Tips for Debating Non Traditional Teams 1



When teams who are used to debating “policy only” style debate teams who don’t discuss the topic they are often frustrated with the results. There is obviously a fundamental prep disparity- when you can arbitrarily pick an issue unrelated to the topic to focus on you can surprisingly be more prepared to debate that issue than your opponents- but whining about that isn’t going to accomplish anything. So I want to identify a few style issues that policy teams will want to work on for getting ready for these rounds. Shockingly, these are the building blocks of being good at debate in general. However, when faced with a team who debates an alternative style most policy teams forget the fundamentals as part of their flailing around.


1. Scout- a lot of the policy community denigrates non traditional teams by calling them lazy since they only ever research a small subset of issues and ignore the topic that we are actually supposed to be debating. This is almost certainly true of the K teams who go like 1-5 at a  major. Teams who are making it to the elims – not so much. Sure they don’t spend hours pouring over obama w/55 “political capital” on lexis, but they are still preparing to win debates. And policy teams are making it easy for them- they all say the same crap, they don’t really spend any time getting ready to defend said crap, and they don’t put any effort into figuring out why this crap is losing. Think of it this way. If you wanted to prepare for St. Marks and I told you, “you can only prepare 1 argument you have to read on the aff and the neg” what would you do? You’d probably come up with something like “talking about death is bad” because it applies broadly and you are likely to therefore not have problems winning it. How many policy teams are actually ready to defend “talking about death good?” (side note, I originally mistyped that as “talking about death god” which is much cooler). A lot less than you’d think. Especially when you consider most policy teams in all of their rounds introduce arguments about death, it’s actually almost no one. By prepared I don’t mean you have downloaded a K answer file or you have a block someone on your team wrote 10 years ago. I mean you have a set of arguments that together constitute a strategy that you are ready to deploy effectively. Basically zero percent. Now, lets say at a tournament you know that in 30 minutes you are going to debate a team you know says “death bad”- how do you want to go about scouting them? Check the wiki? Wrong. We have to face facts- the HS wiki has sucked so far this year, and especially disclosure from non policy teams always blows (if you doubt me go do a comparison ). Ask people who debated or judged them? This is the correct answer- but more importantly you need to actually gather useful information from this. Usually scouting conversations go something like this


“What did they run?”

“Death K”

“Lol k bai”



Teams who are actually successful with unidimensional arguments like this become so by having tricks and strategies. So you need to find out what these are- what arguments/pieces of evidence did they emphasize? How did they characterize the roll of the ballot? What were their answers to framework? What sorts of cross-x questions/strategies did they use to establish their arguments? You need to get specifics, and then you need to use this information to formulate a response. Hearing “death bad” and then going and underlining 5 or 6 random camp cards is not a thought out strategy so you are entering the debate at a severe disadvantage.


If you were scouting a policy case you wouldn’t just here “embargo” and leave, you would find out advantages, plan text, what they said to politics etc. You need to do the same thing here.



2. Giving up in cross-x. This is something I witnessed repeatedly at Greenhill. There are a few different versions of this, so lets break them down.


A. The frustrated opinion CX- here someone has no idea what is going on and so they respond by asking a bunch of questions that are basically “But don’t you agree you are wrong and should lose the debate?”. The other team surprisingly does not capitulate to that and the CX basically ends after 2-3 of these.


B. The Baby Seal Approach- this is where students, predominantly white dudes, bend over backwards to be as nonconfrontational as possible in CX vs teams who talk about identity or experience and so they start each question with like a 30 second pre-amble along the lines of “Ah, so excuse me for asking, but I was just wondering since I’m not really sure about your arguments, could you ah, please explain why….” blah blah blah. You don’t look considerate when you do this, you look like an idiot. And to any discerning viewer you come across much worse than if you just acted like a respectful competitor- you don’t treat other teams this way, so why are you doing it now?


