Peer Coaching Starter Kit

Debate is a journey toward honing critical thinking, communication, and leadership skills. Peer coaching uniquely furthers these goals by aiding older students in developing leadership roles, and assisting younger students in learning the fundamental skills of debate.

Peer coaching creates a culture of collective growth, where experienced debaters guide and support their younger counterparts. Additionally, it frees time for coaches to manage, lead, and develop their teams holistically.

This week, we aim to share insights on effectively building a peer coaching system on your team, and aiding older debaters as they embrace this role.

Why Peer Coaching?

Enhanced Learning Through Teaching: Teaching is a powerful tool for enhancing one’s own understanding and mastery of a subject. As peer coaches explain complex debate concepts, they solidify their own knowledge, leading to a deeper understanding of the material.

Development of Leadership and Mentoring Skills: Taking on a peer coaching role is a crucible for leadership development, fostering qualities such as responsibility and empathy. It equips students with essential skills like motivating others and strategic thinking, essential for future endeavors.

Fostering a Supportive and Collaborative Team Environment: Peer coaching cultivates a nurturing team atmosphere. It promotes mutual support and recognition of individual strengths and needs, enhancing collective success and a sense of belonging within the team.

Accelerated Growth for Mentees: Mentees receiving tailored guidance from peer coaches benefit from accelerated learning. The personalized advice, feedback, and real-time adjustments facilitate a more effective and focused improvement in their debate skills.

Promoting the Values of Empathy and Respect: The practice of peer coaching is intertwined with the cultivation of empathy and respect. It encourages coaches to appreciate the unique challenges faced by mentees, enhancing the moral and cooperative spirit of the team.

Encouraging Critical Reflection: Peer coaching stimulates a continuous reflection process for both parties. Coaches refine their teaching methods, while mentees receive feedback that prompts reflective improvement in their debate strategies and styles.

Training Peer Coaches

It’s important to effectively train peer coaches on how to support younger debaters. Adult coaches might consider dedicating a practice or two to training experienced debaters in peer coaching. Here are some areas to focus on in that training.

Communication Skills

Peer coaches need to master active listening to comprehend the concerns and queries of their mentees. Providing constructive feedback in a manner that encourages rather than disheartens is also crucial.

Here are a few ways peer coaches can practice good communication skills:

  • Active Listening Exercises: Incorporate exercises that enhance active listening skills. For instance, you could employ role-play activities where the peer coach practices listening to a mentee’s concerns or questions and then responds thoughtfully.

  • Feedback Workshops: Conduct workshops where peer coaches practice giving and receiving feedback. Ensure that they focus on being constructive, specific, and encouraging. They can use the “SBI” model (Situation-Behavior-Impact) to structure their feedback effectively.

  • Practice Sessions: Create sessions where peer coaches can “practice” coaching. Adult coaches can observe and provide guidance, ensuring that the communication is clear, supportive, and constructive. This approach allows adult coaches to provide feedback to students as they learn to critique, coach, and aid in student growth.

Building Relationships

Trust and respect form the foundation of effective peer coaching relationships. Coaches need to understand the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of their mentees, valuing the unique insights this diversity brings to the team. Establishing a rapport where mentees feel comfortable seeking guidance is essential.

As adult coaches, we should encourage our more experienced debaters to learn more about the students they’re mentoring. This way, they can become more empathetic communicators, building a trusting relationship that ultimately makes their feedback more resonant.

Here are a few ways peer coaches can build these relationships:

  • Team-Building Activities: Engage the team in activities that foster a sense of community and understanding amongst its members. These activities could range from ice-breaker games to team outings, facilitating informal interactions that enhance mutual understanding.

  • Mentor-Mentee Meetings: Encourage regular one-on-one meetings between the peer coach and mentee outside of formal practice sessions. These meetings could be used to discuss progress, address concerns, and build a personal connection.

  • Diversity and Inclusion Training: Conduct sessions focused on diversity and inclusion to sensitize peer coaches to the various backgrounds and perspectives of team members. This training can foster a more inclusive and respectful coaching environment.

  • Goal Setting Sessions: Facilitate sessions where the peer coach and mentee set individual and mutual goals for their coaching relationship. Having clear objectives can provide direction and motivation, strengthening the coaching partnership.

Utilizing Peer Coaches Effectively

Now that you’ve built a peer coaching ecosystem on your team, it’s important to think about effectively utilizing it. Here are some ways peer coaches can help your team grow and thrive.

Supporting Adult Coaches

Peer coaches can play a pivotal role in brainstorming sessions aimed at generating ideas and arguments for topic analyses. Given their more extensive debate experience and a better grasp of debate trends, peer coaches can provide valuable insights to adult coaches during preparation for topic analyses.

Topic Analyses

Topic analyses are crucial for understanding the breadth and depth of a debate topic. Peer coaches can lead in delivering topic analyses to novice debaters, breaking down complex issues into digestible segments. Through interactive sessions, they can assist newcomers in understanding the key arguments, relevant facts, and strategic considerations they might encounter in rounds.

Enhancing Practice Sessions

Practice debates are a cornerstone of preparation, and having peer coaches observe these can be immensely beneficial, especially for younger debaters. They can provide real-time feedback, and importantly, free up adult coaches to focus on team management and coaching more experienced debaters.


In fostering a strong peer coaching system, we’re not just teaching debate; we’re building a supportive community that encourages continuous learning and growth. By guiding our experienced debaters to become effective peer coaches, we’re opening doors for mentorship, leadership, and a wealth of shared knowledge. This shared journey doesn’t just benefit the mentees, who receive personalized advice and support; it also immensely benefits the peer coaches, helping them solidify their understanding, enhance their leadership skills, and grow as empathetic individuals.

Adult coaches are the pillars supporting this structure, guiding the process, ensuring that the communication is effective, respectful, and constructive. By incorporating peer coaching into our debate teams, we are setting the stage for a more enriching, inclusive, and supportive learning environment, where every member feels valued and empowered to achieve their best in the world of debate.

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