How to take debate club to the next level? Answered
I’m a freshman and at school I am a part of our school’s debate club. The club is really small, not many people show up consistently, and we don't debate consistently either. Many of the meetings are used as meetings for leadership to come up with ideas with the managing teacher. I’ve debated in this club once and everyone really liked it, and I think I could really get into this. I’m also confident that next year I could get some type of leadership role in this club. My goal for this club is to become a club that can compete at the local, state, or even national level. My question is how do I take something like this club that is so casual and find people who are really interested and make it a club that is able to compete? I would say this is almost like starting a club from the ground up. Right now almost all of the current leadership will be leaving highschool soon, the current president is a senior, and both the VP and treasurer are juniors.
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I was in a similar position last year, and I found that the main thing debate needed was exposure. Most kids didn't even know about the club, let alone what we did or how to join, so I started promoting it with posters and assembly announcements. We told people exactly how to join, and exactly what our vision was, and it turns out there were tons of students who really wanted to be part of the club and compete (we had so many people that we formed a separate researchers group to prep for debates). You could maybe add a marketing/recruitment position to have one student dedicated to raising awareness of the club.
Another big thing that helped us was holding in-school events. Our school has school-level debates, ie both teams are students from the debate club. We'd come up with motions that the student body cared about (like social media, body positivity, or racism) to get people interested, and encouraged people to come and watch. I'd say we had at least 30 spectators each week watching us (the biggest turnout was over 300), and at the same time, we got to practice speaking in front of an audience. Since we did it weekly, students who were interested in joining the club could see what it was like and experience a debate in-school before committing to the actual school debate team, which also brought in many people who were initially intimidated or didn't have the experience.
Each school is different, though, so what worked for us might not work or be feasible for you. I think the first question you need to ask yourself is: what is the main reason that the club is too small and inconsistent? Do you not have enough organisation/structure for each meeting? Is the club not promoted well enough? Are the leaders and teacher of the club treating it as a priority and providing the support and resources the debaters need?
Hope this helps!
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Thank you so much, this was so helpful! I will be looking into the strategies you used. One problem is that meetings are once a week during lunch, and that puts a really big time constraint on us. When you were in this position how many of your lunches/after school hours/time was allocated for debate? And how long did it take you to turn this club into a team that could compete? I’m also a little worried about how the leaders/members will respond to changing the whole dynamic of this club.