Traveling through life with a timer and sneakers

A Critical Self-Examination of the Health of Competitive Forensics Coaches

You don’t know me, but I wanted to tell you that I am an addict. I spend most weekends feeding my addiction. Most of my friends are addicts as well and often when we get together, our addiction is all we can talk about.

Twenty or more weekends on the road. Summers spent in dorm rooms and classrooms and libraries. Monday through Friday spent with adolescents, discussing research methods, delivery styles, argument structure followed by weekends with those same students at exotic locations like Lexington, Kentucky. Nights spent in chain hotels that all eventually blend together into a home away from home. Addiction. All of it.

If you haven’t figured out what I do by the title of this post, let me explain. I teach high school communication studies courses and coach a debate team. This means that I teach classes all week and then spend most weekends at debate tournaments. Many of these tournaments are located in other time zones which means that my high school students and I are hoping on planes, trains, and automobiles to get to destinations where we play academic mind games all weekend in high school and university classrooms. I spend almost every weekend during the school year at tournaments and during the summer I attend one or two more plus a couple of residential summer debate programs at various universities.

Debate coaches/teachers don’t do it for the money. That’s clear. Don’t ask what my hourly wage would be because I broke it down one year and almost had a breakdown. We do it because we love engaging students in the research and critical thinking that debate requires. We love watching our students discover new arguments for themselves and communicate those ideas and advocacies. Plus our students sometimes win things and that makes us proud. Finally, after awhile, the debate community becomes a part of our extended family and going to tournaments in like a family reunion.

My sane friends, the ones who don’t do debate, and strangers often say, “I don’t know how you do it!” Well after some prodding, I decided I would spend the next year telling you how. This weekend, one of the largest and most well-known high school tournaments in the country will take place in Illinois, and what better time to start a daily blog than right before a high-stress event?

I was hesitant to create this blog. I had a personal blog that didn’t have my name attached. A few students found my blog and I panicked and shut it down. There wasn’t anything too personal, but it was weird and I didn’t like it.

I knew that writing this blog would put me out there. People will read this blog and will know who I am. And I had to make sure I was okay with that. I have decided that the purpose of this blog was more important that the minor discomfort of putting myself in the virtual public eye.

Debate is a competitive activity but a sedentary one. Combine long periods of research and debate rounds with incredibly late nights and early mornings. Fast food, caffeine, travel, lack of sleep and little down time all contribute to a lifestyle that isn’t healthy. I am not the picture of health and I am not alone. While many debate coaches do focus on health, our career path has obstacles built in by it’s very existence.

This summer, a debate coach I knew personally passed away. He wasn’t the first debate coach to die too soon and he probably won’t be the last. But his death was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I began to examine my life. I have made an effort to live a healthier life, taking up running in 2009 before getting injured, and making healthier food choices. However the lifestyle of a debate coach is demanding and the stress of the job means that sometimes I don’t want to prepare a healthy meal or hit the gym. And this stress can snowball into a pattern that is less than stellar.

I won’t make any promises of perfection. This isn’t a “change my life” blog. But rather it is the examination of a communications teacher/debate coach who is trying every day to do the job she loves while protecting her health to the best of her abilities. I recognize my job is a health-hazard. But I don’t think it always has to be. So I have decided to document my life for one year. From the travel to fitness to daily struggles to views on debate topics to just about anything else that life throws at me. You are invited to join my adventure as this coach documents my attempts at improving my health while being the best teacher/coach I can be.


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