Coaches’ Conversation


Hello and Happy New Year!

Last month NSDA held its first Twitter Chat that focused on strategies for hosting tournaments.  We stayed on that topic with two OSDA coaches who host large tournaments annually.



Coaches’ Conversation

featuring Dolores Muller (Wauseon, TOL) and Jessica Jones (Olmsted Falls, CLE)

How long have you been coaching?


20 years as a head coach; two years as an assistant


This is my fifth year coaching, all as head coach.

What are 2-3 of the most challenging aspects with hosting a tournament?


I’d have to say that the toughest overall aspect of hosting a tournament is remembering to do everything that is needed. In my mind, a CHECKLIST is a MUST!  I like to have one for one month out, and then one for each week leading up to the tournament day.  This is helpful in enabling you not to forget anything, and also in making the task of hosting seem less overwhelming, more manageable.  I even like to have one for tournament day, which is when my head is most likely to feel too full.  When the tournament is over, I like to go back and revise these lists and add items that I realize might be helpful for next year.

The other part of hosting a tournament that I need to remind myself to do is DELEGATE.  You don’t want to try to do everything yourself—especially when it comes to ordering/preparing the food for the students and judges.  Find a good parent or preferably several good parents/alums and let them handle that task.  You can provide a budget and general guidelines, but let them bring their own creativity/resourcefulness to it.  Your job is to see that the nuts and bolts tournament prep and undertaking runs smoothly.

Along those lines, don’t be afraid to ASK experienced coaches for their input.  Sometimes the most daunting prospect about hosting a tournament is feeling like we have to know it all from the get-go.  This could keep an otherwise very capable coach from ever wanting to take the plunge.  But veteran coaches love to share what they have learned along the way, so don’t be afraid to ask!  Invite them into your tab room and let them do their thing.  My experience has always been that they will defer to you when it comes to the decisions that need to be made along the way, and then implement what you decide in the best way they know.  Everyone wants to have a smoothly run tournament, but if something comes up the most important thing that I have learned in the tab room is to “fix it and move on.”


The most challenging part of hosting, for me, is managing the combination of teaching, setting up a tournament, getting volunteers, and coaching the week of the tournament.  That one hectic week flies by and you’re never sure how you get it done, but you do.

(You have to be very organized that week, which in my case usually looks like chaos with approximately one million sticky notes and to-do lists—both virtually and physically written all over the place.)

Making sure you have crossed everything off the lists is probably the toughest part.  Really tough, in fact—but after you fumble through it the first time, it gets easier.  The kindness and willingness to help from other coaches also makes it manageable.

What is one of the main benefits of hosting a tournament, from your perspective?  Why so?


It is amazing to see all the students and coaches bustling through the hallways of your school at an event that you put together with your team and supporting parents.  Everyone who is a part of putting the tournament together radiates with pride.  The energy your team feels while they’re hosting is a great team-bonding experience.  For our small program, this is our biggest source of raising funds, as well.  Hosting helps the kids feel a sense of ownership.


[H]osting a tournament allows you to have a fundraiser that also provides a service, in the form of competition for your district’s teams.  It also helps build the cohesiveness and camaraderie of your team.  There’s nothing like pulling together to work toward a common goal to help encourage ownership.  Students take pride in their school and enjoy having everyone “come to their house.”

Hosting a well-run tournament can also provide the opportunity you need to let your administrators and your community see what speech is all about.  One of the best introductions we could ever have given our current Superintendent came when he visited our school during our annual home tournament.  There he was in the high school cafeteria on a Saturday morning with about 200 of the most motivated and best-dressed students in NW Ohio.  He couldn’t help being impressed!  And having parents and community members come and observe rounds, and perhaps even judge, is a sure-fire way to let them see what a worthwhile activity ours is.

Do you have specific strategies or customs to successfully draw volunteers, perhaps both adults and students, to help with your tournament?  Willing to share one or two?


As far as the parents are concerned, we let them know at the beginning of the year when the tournament is scheduled to take place, and that they are expected to work either a shift in the food-service/sales line, or as a judge.  (Since our tournament is the last one before the holidays, we have lots of alum in town to judge, which frees up the parents to help with the food.)

When we have plenty of parents on board, we have also tried to schedule them so that they have the chance to observe their son/daughter in a round along the way.  It’s been our experience that the parents like to feel they are contributing to the effort of hosting, and they often are more willing to help serve than to judge.  You can schedule your workers either by having one parent take on the task of calling the others to take a shift, or by using an online sign-up service like


For the adults, I use for volunteer time slots and for judge food donations.  This is also paired with an email to all the parents and constant reminders to the kids about asking adults to volunteer.

There is also a booster group for the theatre and forensics programs.  The “OFMFP” coordinates donations/discounts from local businesses to stock our concession stands.  Every year local Kiwanis members volunteer to run concessions in the middle school.

The student volunteers are from Key Club, National Honor Society, Rho Kappa, and Builders Club.  I just make sure to give them plenty of notice so they can let the members know far enough in advance.

What advice would you give to coaches who are thinking of hosting a tournament for the first time, or first time in a long time, next season?


Hosting a tournament is a great way to support the hard work that students from many schools put forth.  Don’t be afraid to ask other coaches what they do to prepare, and to use the ideas that you think will work best for your team.

Involve the students as much as possible, and know that the hard work that goes into hosting is worth it for so many reasons.  Stay organized in whatever manner works best for you, and delegate tasks.  You don’t have to do everything on your own.

Most important, don’t worry too much!


As I said earlier, don’t be afraid to ask experienced coaches for their ideas and help.  We all like to share what has worked well for us!

If need be, start small.  When we first started hosting in our smaller high school, we did what we could in one building—which was IE and limited debate, on a first-come, first-served basis.  As I became comfortable with that, we expanded so that IE was held at the high school and debate was held in our middle school a mile away.  Now that we have a new combined middle/elementary school that can house the whole event, we have it all there.  But I never would have gotten to that point if I hadn’t done what I could to begin with.

Also, make sure that you give the teachers whose rooms you plan to use plenty of notice along with reassurance that the students will be properly supervised.  I always send an email to the principals of the buildings we use at least two weeks before the tournament; I let them know the hours that we plan to be in their schools and remind them that their staff won’t have access to their classrooms during the tournament itself.  This gives their staff the opportunity to plan accordingly, or make any special requests they may feel necessary.  Communication is key!