National Speech & Debate Association: NSDA Overview

September 10, 2023

4 min read

National Speech & Debate Association - NSDA Overview

The National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) was founded over 90 years ago to help students develop their communication, critical thinking, and teamwork skills.

Today, the NSDA offers a variety of resources to help middle and high school students succeed in speech and debate, including competitions, training, and scholarships.

Let’s take a closer look at the National Speech & Debate Association.

About the NSDA

The NSDA has evolved over the years, but its mission remains the same.

NSDA’s Mission, Vision, & Values

The National Speech & Debate Association’s mission is to “connect, support, and inspire a diverse community committed to empowering students through speech and debate.”

Their vision is for every school to have speech and debate initiatives that develop students’ skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

The NSDA upholds core values of equity, integrity, respect, leadership, and service.

NSDA’s History

The National Speech & Debate Association has a rich history rooted in the efforts of its founder, Bruno Ernst Jacob. Born in Wisconsin in 1899, Jacob was a social studies teacher and debate coach at Chippewa Falls High School. But, during his college years, Jacob’s passion for speech and debate education took shape. He compiled a widely circulated handbook called “Suggestions for the Debater,” which indirectly led to the establishment of the National Forensic League in 1925.

The organization reached 100,000 members by the end of 1956 and 300,000 in 1969. In 1975, the League moved away from the Ripon College campus and got its own building.

Starting in 1995, the League extended its membership to middle school students. And, in 2000, its membership reached one million. In 2004, the organization held its first international competitions, with students from eight countries participating.

The organization changed its name from the National Forensic League to the National Speech & Debate Association in 2014.

NSDA Membership

NSDA membership is through schools. Students and/or faculty at a middle or high school can set up an NSDA team that students can join. School membership is renewable annually for $149 (high school) or $75 (middle school). A school can choose to purchase NSDA’s resource package subscription for $199 annually.

Some schools and programs are eligible for membership grants.

Find out if your school has a team.

Join your school’s team.

Start a team at your school.


NSDA provides resources, training, and competitions for various skill levels. Of course, participating students sharpen their communication and debate skills. And, they can earn recognition from the National Speech & Debate Association’s Honor Society and engage in community service activities.

Student membership costs $20 for high school students and $10 for middle school students. This is a one-time enrollment fee for the entirety of their schooling.


Each NSDA team has a coach or a group of coaches. They manage the team and train its members. Anyone can be a coach; you don’t have to be a school staff member or a trained and experienced debate and speech coach. NSDA has resources to get new coaches up to speed.

Coaching membership costs a one-time fee of $20.

Learn more about debate coaching.

Opportunities for Nonmembers

The NSDA offers free, online practices for nonmembers. Learn about their Springboard Scrimmages.

NSDA Resources

NSDA provides resources for debate coaching, speech coaching, self-guided learning for students, and team management. Some resources are free, some are available only to members, and some are available only to resource package subscribers.

Check out NSDA’s resources.

See how Yoodli’s free AI speech coach can supplement speech and debate training and practice:

NSDA Competitions

NSDA organizes a variety of competitive events for speech and debate.

Speech competitions include the interpretive events of Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Poetry, Storytelling, and more. They also include public address events such as Impromptu, Informative Speaking, and Original Oratory.

NSDA’s debate events include Big Questions, Congressional Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and Policy Debate.

The events referenced above are preparation for the National Speech and Debate Tournament. This annual event is the largest academic competition in the world.

Learn more about debate competitions for high school students.

NSDA’s Honor Society

The National Speech & Debate Association’s Honor Society recognizes middle school and high school students and coaches for their participation in speech and debate activities. Members of the Honor Society are held to the highest standards of character, integrity, and service—reflecting the core values of the organization.

Honor Society members earn merit points when they compete, serve, and lead in their school and community. Those points add up and translate to degrees. For example, 250 points earn a member the Distinction degree. The top is Premier Distinction, which requires a minimum of 1,500 merit points. Coaches, too, can earn Honor Society degrees.

Honor Society membership motivates and acknowledges students’ efforts, and it helps them rise to the top in college admissions.

Professional Development Program

The National Speech & Debate Association offers free on-demand professional development courses for member coaches.

They provide professional accreditation programs for speech and debate coaches, with different levels and specialization tracks. The first level is the Speech and Debate Coaching Endorsement, which requires completion of specific courses and a fee.

Coaches can choose to continue with the Coaching Track or the Teaching Track for further endorsements. The Coaching Track recognizes the skills required for coaching programs beyond the school day. The Teaching Track recognizes the unique skills required for teaching speech and debate in the classroom setting. Each track has additional levels of endorsement with specific requirements.

The National Speech & Debate Association also offers a conference video archive with videos from past National Conferences.

Wrapping Up

If you’re a middle or high school student who wants to develop valuable communication skills, the National Speech & Debate Association could be an excellent option for you. NSDA membership is a great way to enhance your education and set yourself up for career success.

If you’re someone who loves to foster young people’s growth and achievement, NSDA coaching might be a good opportunity for you to get involved in your community and help shape the future.

Learn more about the NSDA.

Note: This post was created in partnership with artificial intelligence.


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