The day before this year’s Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks. An All-Star for the first time in 2021, the 32-year old Escobar had appeared in 1,080 games in eleven seasons for the White Sox, Twins, and Diamondbacks. A versatile player, Escobar had played in 567 games at third base, 329 games at shortstop, 137 games at second base, and 45 games as an outfielder. He had even appeared in one game as a pitcher and another as a catcher.
The one defensive position Escobar had not yet played? First base. He hadn’t even played there in the minor leagues. But in just his second game for the Brewers — and with only a short pre-game practice session to help him prepare — that’s where manager Craig Counsell penciled Escobar into the lineup.
This was an admittedly unorthodox move for a first-place team, but Escobar seemed unfazed. “The most important thing for me is to help the team win,” he said. “I’ve never played first base but for this team to compete for the playoffs or make the World Series, you want to be out there all the time. I will come early and work at first base. I’ll be ready when they need me. I’ll try to make the manager’s job easier.”
Counsell downplayed concerns about Escobar’s ability to handle the transition to a new position: “He’s a baseball player. We’re not sending a baseball player into a basketball game here.”
The Brewers’ decision to acquire Escobar and play him “out of position” was a good example of a significant, recent trend across many professional team sports: positionlessness. Whether positionless baseball, positionless basketball, positionless football, positionless soccer, positionless hockey, or positionless lacrosse, the concept is similar. Instead of accepting pre-defined positions and assigning players to play them, coaches in positionless systems assess their players’ individual skills and design strategies to maximize their chances of success.
This philosophy focuses on what players can do well rather than what they can’t do well. Each player still has a role based on their particular skillset, but those roles don’t correspond to pre-defined positions. In basketball, for example, this approach has allowed atypically skilled and sized players like Draymond Green, Zion Williamson, and Ben Simmons to thrive even though they don’t fit the traditional standards used to distinguish between guards, forwards, and centers. Across all sports, this makes teams more versatile because it allows coaches to define roles based on each player’s skills rather than to define the skills that each player needs based on their assigned role.
It is my contention that the philosophy of positionless sports can and should be applied to debate. The rest of this article will make the case for that conclusion.
How Are Speaker Positions Currently Assigned?
The division of speaker responsibilities in contemporary national circuit-style policy debate is reminiscent of the pre-positionless era of MLB or the NBA. In general, (a) debaters are either the 1N/2A position or the 1A/2N position, (b) each position requires an expected set of skills, and (c) switching speaker positions is viewed as a dramatic (and undesirable) change.
How are these positions determined? Many students choose (or are assigned) a speaker position during their novice season and stick with it throughout high school. A variety of factors play a role. Students’ relative rates of delivery are often important, especially early in debaters’ careers. For example, novice students sometimes divide positions based on who can read the 1AC; this means that the faster debater often takes the 1A and 2N positions, and this “sticks” for the rest of high school. For more experienced debaters, the faster speaker tends to be assigned to be the 1N and 2A; the assumption is that the 1NC and 2AC are the constructives that benefit most from a faster delivery. In other situations, debaters decide that these benefits are outweighed by concerns about the time pressure of the 1AR and 2NR.
“Personality traits” are also often considered. In general, students who are more comfortable with “defending” a pre-determined position are assigned to be 2As and students who are more comfortable “attacking” others’ positions are assigned to be 2Ns. This also includes an element of (perceived) preparation preference: students that like to “dive deep” on a single subject are 2As, and students that like to dabble in many different arguments are 2Ns. These norms have dramatic gendered effects; students with stereotypically feminine perceived dispositions are overwhelmingly assigned to be 2As and students with stereotypically masculine perceived dispositions are overwhelmingly assigned to be 2Ns. The perception of these dispositions is often wildly inaccurate, but this effect on speaker position assignment has persisted for as long as I have been involved in debate.
Students generally stick with the same speaker position throughout the season, and these positions often persist throughout the student’s debate career (including in college debate). When students do switch speaker positions, it is often perceived to be a significant, disruptive change. Most students that switch positions do so because it enables a superior partnership to be established; often it is done only out of (perceived) necessity.
While the relative difficulty and importance of each speaker position is disputed (and changes over time), the second speaker is generally considered to have the “better” and therefore “more important” position on each side. Of the two second positions, the 2N is often considered to be more important than the 2A, although that opinion is not universal. The 1A position is almost always considered to be more important than the 1N position. (To be clear, I am describing — not defending — this consensus.)
