Improving Over the Summer 1: Goals

I’ve written a bajillion posts about improvement, goal setting etc. They inevitably produce a billion follow up questions about specifics- there are a lot of debaters at various stages of development and they all want something more concrete. So this series of posts is going to focus (most likely) on rising juniors- people who have a few years of experience, some skill, and are looking to move into making it to varsity elims, getting speaker awards, and the cries of their fallen enemies.


Broadly speaking, most people in this category have the same problems

  1. Their speaking is good but not great. They aren’t clear enough or fast enough. They are very inefficient.
  2. Time allocation- they still make a lot of mistakes about coverage, 2NR choice etc
  3. research- while most people know the basics of card cutting a lot don’t know much about formulating a strategy


There are more but this is the broadstrokes. In future articles we will talk about drills to target these specific areas, but in this initial post I want to focus more on the process of setting goals than how to start achieving them. For more general improvement, here is an example of a form (modified) I have given students in the past to get them thinking/analyzing their performance and looking for places to improve. Try filling it out- I will use some of the better ones as an example in a later post so if you want some specific feedback this is your chance.


First, you need to figure out objectively where your problem areas are. For this post we will just use one category as an example- let’s talk about a common problem I see in this demo: answering the K. This is pretty logical- the K is generally more complex, requires more background reading/knowledge to answer than say the spending disad. By the end of their 2nd year in debate most people have debated kritiks at least a few times, and maybe even have been successful against some of the more mainstream ks like cap. A big percentage rolls into camp very frustrated- they have lost to the K a lot. In fact this is probably the number 1 thing people in the Juniors labs at Michigan ask about constantly.

Answering the K, however, is a big area encompassing: research, knowledge, execution, countering spin, what aff you chose to run…


It goes on and on. So we need to break this down further, and to do that lets focus on a smaller, more specific problem. Let’s say this year you read the AIIB and lost to the cap K a ton. Lets look at the factors that contributed to you losing and figure out if they are useful in formulating goals.


-They had good China link evidence-odds are this will not be relevant in the future whereas “they had better impact evidence” could be because impact turns to cap won’t change from topic to topic

-we didn’t talk enough about the 1AC- while the content of the 1AC (china) won’t be relevant, the fact that you know you need to talk about it will be

-We dropped stuff- time allocation will definitely matter, and related to time allocation is argument choice. You can’t do a good job of one without the other

-we didn’t know what XYZ meant- if its something generic like k-waves then this will be relevant, if its something specific to the last topic- less so

-We thought we won XYZ but the judge said we didn’t- this could be a few things: strength of explanation, judge philosophy etc. These are all relevant


Ok so from that list we get that we need to improve on somethings like time allocation, impact evidence, judge adaptation etc. This is still a big list, and some of these things are more generic debate skills which we can put off for now. Lets focus on impact evidence. If you are going to impact turn the cap K you want good impact turn evidence- obviously. Say you already lost with the best “camp” evidence you could find, now you need to find some on your own. While the cap K is common, its certainly not the only argument in debate so you can’t dedicate all your time to it so when making our goals we need to balance competing objectives. So here is a rough outline of a plan of mini goals to help improve your cap impact evidence in 1 hour a day for a week.


Day 1: Search the wiki for the top teams who you know read cap and make a word doc of all their impact cards eliminating repetition. Then read through them and make a list of the arguments those cards make. This is what you need to defeat.

Day 2: Look for articles. Now that you know what you are looking for you want to find some articles to get cards from. Lets say your list was

Offensive impacts


-war/resource competition






Well if I had an hour than , roughly, I would spend like 12 minutes looking for the ONE best article on each of those topics.


Day 3 and 4: Read those articles. I am sort of assuming you got a journal article more than a WaPo article so this will take more than one day. Don’t try and SQUEEZE out as many cards as you can from these- you will prob only read 1 or 2 in a debate. So focus on getting the best possible 1 card. Maybe some of the articles won’t turn out- obvi find a new one but also think about how you were led astray.


Day 5: Now you should have your cards and their cards. Now its time to write blocks. Wait what? That’s right- blocks. Most people think of blocks in an odd way, like “i have a block to all the offcase”. You need blocks to arguments, just because epistemology is a subsection of the cap K doesn’t mean you don’t have a block for it, blocks are good. The process of writing blocks is good and will make you better at debate. Every debate is decided by individual arguments, the more of those you win the more likely you are to win generally. So here we know a few key things the neg is gonna say, making a block entails taking our card and adding to it

-analytic arguments that both generally and specifically refute the other teams argument (ie if they say cap=warming, you want cap solves warming, and cap solves environment generaally)

-arguments that attack their evidence/warrant/analysis. So if someone says “cap epistemology flawed” you both want to attack that argument and defend your own(above) , but you also want to debate the sources/reasoning of this evidence. Qualifications, recency etc.


Start by writing out as much as you can, don’t worry about quality/efficiency etc. That will be in


Day 6: You have 24 hours away from your work, now time to revise it with fresh eyes. Try and make things more efficient, better worded etc. Show your blocks (or read them) to someone and see if they clearly get your argument.


Day 7: Start practicing speaking- read the blocks obvi, but also do redos/construct other practice scenarios. Try and work in all the new knowledge you have-ie dont give your practice speeches on the old aff or old evidence you used to read-focus on the new



Again this is a rough sketch, things could be moved around in different ways- for example shouldn’t you speak every day? And if after this week you didn’t think this program worked, you could obviously change it. Goals are like anything else- you will get better with practice.












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