by Sara Catherine Cook
One frontline. One turn. One extension. It’s often the little things that make or break those close rounds in debate. I’ve heard many many rfds this year that have centered around “if you had just said this one thing, I would have voted for you” or “you were winning in the front half, but let that one thing fall in the second half”. And while, at the time, those losses often hurt the most, the feeling of being “almost there” is really one we should celebrate. Being “almost there” highlights how far we’ve come as debaters and also makes it easier for us to set goals for ourselves; ten seconds less on defense, one more implication, one more link to extend.
We should be viewing improvements in the debate space in the same way that we view improvements in debate. Not everything is going to be fixed in one day, in one year, or even with one effort, but we can make small changes to make our communities better. Here is my advice on how to make your debate community a little bit better.
Reach out to your opponents, no matter who they are. Debate friends make debate so much more fun, and the easiest way to make them is to talk to your opponents before round. Obviously if they are just not having it with the whole conversation thing, don’t force it. But, a lot of times, they will be perfectly happy to talk to you, and it will make the round way less awkward. No matter what happens in the round, say something nice to them afterwards. My partner Anna Kate is usually very dominant in crossfire. At our local a couple weekends ago, we debated a team who called her “ma’am” in crossfire (it was really funny, shoutout to Auburn PW if they are reading this). They were nervous for the round, as they had just started debate either this year or last year. After the round, Anna Kate and I stayed back to talk to them and tell them how good they were because everyone deserves that type of encouragement in an activity that is often overwhelming (note: they were really cool people also).
Check in on your teammates, all of them. Between every round, just go up and ask everyone on your team how their round went. It’s really simple and it actually does way more than you would think for team dynamic. It kind of makes everyone feel like they are part of something bigger than just their individual team.
Offer to help. If you didn’t already know, debate is really inaccessible. It’s often infeasible for many teams to travel as much (or at all) as well-funded teams (or well-funded individuals). It’s often harder to get opportunities as a female presenting person in debate, as coaching resources, friendships, and wins are concentrated in a world that is very very male. (if you want more warranting, please check out our other blog posts.) This doesn’t mean that you should feel guilty beating teams who have less privilege than you, or that you should give up debate just because the cards aren’t always stacked in your favor. It means that (if you care), you should do what you can to equalize the playing field. Pay attention to the femxle novices on your team because they are statistically more likely to drop out. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to do practice rounds or help kids on other teams who don’t get to travel, don’t get to go to as many tournaments, or don’t have coaches or captains who can really teach them what the heck debate is. Take other female debaters under your wing at tournaments, or just keep up with them. (again, debate friends are really great.) This doesn’t mean you have to give them all of your prep or let them win rounds against you, it’s just a way to give them access to the things that are harder for them to access. Inequalities in debate are not something we can ever really fully solve, but every single person can lessen them by reaching out and offering help.
Notice the successes of the people around you. Come on, we all crawl through Tabroom every once in a while. When you do so, congratulate the people you know for breaking at a tournament, or winning a speaker award, etc. Go watch people from your team or people you know in their rounds (if you can!). My team just started an LD program last year (very scary because LD is definitely hard to learn, especially when you don’t have a coach), and our captain made semis at our recent local (yes isabella!). I stayed to watch her round and I could tell it meant a lot to her, as the other debater had his whole team watching him. Be supportive! It means more than you know to have a supporter in the room (note: LD is really interesting).
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If there is something you need from the community, I promise there are people out there who want to help. #selfpromo but if you need a place to vent anonymously, someone to help you survive in the activity, or have something to say, Beyond Resolved is the place for you!
One extension. One turn. One frontline.
One word. One effort. One community. Infinite opportunities to improve it.