When a team is particularly imbalanced — when one debater is much more skilled and/or more experienced than the other — it sometimes divides speaker roles by first and second positions rather than by side. The stronger debater is “double 2s” (2A and 2N) and their partner is “double 1s” (1A and 1N). This arrangement is more uncommon than one might expect because it is often considered disrespectful to the “double 1” student.
An even more aggressive version of this arrangement is sometimes used on the affirmative. Called “ins and outs,” it deviates from the typical division of speaker responsibilities by having the stronger student deliver the 2AC and 1AR (“ins”) and the other student deliver the 1AC and 2AR (“outs”). This can create problems with cross-examination (the debater that gives the 2AC can’t prepare for their 1AR while cross-examining the 2NC) and overall cohesiveness (it can be difficult to deliver a 2AR after not participating in the debate for more than an hour). This arrangement is rarely used.
In short, the traditional method of speaker position assignment divides students into two categories — 1N/2As (“2As”) and 1A/2Ns (“2Ns”) — and rarely deviates from them. It’s simple: students are 2As or 2Ns. 2As debate with 2Ns. 2Ns debate with 2As. Sometimes, a talented student is both the 2A and the 2N.
The Concept of Positionless Debate
Applying the philosophy of positionless sports to debate is relatively straightforward. In its most basic sense, positionless debate rejects the categorization of debaters by their speaker positions. Students are not “2As” or “2Ns;” they are debaters. While speaker roles exist in every debate — someone is the 1A, 1N, 2A, and 2N — there is no need for students to choose only one set of speaker positions and stick with them in every debate. Instead, students should be actively encouraged to gain experience with every speaker position.
As with sports, there are developmental and strategic aspects of positionless debate. Developmentally, this philosophy calls for students to be trained in every speaker position from the beginning of their participation in debate. Novice students should be encouraged to switch positions from tournament to tournament (or even from round to round at a single tournament) so that they are gaining experience with preparing and delivering each type of speech. This has a variety of benefits that will be outlined below.
While some teams already embrace flexible speaker positioning at the novice level, most separate their debaters into 2A and 2N categories as they enter their second year. Adopting a positionless debate philosophy would discourage this type of specialization. While students might gain more experience at a particular speaker position, they would still be challenged to develop and maintain positional flexibility by debating in every speaker position during the summer and throughout the season.
One could accept the developmental case for positionless debate and stop there. By a student’s third and especially fourth year, this approach would have students settle into defined speaker positions as they progress into (higher level) varsity competition. Used this way, many of the benefits of positionless debate would still be accrued.
However, an even bolder approach to positionless debate would embrace its strategic benefits. Instead of establishing a permanent speaker position for each debater, this would mean contingently determining speaker positions based on strategic considerations. The questions “who is the 2A on this team?” and “who is the 2N on this team?” would be replaced with questions like “who is the 2A on this team when reading this affirmative?,” “who is the 2A on this team against a one-off kritik-style negative team?,” “who is the 2N on this team against this category of affirmative cases?,” “who is the 2N on this team when intending to go for topicality?,” etc.
The point is that many factors might be considered when determining speaker positions for a particular debate. Instead of deciding in advance which student will serve each speaker role and then figuring out how to win the debate given those roles, this approach calls for figuring out how to win the debate and then deciding which speaker roles give the team its best chance to execute that strategy.
As with sports, positionless debate therefore includes a broad spectrum of strategies. Some — like encouraging novice debaters to gain experience at each speaker position — are relatively uncontroversial. Others — like splitting 2N responsibilities based on the affirmative case being debated or splitting 2A/2N responsibilities from tournament-to-tournament based on students’ relative academic/non-debate workloads — are more audacious and will likely meet with resistance.
The Benefits of Positionless Debate
In the rest of this article, I will make the case for positionless debate. In my opinion, it offers five major benefits.
1. Positionless debate increases students’ versatility.
This is obvious. If students are comfortable and confident in any speaker position, partnerships are easier to establish and change as circumstances dictate. This puts students and teams in the best position to succeed.
