Improving over the Summer 2- Attacking weaknesses

I have referenced a story before about Michael Jordan hearing a critic say he couldn’t use his left hand and how he relentlessly attacked that weakness in the off season. This is something that rarely happens in debates. How many policy only debaters attack postmodernism or another K arg they are terrible at? How many K debaters work on their politics 2NC?


Everyone knows its better to flexible, but fewer and fewer people are flexible. Why?


  1. Its hard. Really. It takes a lot of work.
  2. Prefs- many people don’t see the need, they think due to prefs they can roll one style indefinitely.
  3. Cliques- there is often social pressure to stay “pure” -this can come from both sides
  4. Tunnel vision- some people fully buy into the cult of framework, some thing anything “traditional” is bad.


The fact remains though- flexible is good. If you can do it all you will win more rounds. Even if you can’t do it all, if you can do one thing well and another thing OK that is better than just doing one thing well.


But even if you don’t break it down along the debate policy/k divide, many people still have weaknesses like

-line by line

-research skills

-judge adaptation


etc. Even if you only read 1 argument, you will be more successful if you can adapt/change that argument to fit judge preferences of a wide set of viewpoints. Some rounds you might want to be hyper technical, other rounds you may want to go more big picture/conceptual. Some rounds may be evidence intensive, others less so.


Point being- any way you want to slice it, we all have weaknesses. What I want to talk about in this post are some under examined weaknesses:

-knowing stuff





Knowing Stuff

This was always my weakness. Some people in debate are really smart and pick things up quickly. They can read a few cards and understand the argument well enough to read or answer it. I never had that skill, and as a result I had to spend a lot of time trying to learn good before I could cut a neg or answers to something. This carries over to this day-for a few years my assignments were only answering obscure K arguments. If I had two weeks to do that it would take me at least a week (often more) trying to figure out what the argument was before I could decide how to formulate a strategy/cut a good card that answers it.


So if you want to learn, how should you go about it? Well you need to treat debate more like school (hopefully). In school when you are learning about something you probably

-read it carefully

-take notes

-make some sort of study guide or note cards

-spend hours reviewing it


Think about how this is different from “card cutting”

-people do a lot of skimming looking for good cards rather than reading

-no notes

-searches are directed to find particular things rather than learn

-never any study guide (organizing information)

-no review


So it’s not surprising that you learn less sometimes from cutting cards. Again this varies- some people instantly learn everything when they read. I have a really good memory and can remember a lot- my problem though is that I have to read things a bunch of time before I understand it. Card cutting reading doesn’t really help me learn so I have to tackle things a different way. This is what I do


1.Whatever the subject is I try and find the 3-5 “major works” for the other side. So if you don’t understand how to answer the security K you would want to look for 3-5 of the biggest (most cited)  articles that teams reading the security K use. You will need to look around on google scholar for a while to figure this out, but once you get the hang of it its pretty easy. Here is an example

This is the search I did 


Now looking at those results (they are already sorted by relevance) I would go through 100 of them (I change my default settings to this anyway) and see which ones jump out/are commonly cited (by debaters or other authors). So the 5 I would pick are probably

[BOOK] Critical security studies

K Booth – 1997 – Wiley Online Library
Page 1. Critical Security Studies KEN BOOTH The emergence of critical security studies
(CSS) since the late 1980s has posed a signifi- cant challenge to the dominant
understand- ing of security in academic international relations (IR).
This one is cited frequently, the title looks good, and I know Booth is a common author.

[BOOK]International relations theory: a critical introduction

C Weber – 2013 –
Weber o of this innovative textbook introduces students to the main theories in International
Relations. analyzes each theory, allowing students to understand and critically engage with
This one is newer and therefore not cited ad much, but the title is promising and its from an author I know.

[BOOK]Inside/outside: international relations as political theory

RBJ Walker – 1993 –
JOHN BAKRATT South Africa’s foreign policy The search for status and security 1945-1988
Reading theories of internationalrelations as a characteristic expression of a modern politics
bounded and contingency, of a dissolution or an absence threatening the secure frontiers of
This one is from an author I know, and has a ridic number of citations (the average academic article is cited 8 times according to an article I once read) – so this one gets in.
These are all book so I would stop at those 3-reading carefully takes time.
2.Read and take notes- on paper. Just like you would for school- instead of trying to underline cards try and right down key concepts/arguments in your own words. This requires you to translate jargon/academic writing into more easily understood pieces. This is a crucial part of learning- if you are having trouble with this step then you probably are still having trouble understanding it.
3. Study Guide/Notecards- this isn’t a joke. When I am attacking something totally new I frequently will make a quizlet of all the terms I am trying to learn that I don’t know. Quizzing yourself with flashcards is a great way to learn things-science!
4. Review daily for a while- it doesn’t take long to blast through 20-30 flashcards, maybe a few minutes. Once you get the flashcards made you can do it on your phone while you are waiting in line at the bank.
This may seem ridiculous to you, but should it? If you already know this is how you learn in school, why WOULDN’T you apply the same thing to debate?
This is really two things- block writing and speaking.
Let’s start with block writing because this is key. Most high schoolers are trapped in what I like to call the “8th grade English” mindset. What I mean by this is they are used to writing papers for school that have a page minimum- 3 1/2 pages. So when they write a paper they get to the end and its only 3 pages- what to do? Usually they don’t think/research new points to add. They go back and add repetitive explanation, flowery language, and filler to try and stretch what they already have into a paper that meets the minimum. You have probably heard speeches that sound like this- there are only a few arguments but they are repeated and inflated with filler.
Block writing is the best way to tackle this because it helps you learn to be efficient. This takes a few steps
1. Figure out an estimate of your words per minute- how fast do you speak? Lets say its 250 wpm
2. Pick a block to write- lets say a 2AC to ASPEC. Figure out how long you want to spend on this- probably 30-45 seconds, so for simplicity lets say 30. That would be 125 words
3. Write a block  of 125 words and see how many arguments you get. For many it will be 2-3- that means you are not efficient. For some it will be 20- that means you are making arguments that are too short.
4. Now take those 3 arguments and treat them like a car- highlight it to try and reduce unneeded words. Oftentimes people find they can reduce the number of words by as much as half. Whatever reduction you get you now have more words to add additional arguments. Eventually you can probably get down to 25 words per argument which is a good baseline for analytics, which would make for 5 total arguments.
Now you have an efficient block. Do this a few times a day and you can retrain yourself and the way you think/write which will help you in all aspects of debate.
In terms of speaking that’s trickier. The thing that works best imo is recording yourself and then listening to it a lot. Generally people are very critical of their own performance and your inefficiencies will jump out/be very annoying. You can type up your speech as you listen and then treat it like a block- highlight, revise, rewrite.
10/10 debaters could be better at flowing. Luckily flowing practice can be combined with other areas- pick some online debates on a topic you know little about and watch while flowing. You don’t have to worry about debating/prepping so just focus on making your flow as perfect as you can. After the round is over you can then practice writing an RFD and comparing it to the judges to try and also learn about decision making/adaption to make this practice a multi-tasker

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