Switching Styles: The Value of Circuit Debaters Going to Traditional Tournaments

Raffi Piliero | Jul 26, 2021
2 min read

It’s June, and the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) tournament is rapidly approaching. Hosted online this year starting on June 14, hundreds of debaters across events will take part in one of the national championships, closing out the 2020-2021 season.

The NSDA tournament features debaters of all backgrounds—circuit debaters, local debaters, and everyone in between. However, many circuit debaters are reluctant to attend the NSDA tournament, choosing to end their season instead with the Tournament of Champions (TOC). While there are many defensible reasons for doing so—being burned out, wanting to focus on school, and more—some do it for another reason that’s less defensible. That reason? Disliking traditional debate.

I want to make the case for exploring alternate styles. In particular, circuit debaters—those who compete at national tournaments in a fast-paced, technical style—should realize that traditional debate still has merit. There are a few reasons for this.

First, traditional and circuit debate teach an entirely different set of skills, both of which are valuable. The fast-paced nature of circuit debate is good for increasing the volume of information presented in a given round: the result is that it rewards quick thinking and information processing, while also placing a premium on extensive pre-tournament research. However, circuit debate does less in the area of persuasive speaking—few situations will arise outside of debate where you need to speak 400 words per minute.

Traditional debate serves as a perfect complement to the deficiencies of circuit debate. With slower debates that are less flow-centric, there is far more of a premium placed on persuasive speaking, presentation, and organization. These skills matter—in professional settings and at school you will find yourself in situations where succinctly and effectively conveying information matters. A style of debate that rewards presentation is vital for building those skills.

Second, if nothing else, traditional debate can improve your skills as a circuit debater. Despite the pretense of objectivity, circuit debates are often a game of inches, with high-level debates often being excruciatingly close. In these debates, persuasion and ethos can be determinative, with judges needing something to latch onto even in the most technical of debates. At some level, these are skills based in explanation, emphasis, and presentation. Traditional debate rewards and teaches these skills—when communicating to a less technical audience, explanation becomes critical. These same skills can be channeled for circuit debate as well.

in professional tennis, competitive games take place on a variety of courts—clay, grass, hard, and carpet. Each of these different courts creates a different style of tennis game, which rewards different styles and skills. In many respects, debate is similar—tournaments like NSDA are a qualitatively different style than tournaments such as the TOC. Nonetheless, both are valuable in their own way, and circuit debaters can gain something from debating in a different style.

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