First, it maximizes the flexibility of pre-season partnership assignments. If the two best debaters on a team are “2Ns,” for example, the traditional philosophy of speaker positions requires either that they both debate with lesser-skilled or lesser-experienced “2A” students or that one of the students switch to a new speaker position to accommodate the other. Neither outcome is ideal. In the former, the team is weaker. In the latter, the decision about which student to switch may be divisive and the switching student may feel unprepared and uncomfortable in their new role. Anyone that has ever taught a summer institute lab understands how difficult it can be to formulate partnerships when the roster of “2As” and “2Ns” is unbalanced.
Under a positionless model, all debaters will gain experience at every speaker position. While some students might be more experienced as a 2A or as a 2N, none will self-identify as “a 2A” or “a 2N.” When establishing partnerships, students and coaches can focus on finding complimentary skillsets and compatible personalities, expectations, and effort levels. Instead of pre-dividing the team into two groups and assigning students in one group to debate with a student from the other group, all students become potential partners for every other student.
Second, it maximizes the flexibility of in-season partnership changes. These might be caused by unexpected availability issues or by competitive or interpersonal problems with an existing partnership. In the former case, a positionless roster allows coaches to re-pair students as needed when someone is forced to miss a tournament due to illness, academic issues, family situations, etc. Because all students are experienced and comfortable with all speaker positions, it is not necessary to find a “2A” to debate with each “2N;” as long as there are two students available to debate, they can debate together.
In the latter case, positionless debate offers the same benefits as it does during the pre-season. Because students aren’t “locked in” to a particular speaker position, partnerships can be more easily adjusted as circumstances warrant.
2. Positionless debate improves students’ overall debate skills.
The traditional assumption is that students who specialize in a particular speaker position gain the most experience with it. If a student is only the 1A and 2N, for example, they will get a lot of practice delivering 1ARs and 2NRs.
But what this perspective misses is that every debate speech is contextual: the quality or effectiveness of a 1AR or 2NR (for example) can only be understood in relation to the other speeches in the debate. Therefore, one of the most important ways to improve at a particular speech is (perhaps counter-intuitively) to practice other speeches.
This shouldn’t be controversial. After all, an important foundational philosophy of competitive policy debate is that switching sides is educationally valuable. Why? Because understanding the arguments on “both sides” of a policy issue is one of the best ways to develop one’s argumentation skills; understanding how to make an argument is often the best way to understand how to answer it.
There are many specific examples of how students can benefit from giving different speeches. To craft an effective 2NR overview, for example, a student needs to be able to anticipate how the 2AR will respond. By debating as a 2A, a student can better understand how to figure out where a 2AR might be headed — because they have direct experience with making those decisions. Therefore, the student who is preparing the 2NR will be able to better unwrite the affirmative’s ballot before the 2AR can write it.
Similarly, it can be difficult to figure out how to effectively respond to a topicality argument if one lacks the experience of going for topicality. A student that specializes in the 1N and 2A positions might rarely extend topicality in the negative block (much less go for it in the 2NR). This can make it difficult for them to effectively cross-examine an opposing 2NC on topicality or to craft a persuasive 2AR that answers it. Gaining experience as a 2N going for topicality can be the most effective way to improve their ability to answer topicality as a 2A.
The same logic applies to almost every skill in debate. Most importantly, experience with every speaker position will deepen a student’s strategic awareness and sharpen their “Spidey-Senses” about how debates are playing out and how judges might eventually resolve them.
3. Positionless debate better balances preparation responsibilities.
In other formats of team debate (and in earlier eras of policy debate), speaker responsibilities were determined based on in-round competitive considerations. In general, formats with relatively less pre-tournament and pre-round preparation tend to place more value on the first speaker on a team because they need to develop a strategy and make a good first impression on the judge. In contrast, formats with relatively more pre-tournament and pre-round preparation tend to place more value on the second speaker on a team because they make important strategic decisions and make a good final impression on the judge. In practice, that means the better debater is generally assigned both first speaker positions (1A and 1N) or both second speaker positions (2A and 2N).
The modern division of speaker positions in national circuit-style policy debate deviates from this model. Instead of assigning speaker positions based only on in-round considerations, it assigns them based on pre-tournament preparation responsibilities. This is reflected in how speaker positions are commonly introduced (via nautical metaphor) to novice debaters: the 2A is “the captain of the affirmative ship” and the 2N is “the captain of the negative ship.” The idea is that because policy debaters have such a heavy preparation burden, their responsibilities should be divided roughly in half, with the 2A responsible for preparing for the team’s affirmative debates and the 2N responsible for preparing for their negative debates.
