Many debaters, and the Denver Broncos, have already had their hopes dashed and their seasons ended. For many more after Cal or Harvard this weekend their season will be over. The question then becomes, what should I be doing in the months before camp (or over the summer if you don’t plan on attending camp) to improve. Oftentimes coaches are so sick of their students that they no longer host practice , and if your school doesn’t have a debate class that leaves you basically to improve on your own. This article will offer 5 do’s and don’ts for how you should spend your time.
Let’s start with the don’ts.
5. Stop speaking- don’t do it. Not that I paid much attention in Emory gym class (and yes thats a thing) but I believe they said that if you worked out consistently for 6-12 weeks that a mere 3 weeks of inactivity would wipe out all the positive results that working out produced in terms of fitness/muscle gain. I think the same thing is true of debate speaking. It probably doesn’t require the same amount of muscle buildup as serious professional sports like bowling or golf, but you can tell in the first week of camp which students have been speaking regularly and which haven’t. If you lose all your mojo and it then takes you weeks to build it back up this will severely undermine how much you get out of your first few weeks of practice debates at camp. You can search the site for ideas for tips/drills on how to improve your speaking – I won’t rehash it all here- but 30 minutes a day is a good target.
4. Spend more time as a debate groupie than you spend doing debate work. Michael Pollan makes the point in a number of podcasts/lectures that many Americans who complain they don’t have enough time to cook their own food spend hours a day watching cooking shows like Chopped. Similarly, many people who will tell you they are so overloaded with school work that they can’t possibly cut any cards spend hours a day checking the results of tournaments they aren’t at, reading facebook debate groups, arguing about inane nonsense on internet forums etc. These activities are the processed food of debate- they have zero nutritional value but still fill you up in that they make you think you’ve accomplished something.
3. Obsess over the wiki- this is one I used to do myself. What happens here is you get all kinds of cites from last years arguments and go about to cut them yourself. Here is the thing, if any evidence from the last topic is relevant/useful for the next one odds are very high its going to get turned out in a camp file this summer. The only reason to spend a lot of time going to cut it yourself is if you think reading the article might help you fill in blanks in your knowledge – there is no point making sure you cut all the PC key cards from TOC wikis.
2. Obsess over camp- who’s gonna be in what lab and where etc. This is another form of debate junk food that won’t actually make you better. For most camps you will find out who your lab leaders are when you get there and usually not before so there is no point obsessing about it.
1. Procrastinate. Many people set a goal , say to write a case for the next topic before camp. In 4-6 months you can do that easily. However, after setting the goal many people forget about it and then try to cram it all in the night before they get to camp. I get that you probably don’t want to do debate work every day (if you do , awesome) right now so take some time off and then space out your goals into smaller manageable chunks.
Ok, now here are the 5 dos:
5. Try and objectively assess your limitations- are you unclear? Do you know nothing about neo liberalism? Do process counterplans make you hide your head in shame? We all have strengths and weaknesses. The off season is about working on your weaknesses not your strengths. So if you had a really good track record on the politics DA but a crappy one when going for the K then identify that trend and spend your time working on the K. Did many judges tell you that you were unclear? Spend your time trying to work on your clarity. You want to try and smooth out your rough edges before you get to camp. If you already know you are unclear, whats the point in paying thousands of dollars and flying across the country to have your new lab leader tell you that you are unclear.
4. Make a schedule. Lets say you want to improve your clarity, understand kritiks better, and work on your 1ARs. You are taking a lot of AP classes so you can only dedicate 20 minutes a day to debate work. Make a rotating schedule of th three things you want to improve on
Monday- clarity drills
Tuesday- K reading
Weds- 1AR redos
You get the idea. Having a structured schedule will make it so that you never have to waste time thinking “what should I be doing”. With a little advanced work you can get it all prepped in advance- download 5-10 articles and thats plenty for 60 minutes of reading a week for some time. Practice your clarity by reading the K cards you cut or just reading the articles out loud. Get old flows of your speeches for rebuttal redos.
3. Set identifiable goals. Set a goal for how many cards you want to cut each month, or how many words per minute you want to be able to speak out loud clearly, or how many new branches of philosophy you want to learn about. Goals should be realistic- you wont pick up an extra 300 words/minute in a month, but maybe shaving 10 seconds off your 1AC each month is possible.
2. Work on “prep”- this is a debate skill people rarely practice. Prep to me is what you do in the 30 minutes between when the pairing is released and your debate starts. Most people waste almost all of this time doing inconsequential things not because they are lazy (although sometimes…)but because they don’t really know what they should be doing or aren’t good at doing it efficiently. Imagine you are debating a random team you don’t have a prepared case neg/strategy for and then give yourself 30 minutes to get one together. Try to quickly organize frontlines/case evidence, select off case arguments,and start prepping extensions. Try and work on how well you can highlight things quickly or how to spot good/important evidence to read on the case from skimming through multiple camp files.
1. Read- this is the most important tip on the list. To be really good at debate its a sad reality that you have to read. A lot. If you can do nothing else on this list just try and read for 20 minutes before you go to bed some articles about debate arguments. It doesn’t have to be K literature if you only read policy args- get scholarly articles about HST or biodiversity or whatever. Just add some reading to your daily routine. Reading is the vegetable of debate work- its not flashy or that tasty at first, but once you get into it it will start to grow on you. After you win some debates by knowing things you will feel a sense of accomplishment and it will become self reinforcing.