C. Related to B, there is the Fraidy Cat- where basically when answering questions you totally refuse to give a definitive answer because you are worried your answer may somehow make the other team go :(. An example of this I have seen like a million times is when people are debating race arguments they will get asked in CX “your evidence says X (whiteness, white supremacy, race etc), what is x?”. The answer people always give here is “well whatever you meant when you said it that’s what we mean too”.  You should never be reading arguments in debate that you can’t explain at all- if you can’t explain what the terminology in your evidence says don’t read it. You can figure it out with 30 seconds of intertubes before the round so if you haven’t put in that baseline amount of effort you probably deserve to lose.



So how should you act in cross-x? You should act the same way you would act normally- you should ask pointed questions, press people when they don’t give you satisfactory answers, answer questions directly and confidently etc.


3. Not paying attention to argument development. Josh Branson, in a year he won the copeland, once lost to a nontraditional team at one of the coast tournaments. When talking about what happened he said “Yea we kind of tuned out and they made some state bad args that we dropped”. This happens to the best, and it’s happening with a lot more frequency to you. You just aren’t paying attention when you debate these teams- you aren’t thinking critically about their arguments and as a result you aren’t responding to pretty straightforward stuff. Lets look at a few areas this happens


A. Relation to the topic- a lot of people go for some sort of framework argument that has as its premise teams must discuss the topic. What often happens is nontraditional teams do in fact have some args about the topic in their speeches but it isn’t presented in a traditional way and it isn’t always obvious to the teams they are debating.


B. Impact calc- if you actually really listen and pay attention to non traditional teams they do one thing pretty well- impact calc. They always have parts of their speeches where they explain why their impacts o/w for a variety of reasons (V2l, real world vs fake etc) that most policy teams just drop entirely. This is something you can definitely scout  but if you find you are missing it that is a symptom of a larger problem.


C. Mutating advocacies- since they aren’t tied to a plan text many nontraditional teams will morph their advocacy in response to your arguments. To beat this you need to do two things, the first of which is identify that it is happening. This is where most people fail. The second thing is you need to have actually listened to things they said in their speeches and use those things to identify links. So when you read the cap K and the aff is like “oh we agree, cap is bad” you need to be able to point to specific things they said that deprioritized anti cap struggle or lines of their speech that establish other link arguments. 9/10 times when people go for critical strategies against nontraditional teams this is where they fail- they don’t properly establish the link in the absence of an advocacy like a plan.



4. Taking advantage of asymmetrical tech advantages- lets face facts, odds are you are probably faster and debate in a more technical line by line fashion than your nontraditional opponent. To take advantage of this you want the judge to believe that you have well developed arguments that are conceded by the other team that allow you to win. In order for this to occur you


A. Need to have a well structured speech in which arguments are grouped logically together so that different arguments not only appear different but are in fact different


B. need to speak clearly so that the judge can actually flow said arguments


C. You need to make choices in rebuttals and instead of going for every argument you need to spend time on dropped arguments explaining why they are important and why generic things the other team said do not answer them.


Unfortunately you aren’t doing any of these things. You are probably reading twice as many cards as you need, not highlighting the important parts of those cards, and then spending no more than 5 seconds to extend these dropped blurbs. This makes it hard for a judge to see if an argument was actually dropped, and makes it easy for your opponent to explain why their generic shtick actually did respond to what you said.  This isn’t a politics impact turn contest- having 5 extra cards won’t help you because the number of cards you read is borderline irrelevant-with MPJ you aren’t getting a judge who cares and by reading almost any evidence at all you are already ahead in that regard so there is diminishing returns. A dropped argument should be devastating, but it won’t be if its just part of a generic mush of garbage you threw out in the 2AC.



5. Employing argument diversity. You are debating a substantive Mexico case and you read the politics disad. The aff reads 1 link turn, how do you respond? You extend your original link, and then more importantly, you diversify and read additional hopefully case specific link arguments. If you are going for a K against a nontraditional team you need to make sure you are diversifying. When you go for a K against a policy aff most people understand you want to have many link, impact, and alternative arguments that combine a la Voltron to make a good argument. Somehow when people debate nontraditional teams people forget this. So the debate looks like this


1NC: Cap K, you talked about race, race is not cap, ergo extinction

2AC: We agree, cap is bad

2NC: uh… but you like, said race

1AR: lol n00b the 2 are related

2NR: um… but like, isn’t cap more important?