While this has some degree of intuitive appeal, it breaks down under closer scrutiny. First, and most importantly, both students need to prepare to debate “both sides” of the topic. The compartmentalized, “captain of the aff/neg ship” approach to preparation leaves the 1A unprepared to defend the affirmative and leaves the 1N incapable of extending more than a very limited set of negative arguments in the 1NR. This hurts the team’s chances of success on both sides.
Second, affirmative and negative preparation burdens are not equally divided. There are generally many more negative arguments to research and prepare than there are affirmative arguments. These preparation burdens also fluctuate over time. Sometimes, a lot of affirmative work needs to be completed — like in the pre-season or when a new case is being crafted. At other times, only a few updates are needed. The negative workload is similarly inconsistent, but it is also (theoretically) “infinite” — there are always more case negatives to prepare and more generic positions to research and write. In practice, the imagined 50-50 division of labor is therefore inaccurate.
Third, individual teams are rarely responsible for all of their preparation. Teams work together. Even on relatively small squads, four or five people might be contributing to the team’s overall preparation. Because preparation requirements change from tournament to tournament, dividing those responsibilities strictly along 2A and 2N lines is generally a terrible way to maximize the value of each person’s work. Everyone should at some point contribute to both affirmative and negative preparation.
Positionless debate embraces this reality by freeing debaters from the strict 2A and 2N labels. Instead of assigning 2As to complete affirmative work and 2Ns to complete negative work, this understanding of debaters’ roles will allow assignments to be divided based on who is most capable of contributing. This might mean that the “best” researcher will take on the toughest assignments regardless of “side” — sometimes a new affirmative or affirmative answers to a challenging negative position, and other times a specific case negative or new negative generic. Similarly, less-experienced researchers might sometimes contribute to affirmative preparation and sometimes contribute to negative preparation by, for example, reproducing cards from an open source document or cutting a few targeted updates. When dividing up the work, the important question becomes “how can we maximize each person’s contributions to our preparation?” rather than “who is in charge of the aff?” and “who is in charge of the neg?.”
Beyond these practical improvements, this also has the important benefit of convincing every student to be invested in the team’s preparation for both sides. Because no student is a “2A” or a “2N,” they can’t write off the other side’s preparation as someone else’s problem. It will take more effort to identify and assign research projects and tasks using this method, but the overall quality of a team’s preparation will improve; that has certainly been my experience.
4. Positionless debate creates better matchups in individual debates.
The decision to divide speaker roles by side (affirmative or negative) makes intuitive sense. But in contemporary national circuit-style policy debate, the role of those sides has dramatically changed from earlier eras of debate. It was once true that an affirmative team prepared to affirm the resolution and the negative team prepared to negate it, but that hasn’t been how debates have actually played out for more than 40 years.
Instead, affirmatives choose to defend a specific example of the resolution — or, increasingly, to kritik the resolution. Negatives no longer negate the resolution; they negate the specific example of the resolution proposed by the affirmative, or they answer the affirmative’s kritik of the resolution. What it means to affirm or negate in any particular debate can therefore be wildly different both in terms of content (the subject matter being debated) and form (the types of arguments being debated and how they are presented).
Consider this representative (fictional) example of the preliminary round debates that a team might have at a tournament on the 2021-2022 water resources protection topic:
Round 1: Affirmative — defend an aff to breach the Lower Snake River Dams against (in the 1NC) ten off-case positions (two Topicality arguments, four DAs, four CPs, two Ks) and (in the 2NR) a process counterplan.
Round 2: Negative — go for a Politics DA and States CP against a lead abatement/drinking water quality affirmative case.
Round 3: Affirmative — defend an aff to breach the Lower Snake River Dams against an Afropessimism Kritik (the 1NC and negative block also included a procedural argument about the three-tier method of scholarship and some case arguments).
Round 4: Negative — go for Topicality “Protection” against a Water Infrastructure Development affirmative case (after extending the Anthropocentrism Kritik and Topicality in the negative block).
Round 5: Affirmative — defend an aff to breach the Lower Snake River Dams against an Ecology/Capitalism Kritik (the 1NC also included Topicality “Protection” and a one-page process counterplan; T was also extended in the block).
