Some notes on Novice Nationals

After judging/coaching at both Western nats and Woodward I wanted to make a post about what I saw. This post is divided into two parts- notes for coaches and notes for novices.



1. Nip bad habits in the bud. You are at the start of your debate career. If you start double breathing now, 200 debates from now it will be ingrained and very hard to stop. If you have clarity problems now its only going to get worse. Listening to the speakers (ignoring their arguments for now) at the last two tournaments there were a lot of students who you could tell had just taken the left side of a fork in the road- the left side being obsessed with speed and quantity without any concern for anything else. Many of the students I judged would stammer or stumble so much that by trying to go fast they got out less arguments than had they spoken conversationally- not too mention that the end result was they sounded terrible. It is much easier to start out speaking well and get faster slowly than it is to get fast as soon as possible and then have to break a million bad habits. If your coaches/varsity debaters are unwilling to hit you with the cold truth don’t worry I will: if you currently have bad habits (clarity, don’t flow, don’t prep before rounds etc) your level of success is going to be capped pretty low. You may think some of these practices give you a small edge in a particular novice debate right now but you are most likely wrong and unaware of the long term consequences. Once you start that path toward the dark side its hard to come back.


2. You have to take charge of your debate development- its nice to have a coach who takes an interest in you or a varsity debater who can give you good advice but unfortunately this can’t always be counted on. How you behave at debate tournaments , everything you do becomes a part of your debate reputation. Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them. Let’s go through a list of debate etiquette tips that will help you develop a positive reputation.

A. The pairing is released and you are aff- immediately go to your room so you can disclose to the other team. Don’t fool around or hide until 2 minutes before the debate. When you disclose these are your options

-best- jump them the 1AC immediately

-2nd best- jump them the plan text you will read and a description of advantages

-3rd best- if you are reading something new jump them your old 1AC and tell them what will be different\

Acceptable- “here is our old 1AC it will be a new plan same advantages” or ” Here is our old 1AC, it will be the same plan, same hegemony advantage, no china advantage, add new advantage”

Not Acceptable “Umm, its on the wiki, but we are gonna change part of it” or ” We have read cuba and Mexico, but we might read something new”


WRITE DISCLOSURE DOWN. I have seen an  absurd amount of debates include a disclosure violation in the past few months. Even if you disclose clearly there can be a language barrier, if its written down (no matter what side you are) you are in the clear- you have protected yourself


B. The pairing comes out and you are neg- look at who you are debating and see who they have been aff against. Go ask those teams and judges who watched the rounds what the arguments involved were. Then check the wiki. At that point if you don’t have a good idea you are in trouble anyway. Most people think its acceptable to ask “what are past 2nr’s” – I think this is stupid and rarely productive-but if you already asked around you shouldn’t need to. WHY ASK OTHER PEOPLE? Because you get better information than you do from the team themselves. If you wait until after you ask the other team you will get less time to prep with the information.


C. Jumping speeches- practice this so you can do it quickly. Jump the speech exactly as you think you will read it- dont modify it by taking away underlining or putting things out of order. Have two working jump drives for the tournament. Make sure they are clean- i.e. superfluous things have been deleted. Name your speech docs “NAME OF SPEECH-ROUND”. Don’t just call it “1AR” and then have 20 1ars on the jump drive and be like “OMG JUST ORGANIZE BY DATE” when the other team is confused.


D. Prep time- start and stop prep time once. Not 50 times. Make sure you are actually ready before you start it. Don’t prep when neither side is taking prep time. Don’t talk to your partner, don’t look for cards, don’t do things on your computer that look like you are prepping even if you aren’t.


E. Road maps- Number off off, case order. That’s it. Label each off case with a name, don’t just say “next off”. You are literally killing debate when do this and every subsequent speech gives different names for everything. NEVER ASK FOR AN ORDER. You are not being cool. It is so obnoxious when the other debater says “stop prep” and you immediately demand an order. WHERE IS THE FIRE? Just sit their quietly, it is not your turn to speak. They will give you the order when they are good and ready and if they are taking too much time the JUDGE will ask them to get their act together.


3. If you don’t want to read something, don’t. Almost every round after which I made a comment like “you shouldn’t run X since you can’t explain it/answer CX questions about it” the debater(s) always said “yea XYZ told us to read that”. Take some responsibility- no one is putting a gun to your head and making you read something you don’t like or understand. No one is making you go for it. Oftentimes when someone tries to teach you something due to a variety of factors (not least of which being their ego) they assume they have done a much better job than they actually have. Therefore, they may not understand how little you got of what they were saying or how uncomfortable you are reading that argument. So if you can’t communicate to them that you don’t get it, make the executive decision yourself to not read it. As you move on in debate the decision about what to read becomes more and more important- it can’t hurt you to start getting practice making that decision.



