Welcome to the Inaugural Entry of The Old Coach’s Blog! And welcome to the newly launched Veritas Debate Library! It is odd, but somehow appropriate, that we are beginning here in June, where so many of us hope to end our year, at Nationals. It is at this time of year, when so much is at stake for our most dedicated students that our skills as coaches are often tested. Coaching the September debater and coaching the June debater are very different propositions. The September Debater is fresh-faced, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and the job is to get that kid to as many tournaments as possible while answering their millions of questions as fast as possible. The June debater is a tough, tournament veteran, who has traveled a million bus-miles and needs deep wisdom, not the quick fix. In June, they’ve done the work, they’ve polished, they’ve buckled down and the coaching that’s needed is really something more, something beyond the norm. We really have to back up, avoid the myopia, and see something more.
And so, it is in June, when a kid needs to reach deep down to get that extra inch of quality against the very intimidating opponents at Nationals, that my mind turns to other Old Coaches for some wisdom. One legend that I have drawn some wisdom from is an old football coach who was facing a rival who had never been defeated on their home field. (Yes, I know this is sports, but the longer you coach, the more that you realize that coaching is coaching whether it is debate or curling.) So this coached faced extremely powerful opponents. His young team was intimidated by the undefeated record and couldn’t get past that mental hurdle no matter how hard they prepared, how ready he knew they were. So, he hatched a plan. And let me just say here, that this was long ago, in time beyond time, when coaches were unquestioned, long before the days of permission forms and litigious parents. So, at the last practice before the big game, as darkness fell, he told his team that they should get shovels from behind the fieldhouse shed, and each dig up a big shovel full of dirt and put it all in the back of his truck. His stunned, but still obedient team, followed his strange request and gathered a goodly pile of dirt from their own home endzone in the back of the old coach’s truck. The team then jumped in their cars and drove an hour through the night to the stadium of the undefeated team. They sent their skinniest kid squeezing through the gate to let them all in, and there, under cover of darkness, they sprinkled all the dirt from their own home endzone, invisibly, all over the other team’s home turf. When the game day came, they crushed their opponents, giving them their first loss on what only they secretly knew was now truly their “home turf.”
I tell this story to say that sometimes the coaching that you must do for nationals, for your June Debaters, is very Zen. It is about giving kids the means to access that feeling of confidence to do what they already know how to do while feeling that they are on their own “home turf.” I’m not necessarily advocating that you pack a shovel full of dirt from your hometown into your suitcase for nationals, but I’m not ruling it out either. You will have to find your own “home turf” for each of your June debaters if you want them to imagine that they can do something that’s never been done before.
Best of Luck at Nationals!
The Old Coach