Its debatable…Speak Up!

September 21, 2007

Building Team Cohesiveness

Filed under: Forensics - General,Organizing and planning — bk2nocal @ 9:50 am

Today’s post is on an aspect of forensics we often take for granted (if we’re lucky).  Team cohesiveness often happens naturally on forensics squads.  After all, they have a common interest built in and they are forced to spend long hours together in vans, hotel rooms and small classrooms.  But, it never hurts to insure that your team has cohesiveness by fostering it a few different ways.  I think this is especially important in full-service programs where you have the “two sides” of forensics, IEs and Debate, who may come to view themselves as competing for resources/attention if you don’t take the time to build cohesiveness and respect between them.

I was (un?)lucky enough to start my forensics experience at a junior college when most tournaments were full-service and the schedule allowed competitors to do both IEs and debate.  So, my first year competing, I not only did policy debate, but also competed in impromptu, extemp, duo interp (yeah, that’s right – I did duo interp), and POI (yeah, another interp event, what can I say?).  I will admit that I was more or less forced into doing the latter two because in order to go to Phi Rho Pi we had to have five events (debate was two, with both team and LD being options).  This fostered in me an appreciation of the IE competition and a respect for what it took to write a good, competitive speech (notice I had no platform speeches in there).  While at Chico as an undergrad, our director often made us do impromptu at tournaments along with debate because she felt it made us better at rebuttals (and it helped toward winning those sweepstakes trophies that impressed the administration).  And the one semester I took off for eligibility, I competed in a Communication Analysis and another Duo Interp (love the duo interp) and Impromptu all semester.  I came close to qualifying for AFA in impromptu and CA that semester.  So, I never had the feeling that IEers “had it easy” or “didn’t do any work” or other such myths that I often here promulgated amongst debaters.  And I never heard the IEers complain about the amount of coaching attention the debaters got (we often had more TAs assigned to us than they did) or the amount of copying we did (which came out of the team’s travel budget).  So, I was lucky.  I hope to build the same kind of respect on my current squad.  I don’t want there to be a “great divide” between the IE and debate competitors.  I want us to be one team.  But, how do you foster that?

Well, I have taken a few lessons from my director while I was here at Chico, Kathy Waste.  First, make sure everyone knows everyone else on the team.  We split up each meeting to work on our own stuff, but we always meet as a group first to go over general information, here Kudos for team members, etc.  Second, and this is something I took from Kathy – have your IEers do their speeches/performances for the whole team.  This gives the debaters an understanding of what the IEers have been working on, etc.  It also gives the IEers “fresh eyes/ears” to get feedback from someone who hasn’t heard/seen the speech a million and a half times during revisions.  And it often makes the debaters feel useful as peer coaches.  Although it is more difficult to have IEers watch a debate and give feedback, they can certainly help with argument ideas (especially those doing extemp), argument construction (after all, if they do persuasive, they are familiar with logical argument construction), etc.  Peer coaching is a great way to get people together on things that are of interest to them both.  Don’t force it, but be open to it.

In addition to the coaching help, have social activities that get them out of the forensics state-of-mind and gives them time to talk, get to know one another, etc.  For instance, have a game night.  Or go ice skating/roller skating as a group.  Have team dinners at tournaments.  Do a service project together (always a nice, feel-good way to spend an afternoon/evening).  There are numerous things you can do, and that time will provide the interactions necessary for inside jokes, nicknames, and other such team culture-building activities to occur.

Finally, go to as many full-service tournaments as you possibly can.  Luckily, California offers a number of these, so my team can get those invaluable, relationship-building van-rides at least a couple of times a semester.  Full-service tournaments are obviously harder on coaches.  Your time and effort and focus is split and your judging commitment swells, but its worth this cost if your team starts to bond.  Your job gets that much easier when retention goes up, peer coaching is established as a norm and students recruit others so you don’t have to.  It may cost a little time and energy in the short-term, but in the long-term it will make your job as director/coach much, much easier.

If you have ideas that have worked particularly well for building team cohesiveness, please put them in the comments section here.  I know that Long Beach used to do a big scavenger hunt at the beginning of each year with IEers paired with debaters (if the numbers worked out to enable that).  I would love to hear other’s ideas/memories of these types of activities!

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