How to Be a Great Parent Speech and Debate Judge

speech techniques Mar 30, 2023

Too many speech and debate parents drop their students off, weekend after weekend, without understanding what their child is actually doing, how impressive it really is, or why they should be a part of it.

As a parent, you want your child to succeed in their academic pursuits, and speech and debate tournaments are a fantastic way for them to develop critical thinking, public speaking, and communication skills. However, many parents may feel uncomfortable judging these tournaments, unsure of their ability to provide useful feedback or critique.

Despite these concerns, judging speech and debate tournaments is an incredibly valuable experience for both parents and their children. By serving as a judge, parents have the opportunity to observe the communication skills of other students and gain a better understanding of what judges look for in a successful speech or debate performance. Additionally, the feedback and critique provided by parents can help to improve their child's own skills and understanding of the subject matter.

Furthermore, judging tournaments allows parents to connect with other parents and members of the community, building strong relationships and fostering a sense of involvement in their child's academic life. Finally, it's important to remember that judging tournaments is a crucial part of the speech and debate community, and without the participation of parents and other volunteers, these tournaments simply would not be possible.

So, while it's understandable to feel unsure about judging speech and debate tournaments, there are many benefits to doing so. Not only will parents be able to support their child's academic growth and development, but they will also be contributing to the success and vitality of the speech and debate community as a whole.

Realize what you have to offer.

Trust your instincts. You may not have experience judging a speech or debate tournament, but you do have experience evaluating and critiquing ideas and arguments in your personal or professional life. Use that experience to guide your evaluation of the students' performances and trust your instincts when it comes to providing feedback.

Remember that you're not alone. There will likely be other judges at the tournament who are in the same boat as you, and you can learn from their experiences and perspectives. Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek advice from more experienced judges.

Be open-minded. Keep an open mind when evaluating the students' arguments and speeches, even if they don't align with your personal beliefs or experiences.

Study the standards.

Every speech and debate category has its own rules and standards. They may seem overwhelming. However, there are some great ways to get familiar with the rules for your particular competitions:

  • The National Speech and Debate Association has videos and handouts about judge training for every category.
  • If you have time, the NFHS has a class you can take with judging advice. It'll take a few hours to complete, but you'll be very confident in yourself after completing it.
  • The most common websites you'll use to submit ballots are (where you need to make your own account and submit ballots on the website), (where you need to make your own account and you submit ballots on their website), and (where you need to verify your email address and submit ballots on their website).

It's important to look at good ballots. Follow this principle: would I be comfortable if my ballot was trending #1 on social media? If your ballot is overly vague and unhelpful, totally complimentary without indicating why people didn't win, or totally critical in a way that could be disheartening for the students, the answer should be "no."

To see useful ballots, go to Then use the search bar on the left and look up "sample ballot." You can see sample ballots with comments for nearly every category. This will help you organize your feedback.

If you struggle with English language writing, there is no harm in using helpful tools like Grammarly, ChatGPT, or Bard to clean up your grammar and turn your bullet points into more comprehensible paragraphs.

Regardless of the category you're judging, you should 1) write down at least three compliments and three critiques for every student you observe and 2) rank each round 'as you go' instead of trying to remember people at the end.

For instance, after the first speaker in a room of six presents, they're automatically in first place. After the second speaker goes, decide if they're now in first place or if the first speaker is still in first place. Do this throughout, and you'll have your rankings ready to go by the end of the round!

Share your observations.

Talk about your rounds with your fellow parent judges, your students, and the coach of the team you're judging for. In those discussions, you can learn more about their perspectives on your observations, and they can learn from your opinions about your performances. You're there to both educate and be educated. You're there to learn and to learn.

You're going to be a remarkable member of the community--you're lucky to hear from them, and they'll be lucky to hear from you!

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