Factors that make a great debater 9: Persistence

Lots of things in debate are hard. What do you do when you hit that first wall of opposition, when things go from easy to difficult? Most people give up. You can see this in a variety of ways

-speeches were students execute hopelessly doomed strategies they know will fail but they stick too because they are familiar

-files with massive problems (no extensions for key parts of a disad, no aff answers, recycled old impact cards)

-assignments that get started but never finished, oftentimes several at one time


When debaters start to experience some tough sledding there are a lot of options out there for help- coaches, friends, the internet. What is required is to push through the difficulty in one way or another and just keep going. It doesn’t matter if the end product is perfect, what matters is you don’t stop. Everyone cuts bad cards, turns out bad files, gives bad speeches. You can’t be concerned about that kind of thing- its this fear, the fear of “failing” (or for many, of being seen as a “failure”) that turns minor roadblocks into impossible obstacles.


What do I mean? Well lets say you got the assignment to do the elections disad uniqueness updates right after the DNC convention. At this time Clinton was up by 8-15 points depending on the poll. This is a hard assignment to cut cards both ways (obvi one way easy, other way hard). Remember though, we live in the age of the internet- you can find cards on just about anything. These cards might not be the best, or from the best sources, or credible in anyway… but they are out there.


So what is the point of pushing through here? Why cut some pretty objectively bad cards that won’t win any debates? Well there are a few reasons


1.Work patterns are exactly that, patterns. If you start giving up on things when they get hard, this will become a trend, and eventually a pattern, and finally a habit. Everyone who has been in debate for a long time knows a few people like this- they are generally good workers but they can’t really be counted on to do anything important because they generally quit when the going gets tough. Give them economy uniqueness, or impact defense or a similar throw away assignment and they are fine. Anything that requires some real effort though, and they fold like a beach style chair. I find myself having thoughts like this all the time, students will say “we need a card on counter intuitive argument X” and I will think ( and sometimes say) “well no one would write that, mainly because it’s so stupid, but even if it was written the author would be so unqualified as to be irrelevant as a piece of evidence”. That line of thinking isn’t “wrong”, its just not useful. The last few years at the NDT I have gotten some real doozy assignments that seemed on their face to be laughable. On all of them I was able to find evidence at least pretty close to what was requested. After a while I actually started to kinda like this (eh?) – it was a fun challenge. A lot of debate work is monotonous. From like 2004 to about 2011 I did the politics disad, first when I was debating, then as a coach/evidence seller. This probably is a big reason why I now hate the politics disad, in the same way people who work at taco bell would never eat there (their loss). Doing the same searches ( bush/obama w/255 “political capital”) over and over and over again, reading the same kind of inane articles from pundits, cutting the same 2NC uniqueness block over and over again… it gets tiring. I started gravitating towards impact turns on politics primarily because it allowed me to step outside these confines and research something more interesting. That was sort of a long aside but here is my point: the practice of doing research doesn’t change, what changes is the attitude you bring to it. I mean this not in a Tony Robbins walk across coals sense, but more in a “science!” psychology sense. People who quit when things get hard are really fighting a mental battle, not a physical one. “hard” generally means “no immediate results/gratification”. This need for short term gratification is a habit you have developed, and its one you can break.


2. Skillz- when the going gets tough you need to think outside the box a bit. Trying to find difficult cards requires a different set of skills from trying to find easily available evidence. A lot of the research tools I now use frequently like the think tank database, alternative media search engine (conservative), alternative press (liberal) etc. I learned about from doing a tough research assignment and I now use them for even easier research assignments. A lot of the examples so far have been about research, lets look at a speaking example. Let’s say you are having a lot of trouble giving 1ARs on T. What most people do is keep doing what they have been doing (extending random arguments in haphazard fashion), this is the speech equivalent of giving up. So what should you do instead? Well, you need to figure out what you are doing wrong (from coaches, judge feedback, your partner) and then try and do things differently. So for example, lets say you are having trouble defeating QPQ. You have been going for CI “both” and reasonability and then randomly extending other arguments if you have time. So you need to change this up, make a new plan. Try scratching reasonability, focus more on offense. Pick one of your offensive arguments from the 2AC, map out all the neg responses to that argument, and write a block to answer them all. Then expand to a second offensive argument etc. Point being, if you give a speech and lose, you don’t want to keep giving that same speech over and over again moving forward. You need to change it up, and I know change is hard. But here is the thing- just like with research, its only hard based on your mindset. There is no reason “reasonability” is inherently easier to extend than an offensive argument. The more you practice extending offense, the easier it will become. And here is the thing- the more you practice “going for new things” the easier THAT will be. Going for new/different things is a skill like anything else, it can be actively cultivated and improved.


3. Surprise! While it may be hard to believe, I’m actually not the smartest person on the planet <pause for gasps>. Sometimes something I thought would be pretty hard to find/no one would write about turns out to be easy to find/pretty common. Just think of the counter intuitive arguments we have in debate like spark, wipeout, malthus, etc. If someone had told you prior to these arguments “research nuclear war good” you would of thought they had a screw lose. Point being its possible there is a lot of ev out there you didn’t know about and couldn’t anticipate- and you won’t know till you look into it.












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