Round 6: Negative — go for the Capitalism Kritik against a Baudrillard affirmative case (the negative block also extended topicality/framework).
When dividing preparation responsibilities for this slate of debates, one could choose to do so based on sides. The 2A would therefore be expected to prepare to defend the Lower Snake River Dams affirmative case against all topicality arguments, counterplans, disadvantages, and kritiks. The 2N would be expected to prepare to go for the Politics DA, the States CP, Topicality “Protection,” the Anthropocentrism Kritik, the Capitalism Kritik, Topicality/Framework, and (presumably) case answers vs. the Lead Abatement/Drinking Water Quality aff, the Water Infrastructure Development aff, and the Baudrillard aff. And because the 2N did not know which cases they would debate, this is just the beginning: they would also have needed to be prepared against a wide variety of other cases, at least including a few more generic positions that apply to them.
This is a far cry from “water resources protection good” (affirmative) and “water resources protection bad” (negative). In practice, the affirmative and negative dividing line is now much less important than other dividing lines related to content areas and types of arguments. Consider a different division of labor based on the hypothetical tournament described above:
Debater 1 is the 2A against opponents that are likely to read and go for disadvantages, counterplans, and case arguments. Debater 1 is the 2N against “policy” cases when the negative is going for the Politics DA and/or States CP.
Debater 2 is the 2A against opponents that are likely to read and go for kritiks. Debater 2 is the 2N against “policy” cases when the negative is going for a kritik and against all non-traditional/planless cases.
This is a more sensible division of responsibilities. The debater that is better prepared to defend the affirmative against counterplans and disadvantages might also be better prepared to go for counterplans and disadvantages on the negative. The debater that is better prepared to go for kritiks on the negative might also be better prepared to answer kritiks on the affirmative. Both students will need to play important roles when preparing for both “sides,” but this division of responsibilities will allow them to specialize in a way that suits their strengths and weaknesses.
This is just one example of how this kind of decision might be made. Another is based on who prepared a particular argument. This is mostly applicable for the negative, but it could also come into play if multiple students have written different affirmative cases. On the negative, the idea is for the student who researched and produced the argument/strategy to be the 2N in that debate. Again, this makes intuitive sense. Even if this student is not “the 2N,” their superior content knowledge and familiarity with the materials outweighs their partner’s greater familiarity with the 2N position — especially if the team has incorporated positionless debate into its development philosophy. This “splitting the 2N” approach can cut down on the preparation burden for both debaters and improve the quality of their argumentation; instead of one student trying to prepare to go for all of the negative’s arguments, some of the arguments can be delegated to the other student. When those arguments are needed, that student plays the role of the 2N.
Another approach would divide responsibilities based on students’ relative preparation levels for a tournament or during a particular part of the season. Again, this acknowledges the reality that students’ commitment levels fluctuate over time. A common example is a senior’s fall semester. Often, they need to prioritize college applications; in order to do so, they have to temporarily ramp down their debate preparation. If that’s the case, it might make sense for their junior partner to temporarily assume “double 2” speaker positions (or at least to take on more 2A and 2N positions) until the senior is ready to return to their normal preparation level. This might allow a senior student to attend a tournament that they would otherwise need to skip or that would otherwise interfere with their college applications.
That same dynamic can play out for other reasons: increased or decreased academic workloads, seasonal club or sports participation, temporary family situations, etc. The point is that solutions can often be devised that maximize the team’s chances of being successful at an individual tournament or in an individual debate, but only if strict speaker position labels are set aside.
Of course, a “default” set of speaker positions will still need to be established. It might make sense for one student to almost always be the 2A and for another student to almost always be the 2N. Positionless debate doesn’t require that speaker positions be abandoned; it requires that speaker positions be determined strategically — with the goal of maximizing the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of each debater. For some teams, the resulting speaker positions might look relatively “standard;” for others, positions might be quite unusual.
For most teams, my sense is that there are a few marginal wins to be gained by challenging speaker position orthodoxy. With a little flexibility, debaters can put themselves (or their coaches can put them) in a stronger position to win more debates.