1. You have to teach your novices debate etiquette- no one else is going to do it. Some of the behavior I saw while judging was annoying, some was downright insane. The point is novices have no idea they aren’t supposed to

-clip cards

-jump plain text speech documents

-steal prep

-disclose properly


etc. etc. etc. When a novice team does something like this, its a coaching failure. These mistakes weren’t being made by teams coached by overworked English teachers who have never seen a debate before. They were members of established programs with large coaching staffs- there is no chance there wasn’t time to explain these things. Attitudes develop early and harden, if you don’t take time to explain things to young debaters like “you can’t jump the 2AC from last round and claim it was an accident to rob the other team of prep” then those practices will become a habit. This is especially bad at novice because most novices have no idea what is happening. Every coach has heard a story like the following:

” We read the Cuba 1AC and then the neg got up and said we were non topical so we lost”

“you lost cause they went for T in the 2NR?”

“No, we just lost after the 1NC cause we weren’t topical”

Novices are very impressionable and haven’t yet learned to question things the other team does. When one novice team breaks rules/norms they are more likely to think that behavior is acceptable than to make an objection. This probably relates to number 2


2. A lot of coaches are ruining novice debate tournaments by becoming overly obsessed with winning. This may seem harsh but if you spent any time judging over the last few weekends you will see what I mean. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

-having teams run weird/obscure arguments they don’t understand- these debates are terrible because you have one side who reads a shell or case they don’t understand. They go through the motions- they read extension blocks and try to debate but ultimately they are nothing but actors delivering lines- since they have no idea what they are talking about they can’t explain it or if the other team makes an applicable argument- they can’t answer it. The team debating weird nonsense either has no idea what is happening and basically concedes, or maybe they had a varsity debater “prep them out” before the round- and by prep them out I mean rather than explain to them how to answer it they assembled a 1NC for them to read so they read that and basically fall apart after it. Neither side comes away from these debates having learned anything. The judge- most likely a relatively inexperienced high schooler- can’t give useful feedback because the debate was terrible and they themselves probably don’t understand what the original arguments said/meant.

-Treating a novice tournament like the TOC-having an entourage of 20 coaches/team members there before the round, 1/2 of which spend their time asking the other team every conceivable stupid and irrelevant question about past rounds “what were your past 2nrs? past blocks? what did you read in the 1NC? Was that Kagan 11 or Kagan 12? Kagan march 11? Kagan Feb 11? Whats your sign? Favorite scary movie?”.  Meanwhile the other half of the entourage is busy assembling speeches so the novices don’t have to worry about thinking during the round (or paying attention/flowing the other team). Shockingly these high schoolers don’t always dish out the best advice for the novices LEARNING anything but instead counsel recourse to the worst strategic cheap shots and obfuscatory tactics.

-not screening judges. In general, I don’t even like that students are allowed to judge other students but that is a gripe for another time. I get that it won’t change because most people like it, but for the love of Christ you need to at least make sure the students you are putting in to judge are going to: pay attention , not be a total douche… yea actually that’s about it- just those two things. This isn’t setting the bar very high I feel. Nevertheless, some of the things I personally heard (not heard second hand) student judges say to debaters were mind blowing. Ignore the standard wrong information (you should of gone for politics, I don’t like K’s so don’t read them etc), ignore the random “look how cool I am” self congratulatory nonsense (well the same thing happened in my bid round at …) – if your student can’t give constructive feedback without making overtly racist/sexist comments or generally demeaning the debaters involved they shouldn’t be judging novices. Now I can already here people getting defensive “HOW COULD I HAVE KNOWN???”. This is pathetic- its really not that hard to figure out which of your kids have the basic human decency to act as a judge and which do not. Quite a few of the examples I am thinking of I have judged the student in question before and just based on that one round would not have allowed them to judge novices because the way they behaved clearly indicated they couldn’t handle it.


For that matter, this isn’t just about student judges. I have no problem with parent judges, my students should be able to adapt to any judge. I don’t even have a problem with parent judges saying something like “Immigrants took my job so I didn’t vote on the CIR disad” – yes judge bias is unfortunate but its novice and a learning experience> Sometimes judges have personal biases, you can try and see how they react to arguments when you present them but other than that you just sort of have to deal. What’s not fine is parents who fill ballots with comments about students wardrobe, its not fine when parents ask students after the debate why they are still in the activity, its not fine when parents make comments about students having an ethnic accident etc. If you are bringing parents to judge you should have probably I don’t know- met them, had a conversation with them, found out if they are a klan member. And when a parent judge does something like this, they shouldn’t be judging for you at future tournaments.



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