DeBakey Debate Season
The 2019-2020 debate season ended early this year because of the coronavirus. For most, this was disappointing news, but the DeBakey Debate team decided to use this as an opportunity to practice, drill, research, and prepare for next season. A few experienced coaches had shared their ideas for how to improve during quarantine. Both my novice debaters and senior debaters found these tips helpful, so for anyone trying out for a debate team or even just seeking to improve, here are a few tips on how to go from just a good debater to a great one.
Tip #1: Join a reading group
Perhaps the most important thing to do to prepare for any debate or even casual argument is simply to read on the subject. Reading comes in a ton of forms from news articles to full books to philosophy texts. It’s best to isolate the event or the style of debate you want to do, and then join a reading group suited to that topic or subject area. For example, if you plan to try out for or compete in policy debate, it may be best to pick up an in-depth book on the topic like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, or if you plan to participate in Congressional debate, it may be more advantageous for you to simply read the news every day. No matter what you use to stay informed, reading is a necessity. Many teachers and coaches have set up reading groups for this purpose. Discussing the readings allows for an analysis that reading alone could not provide. Reading in advance and then going back over the readings is a great way to absorb all the information, especially if you have trouble remembering after one read. Reading groups allow you to thoroughly process the information while also not spending too much time studying the text.
Tip #2: Compete in online tournaments
Because of quarantine, all physical tournaments have been cancelled. This may be disappointing, but brings so many opportunities for teams that can’t travel to tournaments of just can’t afford it. Tournaments hosted on Discord, Hangouts, Messenger, and Zoom have all been successful in the debate community to the point that there’s a new tournament every weekend. The quality of the pools at these tournaments is very high, so the best thing to do is take advantage of this and practice, practice, practice. The online tournaments also expose you to a wide variety of arguments and debate styles from east coast to west coast, and coaches love to see familiarity with a diverse set of arguments (yes, that includes meme cases). Online tournaments are probably the best way to get ready to try out for a school’s debate team or improve so you can be even better next year. One of my novices really loved these tournaments. She said, “I learned quite a bit during the online tournaments, including how to win a framework debate and build up your value and value criterion, how and why to extend arguments, and what to actually do during rebuttal as opposed to just restating everything, which is what I was doing previously.”
Tip #3: Watch debates
Sometimes, the best way to engage in debates is simply to watch or judge them. This is usually very helpful to develop better strategy or become more familiar with arguments you haven’t debated before. College debate rounds are always very high quality, and now that TOC rounds have been put on youtube, there’s no shortage of quality rounds to watch and learn from. One round a day - either watching or debating - will make you an infinitely better debater in a month. Try to take notes or pretend you’re the judge in the round in order to understand the arguments and strategic choices in depth.
Doing all of these tips consistently throughout quarantine will practically guarantee you a spot on your school’s debate team.
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