Upon entering the summer, many debaters think about the ways they can improve while at camp. Numerous other articles have been written about making the most of camp—articles by us and by others—so this piece won’t focus on camp at all. Instead, I’ll focus on what to do outside of camp in a given summer, discussing some of the ways you should plan to spend your time.
First, you should take a few hours after your last tournament to do some honest self-assessment—or assessment with a coach/teammate—about your season. What were some of your strengths? What were some of your weaknesses? Situate these in specific contexts, identifying what some of the primary factors were behind your losses. Again, it’s important to be honest about this—don’t just chalk up losses to bad judges. Following this self-assessment, try to come up with some actionable steps to attack your weaknesses.
Second, develop a routine. One of the nice things about the summer is that, without school, students tend to have a bit more time on their hands to focus on debate. You should develop two types of routines—a broad one and a more granular one.
The broad routine focuses on the overall objectives you want to achieve during the summer. This might be broken down month-by-month, focusing on the more holistic goals. For example, you might decide that you want to spend the month of May becoming a stronger theory debater, while June could be spent learning a couple of Kritiks that you weren’t familiar with at all during the regular season.
In contrast, the more specific routine focuses on the concrete steps you will take to achieve some of those broader goals. This will be broken down week-by-week, and, in some cases, day-by-day. For example, if your monthly goal is to work on theory debate, you might tell yourself that in one week you’ll watch 5 theory debates online, do a certain number of drills extemping theory arguments, and spend time writing blocks for a certain set of theory arguments. Breaking it down by day can help make the plans seem more attainable and less abstract.
Third, you should be relentless about not doing work that is unimportant. It’s easy to fall into a trap and think that summer work is less valuable because time is so unlimited; some debaters think that any work they do over the summer is just “bonus work” that they didn’t have to do and therefore is valuable. This is mistaken. There are certainly some ways to waste time over the summer, spending precious time that could be spent elsewhere.
One way to spend time that isn’t productive is on topic-specific prep, unless you are sure about the topic in advance. Spending time researching a potential topic (or the topic from the previous year) creates a large risk that your work will be for naught if that topic is not selected.
In a similar vein, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on positions that you know you can’t or won’t use regularly. One way this often manifests itself is a debater spending a month learning and cutting an intricate Kritik file that applies in only the most niche of situations, or is a position that they realistically will not go for. While this is not a complete waste of time (since learning a new position is always valuable), it is not as high-magnitude as other activities could be. Before cutting a file over the summer, ask yourself whether that position will be applicable in many situations and, secondly, whether you would actually go for the position in situations where it is viable.
A final way that debaters often waste time is cutting too many cards for a particular file. Sometimes there can be such a thing as frontlining too much. I often see this happening with generic files such as the Cap K vs critical affirmatives. A debater, who knows they use this file often, will spend time cutting a stack of new cards over the summer for the file. However, if this file was already complete and thoroughly frontlined, these cards might end up being repetitive. As a mentor of mine once asked me rhetorically, what’s the point of having 10 cards on a given issue if you only have time in a given debate to read 1 or 2 of them?
The fourth and final point is to be willing to course-correct during the summer if you see yourself falling off track. Too often, debaters fall victim to path-dependency. Having designed a detailed plan for the summer, they are reluctant to jump ship and make a new plan out of fear of wasting the time they spent on the other plan. However, you need to be flexible and adaptive in your thinking. If your plan isn’t working (either due to you not following it diligently or due to a lack of improvement), it’s time to revise and rework it. After all, it’s better to catch an error in your plans in mid-June (with the rest of the summer to correct it) than it is to see an error in September, once the entire summer is gone.