Improving over the summer 1B-Still Goals, including AT: T-Goals

Well apparently that clarification post had the opposite effect, so here I have rounded up some questions I got more than once.


Lets start with the google form from the original post: The point of this is to make you think. A lot of people got to debate tournaments, get some results, move on. They don’t analyze season long trends before thinking about how to improve. The point of these questions is to prompt you to reflect and then analyze your answers to look for a pattern or perhaps find some weaknesses you didn’t know you had previously.


Most people when faced with a direct question like “why are you bad” don’t produce useful answers. This is especially true in debate where people tend to be very argumentative (shocking)-when you confront someone like that they generally go into defensive mode. So a question like “when were you uncomfortable” works by accessing a symptom (comfort) that people are more likely to be able to identify than a weakness (not knowing X).


I’ve said this before, but Comfort=(familiarity)(time). In any given debate there could be a billion things involved that you have various levels of comfort with including

-the arguments themselves

-the tone of the round (cx etc)

-the disparity between teams



So if you think back and say “oh yea, round 1 of St. Marx we got shrecked on fem IR” but when you analyze it you just debated a better team, thats not as helpful for your goal setting as a round where you can point to mistakes you made.


Ok question 1: T-goals


So it seems most people think a goal is “win the TOC”, and that is certainly one kind of goal. It might be a good life goal, but it’s not a good goal for driving yourself to improve. Why not? Well its completely outside of your control, it doesn’t happen for like a year, and its too vague/abstract. Breaking those down


Control- winning the TOC requires a partner, good judging, probably some coaching- all things you can’t control. I could set a goal of trying to play basketball like Lebron James but no matter how much I practice I’m still not gonna be tall or a flopper- that goal is doomed. Winning the TOC isn’t doomed, but its doomed adjacent. There are factors in play that can’t be overcome by individual effort alone.


Timing- you want goals that let you track your progress in real time, not that can’t be verified for years. Let’s say your goal is X, and you think to get to X you will practice Y. Well after 2 years of that you show up at the TOC and go 1-6. Now what? Well you are pretty screwed. If instead you set weekly goals you can look after a week or two and say “is y working?”. If it isn’t, you need to change things up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an email or been asked by a camper something like this

camper: I do speed drills but I don’t get faster

me: how long have you been doing them for

camper: 100 years

me: so you’ve been doing the same thing for 100 years even though it wasn’t producing results?

camper: obvi

Now as you get better, improvement will take longer because you have less progress to make. But even people who are very good can see improvements in a short period of time- they just won’t be LIFE CHANGING. Getting 5% faster won’t take you from not clearing to the final round, but its not nothing either.


Vague- winning the TOC is like saying ” I want to be good, not bad”- its a truism. Everyone wants to be good, everyone wants to win the TOC. This doesn’t help you improve though- you can’t just sit down to practice and say “be good… go!”. You need to know what you are trying to improve, and results oriented goals like this don’t help with that. Someone could do infinite hours of work, be the best speaker in debate history and still not win because their partner dropped sever perm is a VI in the 1AR.


So instead of setting a goal like Win TOC, you want to set goals that you control, have a shorter timeframe, and are clear. Read 1 hour a day. Speak 30 minutes a day. These are goals that fit that description.


Question 2: Why do I need this I’m going to camp


As someone who works at a camp this is the view that frustrates me the most. Every summer there are kids who show up to camp having put no effort in, put no effort in, and then go “where are my results?”. Yes camp is a tool to make you better at debate- but it isn’t magic. Think about school- you have to study, you can’t just put your book under your pillow and learn by osmosis. Camp is great at some things, bad at other things.

Camp Good


-practice rounds

-feedback from coaches you don’t normally have


Camp Bad

-tailoring curriculum to an individual student/individual attention

-preparing your team for the season (ie all your evidence is turned out for everyone, you generally aren’t working with your whole squad/coach)


The “bad” isn’t an accident, its the same bad that comes with any group learning enterprise from school to sports to job training. When there are multiple students the teacher has to try and find a pace that works best for the majority, and then do what they can for people who are still having trouble. Students learn at different paces, have varying levels of interest/dedication, and different backgrounds. In addition, teachers have finite time- if I have 2 students I have to split my time 50/50 – but they can spend their time 100% focused on themselves. So if one of them is ONLY doing the 50% where I help them, and the other does that PLUS works on their own for the other 50% who is going to get better?


Too often people view camp as like a butler- I don’t need to do anything, camp will do it for me! Unfortunately debate doesn’t work that way. You need skills and evidence that constantly evolve/improve. To have that you need to constantly evolve/improve. If you only work on things at camp you are basically only working 1/12 or maybe 1/6th of the time.



Question 3: How do I know what judge feedback to trust


Well that’s dicey. Obviously if you have been told X many times you prob don’t need to think about who to trust. Similarly, if you get top 5 speaker awards  at every tournament and one judge said you were unclear you can prob ignore them or chalk it up to a one time thing.


On the other hand, what if you worked for a month on Fem IR and only go to read it once at the TOC. Your judge said your OV was terrible, your evidence was worse, and voted aff on presumption. Well then you need to start examining what happened and who the judge is. If you know for a fact your OV  WAS garbage, then that would be one thing- but you probably wouldn’t have read it then. Obviously YOU thought it was good, so what we are looking at here is who to trust- yourself or the judge


Why trust you

-judges are bad. They don’t pay attention, they aren’t smart, they have biases


Why Trust Judges

-you’re bad, you didn’t pay attention to the RFD, you aren’t smart, you have biases


Seems like a real pickle we are in here. So what do you do?

  1. Seek outside counsel- do a redo/show your work/whatever to someone you do trust- do they agree? If you’re Mulder and trust no one well then you need to open your heart and let someone in
  2. Investigate the judge. If the judge says you gave the worst Politics 2NC they’ve ever seen and you look at their judging record and they vote aff 100% of the time well then you know to discount their advice. If you look them up and realize they are voting roughly 50/50, they are judging other good teams, judging lots of elims etc- well then you probably want to take their word on it because they seem to be shooting straight. Ask other people about them- did they find their feedback accurate? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this convo

Debater: ridiculous thing

me: that seems improbable, who was the judge

Debater: Josh Clark

me: oh well that makes perfect sense



Question 4: What if it doesn’t work


It will. I don’t really get this , but it was by far the most common comment I received. If after a week you are still bad you haven’t lost anything, so who cares? You adjust your plan, try something new. This is all done in the privacy of your own home so no one sees you fail ( a common worry at camp) and you should only consider it failure if you don’t meet your goal- which you control (remember above?) so even if you don’t get blazing fast, if you hit all your targets for time spent speaking etc than you haven’t failed.


That may seem a little new agey/self helpy but it’s also just true.



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