ModernBrain's Guide: How to Register for the NSDA National Championship (2023)

congress debate speech May 12, 2023

We want to share this resource with the larger speech and debate community, especially with less-resourced schools who find it difficult to navigate all the registration steps.


If you’re reading this, you’re interested in registering for an NSDA national championship tournament. Unlike many other competitions, the NSDA requires you to go through several additional steps before you can be fully registered. We’ve included several links–please review them to understand each step.

Because these tournaments require the involvement of your school/degree-granting institution, we cannot directly enter you there. It will involve more coordination with your school administration/team. While it means more work, it also means a golden opportunity for students who need to get organizational/leadership experience to handle something that’s slightly challenging (but not overwhelming).

Why Go to the NSDA National Championship?

It’s the most prestigious overall competition with the best production value. While some circuit debaters prefer the Kentucky Tournament of Champions, blow for blow, you need to be able to appeal to judges of all backgrounds from across the country to win NSDA Nationals. The final rounds are recorded and preserved for posterity; the high school finals are held in front of huge auditoriums.

If you’re in high school, it’s also where most college scholarship programs look for incoming freshman recruits. ModernBrain’s Coach Miles, for instance, won a four-year scholarship after impressing scouts in the 2018 Impromptu national final round.

You can read about the history of the NSDA (National Speech and Debate Association) here.

Step One: Make/Join an NSDA Account

First, you’ll need to be a member of the NSDA to compete at the NSDA competition.

Your school (not ModernBrain, but the degree-granting institution you attend) has to approve of your membership. If you’re not clear on how to convince them, here are some advocacy kits.

You’ll sign up through the links here.

After everyone has joined, you can sign in on the top-right of the website and use the link to pay your one-time membership fee (for the coach and the student) and your yearly team registration fee.

Overall, there are three membership registration requirements that must be filled:
1. The school needs to join
2. A coach of record (approved by the school) needs to join
3. The student needs to join

Once you’re logged in, you can use to see if your school has already joined. If the school already joined in the past, and a coach is registered, you can see if the school is ‘active’ and has paid their membership fees. If they are and you don’t recognize the coach, you can get their contact information through the NSDA’s search portal. If they’re not active and you don’t recognize the coach, contact them; if they don’t respond, you can reach out to the NSDA directly ( to resolve the issue.

Now that there’s a team, coach, and student who have been registered and paid for, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.

Step Two: Enter NSDA Points

NSDA points are a way to track your overall rankings at every competition throughout your middle and high school careers. They’re tremendously useful. For college admissions purposes, you may never win a national championship–but, if you’re competing consistently and generally doing well, you may have enough points to make the NSDA Academic All-American list, which is positively correlated with selective school admission.

When your NSDA account is linked to your school account (see below), you’ll be able to auto-enter points. However, because you’ve likely been competing in tournaments through ModernBrain (which is not a degree-granting institution) and (which is not linked to the NSDA), you’ll have to manually enter at least some points.

Here’s a guide on points entry.

You can also get points from other non-speech activities–such as judging tournaments, doing theater shows, poetry performances, competing in mock trial, etc. There are a lot of ways to climb up the ranks in the honor society.

If your student has at least 25 points (which, if they’ve done at least three tournaments, they are 99% likely to have obtained), then they are officially a member of the NSDA honor society and are eligible to continue with NSDA registration.

Step Three: Make/Join a School Account

Now that you have an NSDA account and you’ve entered points, it’s time to make a school account.

Just like before–there are three membership registration requirements that must be filled: the school needs to join, a coach of record (who can be the parent, if the school approves; if the school doesn’t care, then a ModernBrain coach can do it if we’re informed) needs to join, and the student needs to join.

Here’s how to create your own account if you don’t have one.

Here’s how to set up a new school account (with your administration’s permission!) if they don’t have one yet.

Now, a school coach account needs to link your school account and your student school account to your NSDA account.

Here’s an in-depth guide to linking the and NSDA accounts.

At this point, you have a coach, school, and student account with the NSDA, a coach, school, and student account with, you’ve paid all NSDA dues, you’ve put in NSDA points, and you’ve linked the NSDA school account with the school account. You’re nearly there.

Step Four: Register and Go to Nationals

Middle schoolers don’t have to compete at a qualifying event before attending. They can automatically go to nationals. High schoolers need to qualify. The 2023 qualification season is over (at the time of posting).

In 2023, nationals will be held in Phoenix, Arizona from June 11 to 16 (the middle school tournament begins on June 13). In 2024, it’s in Des Moines. In 2025, it’ll be back in Des Moines.

The high school nationals schedule typically involves registration on Sunday, preliminary rounds on Monday, the next set of preliminary rounds (and the first elimination rounds) on Tuesday, the last elimination rounds on Wednesday, consolation events on Thursday-Friday, and big, live streamed national finals on Thursday-Friday. Awards are typically Friday night. Middle schoolers typically start on Wednesday.

Here’s information about 2023 Nationals.

If you’re attending, count on being there for the FULL week. If you don’t advance in your main event, you’ll be able to watch high school final rounds–many of which are inspirational and impressive.

If you need any help, as always, reach out to help[at]

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