Mistake Free Debating

Having come back from debate camp and judged approximately 25 or so debates in the last 4 or so weeks I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the good the bad and the ugly when it comes to HS debate.  I’ve always had the motto and constantly tell my kids before their debates to debate “mistake free.”  While this request often falls on deaf ears and usually sounds so logical as to be ignored I think it’s something that’s worth thinking about.

Mistake free debating is not synonymous with debating well or good debating.  While mistake free debating is a necessary condition for good debating, mistake free debating is not sufficient to be good debating.  Mistake free debating as it sounds is the absence of easily correctable and often times costly errors that contribute to losing a debate.  Whereas good debating is not only avoiding making such mistakes but also involves taking it a step further in out debating, out arguing and out skilling your opponent.  In HS a majority of debates are won and lost not due to one team out debating the other team but due to one team capitalizing on the costly mistakes their opponents have made.  I would say that if you were not a “great” debater or even a “really good debater” but debated as mistake free as you could, you’d likely win 10-20 more debates over the course of a season which seems pretty significant.

So what is mistake free debating?  I’ll make a list of some of the more common errors I see debate in and debate out that cost teams rounds

1.)    Dropped arguments- this drives me nuts.  This is probably one of the biggest contributors to losses that it deserves subsections.  I’ll just rant here.  Flowing is the most fundamental aspect of this activity.  If one cannot respond to their opponents arguments how do they expect to win?  I see flowing errors and lack of flowing skills at all levels.  This is an easy one to practice, have one person read cards, you flow, keep good spacing in your flows, leave room for overviews, circle/star/highlight/box/ whatever key args like theory args, voting issues etc.   If you don’t understand an argument do the same box/circle thing,  don’t just let it sit there on the line by line.  Other things that fall within the purview of dropped args is missing add ons, etc.

2.)    Kicking out of disads and cps properly- You all are horrible at kicking stuff.  Take a second and think of the args you can concede, and think about its interrelation to other flow args.  Does econ decline inevitable on inflation mess with your politics da’s impact?  Does extending N/U sound like a good idea when there are link turns too?

3.)    Reading the wrong card / block / whatever.  2ac’s do this constantly on t blocks, negatives do this on case args and U and Impacts for the disad.   It takes a little more attention but c’mon now.  Read the right block for goodness sake.  Step 1 right blocks, step 2 read correct blocks.

While this list is just preliminary and by no means comprehensive you can see how all of these things add up to costly losses and easy wins for your opponents.  Avoid making these errors and your record will improve drastically even if you’re not making better arguments, cutting more cards or doing the other things that help make you a good or great debater.

3 thoughts on “Mistake Free Debating

    1. Roy Levkovitz

      Oh snap, maybe if I’d had the3nr I could have impressed you further.

      Statistics do show a 5-0 record with stefan judging over 4 years of college debate, with speaker points of 28.5, 29, 30, and two elim wins. I’ll take it

  1. Travis Neal

    This is so true. I would add another type of mistake: the incomplete argument. Too often I see a team do something they think is slick only to lose because they have not covered all their bases. Here is an example I judged at camp: the impact to a 2AC block about Conditionality Bad is that it allows conditional affirmatives. The 2NC’s answer is “go for it, we’ll still win.” The 1AR then reads a new plan text, a very bad very Extra Topical plan text BTW. The 1AR then extends the condo debate claiming predictability claims everywhere (despite that silliness that is not what is important). The 2NR reads an extra topicality impact argument and moves on to the substantive debate. The 2AR then reads a new plan text, one that is clearly topical. The remainder of the 2AR is about predictability, an impact that favors the negative in this debate and is irrelevant at best. The 2AR loses the ballot because they do not answer the disads and do not read new advantages to weigh against the substantive arguments.

    The affirmative made an incomplete argument. Debate is about synergy among arguments and being caught up in irrelevancies or being too creative with a single argument is also a common mistake.

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