2AR:….no, obvi



3-0 aff



So how would you employ diversity? Well, obviously you want to argue your original link as well as possible- maybe some extension cards, maybe some cards that say the attempt to unite race/class resistance fails etc. But that should only take maybe 1-2 minutes of speech time. Now instead of going “more ev” and reading 20 more race cards you want to find cards that make different arguments about other things that team did- playing music, showing pictures, reading critical pedagogy cards to answer frame work etc- these are all elements of their speech unrelated to the discussion of race you can find links to – and these links won’t be addressed by their framing of a “permutation” argument as they presented it in the 2AC. You don’t just want to read these cards you want to impact them- explain why these links are important, why do these links muddle/turn their advocacy, why do these links trigger your impact etc. Then you have pre-established weighing arguments set up for your final speech that in all likelihood won’t be responded to.












4 responses to “Tips for Debating Non Traditional Teams 1

  1. While I agree that the bulk of this strategic advice is worthwhile and accurate, I disagree with the excessive denigration and homogenization of “non-traditional” teams. I found several statements in this article to be offensive, but here are two in particular I took issue with.

    “There is obviously a fundamental prep disparity- when you can arbitrarily pick an issue unrelated to the topic to focus on you can surprisingly be more prepared to debate that issue than your opponents”
    I think this speaks for itself – there is clearly a prep disparity between hegemonic schools with tremendous resources and assistants, and smaller schools with no such resources. Claiming inequalities is a non-starter.

    “disclosure from non policy teams always blows (if you doubt me go do a comparison )”
    Before I get to any substantive criticism, I want to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the use of the term “always.” No, disclosure from “non policy teams” is not “always” terrible, just as GBN does not “always” go for heg good and being white does not “always” mean you impact turn the K. Disclosure from teams who read straight-up arguments, but are lesser-established on the national circuit, often “blows” too. Nationally-successful teams such as Bronx Law AL have open sourced 1ac’s on their wiki; consider the fact that many nontraditional teams are from smaller schools with exposure to national circuit tournaments and norms.
    Moreover, it may be accurate that it’s easier to post cites than summarize arguments made without evidence; it may even be accurate that “policy” teams post more actively on the wiki than their “non policy team” counterparts. However, just as many “policy” schools don’t post analytics, for nontraditional teams for whom analytic-type arguments form a substantive component of their 1ac/1nc’s, disclosure is inherently more difficult. Many established “policy” schools with large coaching staffs do not open source their evidence; why is there a double-standard for nontraditional teams to disclose their 1ac/1nc arguments word-for-word?]

  2. Millicent Bystander,

    Obviously the post painted with a broad brush but your comments are still pretty silly. The “excessive” denigration you are so offended over boils down to the word “always” a false dichotomy between large and small schools you present with no evidence. This post was obviously very insulting, and it was very insulting to “policy” squads and their embarrassing level of “preparation” for debating non traditional teams.

    RE: Hegemonic Large Schools

    This point doesn’t really warrant a response in that it doesn’t really respond to anything in the post- how can people learn to debate better. Debating the topic vs not debating the topic is not inherently an issue of large vs small- there are more small no coach schools that debate the topic than don’t.

    RE: Disclosure

    You are entitled to your opinion and to anecdotal evidence that supports it. A survey of the wiki using teams who made it to doubles quickly disproves your point. Cite requests were made of several teams who didn’t debate the topic at Greenhill and as of now none have been responded to. At no point did I ever say teams had to post every word they’ve ever said on the wiki. If team want to opt out of disclosure because its hegemonic or “dude our args can’t be like, summed up in words” that’s fine, but why are you arguing its wrong to point out that results in a disparity, let alone that it is offensive?

    As a clarification, HSI does not allow anonymous comments. I approved this one cause I don’t really care if you want to troll me but in the future people who create a twitter account just to sip the haterade will not get their comments approved.

  3. Pingback: Do You Struggle to Beat Non-Traditional Teams? Read this now. « Free Debate Resources | Debate Central·

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