Let’s start with the looming fact that we all should, at this point, accept. The fall semester is a no-go for the most part. While the public conscious seems to have magicked away the virus, the virus itself could care less and will continue to make life hard. School will be shortened or remote, and extra curriculars will be difficult to participate in across the board. I start with the bad news in the hopes that we can shift our mindset very quickly and adapt accordingly. The reality is out of our control, but how we approach that new reality can lead to opportunities that we otherwise may not be able to pursue. A big one is starting, revamping, or growing existing debate teams across the country. I believe debate is a uniquely positioned activity that can, in ways that most other activities cannot, adapt to our present circumstances.
There are a few selling points that can help bring people to debate. First, debate does not require face to face contact. Unlike sports (although it is funny to tell people debate is a sport) debate can be done fully remotely. The immense growth of debate opportunities over late spring and summer that sprouted up seemingly out of nowhere shows that, imperfections notwithstanding, debate can do okay with a move online. Second, debate is an extremely accessible activity. All you need is Google and Microsoft Office to really do well; the lack of hard barriers creates ease for new entrants who would otherwise balk at the investment and startup costs of doing an activity. Third, debate is very fun compared to the droll nothingness of home life. I don’t want to go all cheerleader and I know none of my audience disagrees, but a great selling point of debate is how invigorating it is. Engaging with someone directly in controlled argument is a game that provides immense opportunities for personal growth and a good time. There is a certain rush from going through a debate that you will feel even sitting on your couch at home. Fourth is that debate quickly facilitates friendship and social engagement. Doing drills or being assigned to research a case together is a great common point that can foster friendships. Hundreds of current debaters across the country have become very close with others and have perhaps never even met face to face! The proof is already there that debate can be social in our existing environment. Fifth and finally is that debate remains one of the most alluring ways for students to become college-ready. People will be looking for extracurriculars to beef up their resumes, and debate is always a +1 for colleges on the lookout for new students.
I encourage coaches and debaters to take the coming months and think hard about how upsides like the above show debate to be well-suited for our current circumstances. Take the time in the next few months to coordinate with students and admin on how to best get the word out that debate is open and ready for new faces. Start creating learning material and social mixers that people can come to online. Begin holding informal lectures on the fundamentals of persuasion. And hey, at the minimum, all of those efforts look really good on your own resume when you need to get into college as well.