By Geneva Kropper, University of Maryland ’17
The Tournament Starts on Wednesday: How to Practice and Prepare to Make the Best of Your Weekend Before it Begins
When I was in high school, my debate coach used to warn my teammates and me about complacency. “Finals is won or lost on Wednesday night,” she would remind us. Her message was clear: success comes not from pure intelligence, or from length of time in the activity, it comes from continually striving to improve. The best debaters on the circuit will tell you about the summer that they spent watching every video on APDAWeb, but even without that time commitment, there are lots of ways to make sure that you are well-prepared when you arrive in GA on Friday night.
There are already some great tips about how to construct a case on the novices section of the APDAWeb page. However, before you get to a tournament, you need to do much more than have a binder full of cases. No case should ever be read for the first time at a tournament. Running cases in practice rounds helps you to prepare for the opposition arguments that you will face, and gives you time to fix any obvious holes in the case that you have missed. Keep your flows from these practice rounds, and use them to adjust the case to make it more ready to run.
When you spend time crafting a case, laboring over its points, and refining it to be ready to run, it’s easy to think that the case is perfect. It isn’t. Running your new cases in practice rounds helps you prepare your responses to the obvious opposition arguments ahead of time, and can be useful in assessing the case’s viability. Don’t be discouraged if your teammates are able to put up a good opp – all it means is that you now have a better idea of what arguments you need to prepare for.
Be Your Own Opposition
After you finish writing a case, write up the other side of it. If the other side is strong, then you have the opportunity to make the case opp-choice. If you would like to run it straight, writing up the other side provides many of the advantages of running the case in a practice round: you will know some of the opposition arguments, and be prepared for them before the tournament. If you have difficulty writing up opposition arguments, consider creating a tight block.
Don’t Forget About Your Partner
Make sure that your partner is as knowledgeable about the case as you are, especially if they are the Prime Minister. They should understand the background of the topic, what you think is the collapse of the case (the round-winning argument), and the opposition arguments that they should expect to hear. If you are debating with a new partner, or with a hybrid, be prepared to spend 1-2 hours before the tournament going through your cases and explaining each point. There is nothing more destructive to the success than when two people on a team have different conceptions of what side Government’s advocacy is.
Practice Response Blocks
There are thousands of debate cases on the league, but most of them boil down to about a dozen issues. It helps to familiarize yourself with common responses for both sides of these issues so that you can have responses ready when you encounter them. Watching rounds on APDAWeb will give you ideas about how to craft high-level responses. It also helps to read up on some very basic topics like defenses of deontology vs. utilitarianism.
Learn Something About Everything
A well-spoken speech can’t win a round without quality content. If there are areas that you are weak in, fix that weakness, or people will run cases on you that they think you won’t be able to opp. There are a lot of non-debate academic resources that provide good primers on issues that you will commonly see in debate. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has hundreds of entries written by philosophy experts, and provides a solid foundation in basic philosophy. Wikipedia can be a great resource for learning about economics – start with a simple topic, like bonds, and click on the blue links for all of the words that you don’t know. For very basic econ in a more user-friendly format, Khan Academy has videos on both macro and microeconomics. This tactic can also be a great way to learn about constitutional law. A good start for learning about why political actors behave they way they do is to read The Dictator’s Handbook (which I would recommend regardless of how long you have been in debate – it has a lot of interesting case studies). Most importantly, it’s essential to read the news every day and keep up-to-date with current events both in the United States and across the world. If you aren’t the type to read the news out of habit, set a daily digest of top stories to be auto-sent to your inbox. Signing up for Brookings Briefs can give you daily access to in-depth research on topical issues from one of Washington’s most prestigious think tanks.
A Rested Mind is a Sharp Mind
Staying up the night before the tournament to prep is a bad idea. Allocate your time efficiently, and spread out prep over a couple of days. If you are so tired when you arrive at the tournament that your mental faculties aren’t as sharp as they could have been, all your prep work is useless. In addition, getting a few good nights of sleep during the days before the tournament can help to cushion the impact of too little sleep on Friday night.