Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

– Winston Churchill

I’m sure that everyone at some point during their time in a history class has heard the Churchill quote used to discuss the importance of learning from past mistakes and moving on.   While the quote might seem lame or cliché since we’ve heard it so many times before, the moral of the quote is true: if we fail to evaluate or reflect on the past we are destined to repeat these errors.

Now that I’m done with my quote of the day what does any of this have to do with debate?   A lot really;  Most of this post will deal with how what happens right after a debate round and when you get home from a tournament can have a larger effect on your development as a debater (and win / loss of course) then whether or not you have the newest health care cards from today or not.   While some of you all do some of these things well incorporating all of these tips to your debate routine will drastically improve your learning curve.

Tip 1- Flow the Judge’s oral critique-

This sounds so basic, yet it appears difficult to some.  After too many rounds that my kids are in, that I judge, or that I see judged debaters just look at the judge, into the sky or do nothing while the judge is giving their decision.  Too many debaters are results oriented and will only listen to the first 5 seconds when they find out if they’ve won or lost the debate and then shut down.  The problem with their results oriented approach is that it is too short sighted.  There is nothing you can do after the 2ar ends to change the judge’s mind about how they are going to vote in that specific debate, but paying attention to the details of the decision can glean huge dividends in future debates.

First, listening and writing down key details from the judge’s decision gives you direct insight into how they evaluate certain arguments and issues.  These tid bits of information they reveal in their oral critique should be written down and used to your advantage in future debates when similar issues come up.  Writing down their decision also helps you get into the psyche of the judge and a better feel for how to debate in front of them.  The best debaters are able to know what their judge wants to hear and sells them on those arguments.  Even if you disagree with the decision completely (and you are usually wrong about this) knowing how they perceived your argument will help you learn how to adapt in front of them.

Second- One of the biggest hurdles debaters need to overcome is the disconnect that occurs between what they are thinking / know and what is expressed in the debate round.  I’d say 90 percent of the time when debaters are angry at a decision and cannot possibly fathom how they lost the debate this disconnect occurs.  If I’m a judge I’m sitting in the back of the room listening to two sides debate the merits for some arguments.  I wasn’t with you in your squad room when you discussed the affirmative or the strategy you deployed; I didn’t necessarily read the same articles you read so my perspective is different then yours.  Listening to the oral critique helps you figure out where the disconnect was between what you were thinking as the debater and what they understood as the judge.  The better you become at closing that gap the more successful you will be.

Tip 2-Keep your flows

By the end of my college career I had kept every flow of every debate I had been in for the last 4 years.  As the 2ar would end, I’d fold up my flows, write for example Round 1 GSU Emory CL (aff) vs XYZ Judge:  Atchison (soo many of you all are like oh I forgot who the judge was which is incredibly frustrating as a coach).   I’d then list the off case args read in the 1nc, and what they went for in the 2nr, and under that I’d leave some space for the RFD/oral critique.  That way in 1 flow I had all of that information available to me.   At the end of the tournament I’d put the flows in a safe place and look over them.

As you mature into a better debater you should use those flows to give rebuttal redos.  These redos help you work on efficiency, argument quality and force you to think about the debate again.  Even in rounds that you won your execution was not perfect, so correcting those mistakes could help you in future debates well.  I would often spend some time just looking at the flows thinking about how the debate went down, why this or that happened and what changes we should have made as a team.  The self-reflection process is extremely important.  Channeling some line from Searching for Bobby Fisher you must always be able to see the whole board, looking back at your flows helps you do that.  You can also pick up on tendencies of teams to extend certain case d args, make certain args on a cp or k etc and exploit that intelligence.

Tip 3- Right after the debate write down the percentage of confidence you have that you will win the debate. 

If your percentage Is way off often then your read on debates must be way off too.  The best debaters should almost always know not only if they think they won the debate BUT if they think the judge will vote for them which in some cases are two different things.

Tip 4- Write down or at least seriously think about something you learned from the debate (you can always learn something), and something you feel you could have done better in the debate. 

Forcing yourself to write it down makes it a little more permanent but it forces you to be reflective on the debate round not just the result.

Tip 5- Record / Listen to your debate if possible. 

If you’re being judge by Bill or other people who take some recording of the debate make sure you listen to it.  This is difficult because people don’t really like listening / seeing themselves debate but it is incredibly useful.  If you don’t want to listen to yourself, ask a coach or someone you respect to do so.

Tip 6- Discuss debates with coaches or peers. 

Nobody wants to hear another war story or how your judge messed up but talk to people on your team or friends about your debates their opinions on it, how they would have reacted to a situation.  In poker people post hand histories of how they played a certain hand online for people to discuss, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to break down a debate with some friends and discuss that.

Every debate provides you with additional information that you can use to develop further as a debater, whether you choose to take advantage of that information is up to you.  But believe if you feel like you’ve hit a plateau (and even if you haven’t)  it is time to employ some of these tips.