April 23, 2019

What this is + Offseason Improvements

Raffi Piliero Raffi Piliero

What this is: 

DebateDrills is starting a weekly blog, posted here! We’ll have articles about all things debate, from analysis of trends across high school and college debate to how to effectively prepare for tournaments, to articles about some of the nitty gritty of strategy and how to improve your speeches, written by a number of contributors. 
This first article will be about how to improve for the next season after your competitive season has come to an end. 

Offseason Improvement: What It Is: 

While some debaters are currently working to prepare for the TOC/NDCA/NSDA/etc, just as many have had their season wrap up. For probably the majority of debaters, the end of the competitive season means not thinking about debate for a couple of months, going to camp and working intensely there, and returning to not thinking about debate until the topic comes out. While I’m a super big proponent of doing other things in the summer/after debate is over, there’s a way to strike a balance and do some debate (albeit less intensely than doing the school year). I’ve written other articles about skill development across the year[1], but this one will focus specifically on what to between your last tournament and the first one of the year in September.

1.    Long-Term vs Short-Term Skills

Not all skills are identical. During the debate season, there’s more of a premium on gaining as much topic knowledge as possible (reading articles, scouting positions from the wiki, listening to podcasts, etc.), as well as doing research/cutting cards, doing speaking drills (which you should do daily) and potentially workshopping problems from rounds you’ve had recently through rebuttal redoes. Between all of this and school, you’ll most likely have your hands full, and practicing more “foundational” debate skills might go by the wayside.

What do I mean by “foundational” skills? I mean developing knowledge that often isn’t applicable to a given topic, but nonetheless useful. This could be execution-based (watching rounds online/improving your execution of specific positions such as topicality vs policy affs or the Security K), content knowledge (reading up on philosophy/authors you’re not familiar with), practicing answering critical positions, especially those that don’t change much year to year (honing T blocks, doing background reading, etc.), or anything in between. During the regular season, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of myopically focusing on the next tournament/the current topic, which honestly is often the best approach. However, during the summer, without a topic to prep, circling back to more basic skills is essential because you won’t have nearly the time during the year if you miss this opportunity. 

2.     What Should I Do? 

A.     Watch (and flow) rounds. This is something you should already be doing at tournaments after you’re eliminated, but the summer represents an excellent opportunity to get these in spades. You have the luxury of literally thousands of rounds online where you can pick out specific things you want to learn about, and watch debates that focus on those. I’d recommend watching rounds from the past season to see what the “meta” is, and what’s winning, but also watching some older rounds that feature some of the all-time greats in particular subject areas. I’d also explore beyond just LD rounds, watching rounds from college policy debate as well (to improve on policy/critical arguments). When watching these, pause the round after every speech to think about what your strategy would be/think critically about what might happen next – try to listen actively, not just passively 

B.     Read as much as you can. I alluded to this before, but the summer is an excellent time to both plug content-related holes, and to build upon existing strengths. Many critical and philosophical positions are complicated, and while reading existing cards can help, it’s never a substitute for reading original source material. This is especially helpful for putting authors in conversation with one another; for example, you likely won’t be very good at answering Afropessimism if you don’t know what Wilderson means by social death, which in turn requires understanding some of the authors he built his work upon, like Orlando Patterson’s idea of social death, Fanon’s racial epidermal schema, etc. Most debaters don’t read nearly enough; approaching literature from the ground up can also give you new ideas about how to answer positions you might have had preconceptions about, and the summer is the best time to workshop new approaches. 

C.     Don’t overwork yourself. All of this being said, take a break if you need to. Debate can be overly stressful, and speaking for myself (and so many others), it’s easy to overdo it and forget that debate is not a job, but an extracurricular activity that’s supposed to be fun. This is true during the school year as well – if at any point debate stops being fun, take a step back and take a break if necessary. Summer is a great time to recharge your batteries, make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and more, and debate should be a complement to those, not a substitute. 

Let us know in the comments if you have any questions! 

About the author:

Raffi Piliero debated for Harrison High School for 4 years, clearing twice at the TOC and finishing as bid leader his senior year. He’s currently a sophomore debating at Georgetown University, qualifying twice and clearing once at the National Debate Tournament. As a coach, his students have earned dozens of TOC bids, won several octas-bid tournaments, and reached the finals of the TOC.