In talking to people about TOC results, almost every year you hear the same two comments repeated over and over again
“I can’t believe team X did so bad”
“I can’t believe team y did so well”
There are obviously a lot of factors going into whether or not a team was successful at the TOC. Some of them, like amount of work/practice, occur outside of the TOC. Some,like your draw and judge placement, occur at the TOC. Some of these factors are outside of your control, and while frustrating, you won’t gain much by fixating on factors outside of your control. So lets talk about TOC results in the abstract and some ways you can prep for next year, starting now, to help you achieve the results you want.
The TOC is very different from other tournaments in that everyone there is an elim caliber debate team. At a regular tournament, even a tough one like Greenhill or Blake, there is still a solid 1/3rd or so of the field that is made up of: younger debaters trying to get practice, debaters from schools that are successful but are themselves not super amped about debate, and students who debate is not their top priority and therefore will rarely achieve a winning record. This means that even at the toughest regular season tournaments you can get a good 3-4 debates against teams who aren’t super competitive. This isn’t a bad thing- everyone starts somewhere and the only way to get better is to work your way up the pyramid.
At the TOC, however, everyone there is at least good enough to have some bids which means they are making it too and winning elims at most tournaments (obviously there is some variance). This also means the teams you are debating are going to be better PREPARED than the average team you debate at a regular season tournament. Everyone generally understands the TOC is “hard” but often does not really get it until they have been there for a few years.
Depending on how difficult your draw is, you can start off 3-0 or 0-3. Even if you are a team who is pretty good, its always possible to debate 3 stronger teams in your first few debates. People don’t like to acknowledge how much “luck” plays a factor in success at the TOC, choosing instead to believe its all based on merit. In reality though, luck is a huge factor. Luck becomes more of a factor when you consider
2. Match ups
One of the things that often mystifies young debaters is the way match ups work. For example
Team A: Is very fast, they always beat team B by spreading them out
Team B: Is very good at topicality, they always beat team C who runs a questionable case
Team C: Is very research oriented, they often defeat team A because even though they make only 3 answers to a disad, they evidence is always months newer and more high quality.
In this example, there is no team that is truly “dominant”, instead you have teams winning and losing based on the match up and specific skill differences between the two teams. In addition to basic debate skills like speed, smarts, and research there are also match ups decided by: how K one team is vs another, how good one school is at filling out their prefs, how their pretournament research matches up etc.
Many people have crashed and burned at the TOC because they showed up and were not “diverse” argumentatively. They can either lose a series of debates vs a k team when they get K leaning judges, or maybe they pick up 2 debates on FW and one on the perm vs a K because they get predominantly policy judges. Or maybe they only debate worse policy teams and go 3-0. A lot of factors are going into their record- and while to a certain extent there are things they can do about it (more pretournament work) at the time these factors are largely out of their control.
So whereas team A has a lot of problems with their draw of teams B, C and D, its possible team X would of cleaned up and gone 3-0. Whether or not a draw is “hard” or not is in a certain sense static, but when you consider the arguments involved and the judge placement that results from two teams meeting even debating the same 3 teams can be a very different experience for two different teams.