from lessons she’s learned as a coach:

1. Arrogance never wins as many points as humility.

“You’ve got to honor your judges by explaining things without talking down to them—a skill every speaker can use.”

2. A few points made well are better than a lot of points made poorly.

“In competitive debate as in real life, it’s tempting to try to squeeze it all in. But our debaters actually win more points when they say a few things well—slowly and clearly.”

3. Used properly, a lectern can work to your advantage.

“My pet peeve is the debater who dances around behind the lectern, rather than commanding it and using it as an anchor. Working from a lectern not only makes the speaker calmer and more confident looking, but it also opens the diaphragm. Once debaters begin to agree with me about this, they come running to me to tell me how the lectern has become their secret weapon.”

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