5. Positionless debate improves the long-term quality of judging.
Finally, an important secondary benefit of positionless debate is that it would reduce the self-identification of judges as “2As” or “2Ns.” Even a cursory review of judge philosophies reveals many such statements: “As a 2A, I think…,” “As a 2N, I think…”, etc. Many philosophies even include statements that imply that the relationship between which speaker position one specialized in and how one judges debates is strongly predetermined; “I was a 2A, so I think the usual 2A things…,” “Because I was mostly a 2N, I see the debate like a 2N…,” etc.
In general, “2A” judges are more easily persuaded that there should be limits on negative fiat and conditionality, that process counterplans aren’t competitive, that “new” 2AR extrapolations are sometimes justified, that topics should be interpreted more broadly, etc. In contrast, “2N” judges tend to be less open to affirmative theory gripes and attempts to limit negative flexibility, more accepting of process counterplans, more strict about “new” arguments in the affirmative rebuttals and about topicality, etc.
I’m not arguing that these assumptions are wrong; I’m concerned that they’re right. While these sentiments aren’t universal, many young judges definitely seem to view their role as judges as an extension of their role as 2A or 2N debaters. This is weird — speaker positions are seemingly given the status of political parties, with “As a 2A/2N, I believe…” mirroring “As a Democrat/Republican, I believe…”. Frankly, this causes many young judges to struggle to make good decisions.
Consider a baseball analogy. Imagine that MLB decides to replace its existing (independent, experienced) home plate umpires with former players. We would anticipate that these new umpires would call inconsistent strike zones, especially at first. In general, we might expect that former pitchers would have a slightly larger strike zone than former hitters. After all, their experience in the game would lead them to hold different opinions about the edges of the zone, with pitchers wanting to get a few more borderline calls and hitters holding tight to a stricter interpretation. Over time, we might expect that these strike zones would mostly normalize, especially if the new umpires were graded using the existing system (to encourage/incentivize accuracy based on electronic tracking information).
Something like this takes place every year in debate. While some long-tenured umpires (judges) stick around, a new cohort of young umpires (first year out judges) is added to the rotation and gets to take its turn calling the strike zone (deciding debates). But debate judges feel more connected to their previous “identity” as a 2A or 2N debater than I expect former MLB players-turned-umpires would feel about their “identity” as a pitcher or hitter. Once a player assumes the role of an umpire, their job changes. While a former pitcher might interpret the strike zone more liberally (“a pitcher’s zone”), they would not purposely call strikes that were a foot or more off the plate. Similarly, a former hitter might interpret the strike zone more strictly (“a hitter’s zone”), but they are unlikely to call pitches in the middle third of the plate balls on purpose. The disagreements, if they exist, would be about the edge cases at the outer boundaries of the strike zone.
The difference between baseball umpiring and debate judging is that the umpire’s job is to enforce a defined strike zone. While the umpire uses their judgment to decide whether a pitch falls within the definition of the strike zone established by the rules, they are not empowered to redefine the strike zone. In debate, there is no strike zone; there are only norms, and those norms are open for debate. This is one of the things that many people enjoy most about debate, but it does come with its downsides.
In this context, the downside is that young judges are not thinking enough about how to design debates for the benefit of everyone, or “debate in general.” Instead, they are thinking about debate like an advocate of their speaker position’s winning percentage. Eventually this wears off as judges start to develop a feel for judging, but it doesn’t need to happen at all. By challenging the self-identification of students as “2As” or “2Ns,” positionless debate will help students develop their opinions about debate independent from the strategic interests of any particular speaker position.
As with the baseball analogy above, one might expect there to still be a relationship between a debater’s speaker position experience and their opinions about certain debate theories and practices. But this effect would likely be rather marginal if debaters stopped thinking of themselves as part of one side’s “party” or interest group. Opinions expressed in judge philosophies would be motivated by thoughtful reflection (or even “gut instinct”), not parochial affiliation. Many judges would presumably still hold strong opinions about issues like topicality, conditionality, process counterplans, etc., but this would be unrelated to their “side.” The process of formulating these opinions is difficult but important for the development of young judges. In my opinion, the increasing parochialization of judge philosophies by speaker position in recent years is a barrier to this development.
The importance of flexibility in contemporary policy debate has long been acknowledged. In Jarrod Atchison’s influential final round ballot from the 2008 National Debate Tournament, he called “Debater Flex” the “wave of the future,” arguing that “debaters who self identify as ‘policy’ or ‘kritik’ are missing out on a wide range of ways to win. Forget the labels, just think of everything as an argument. Some arguments require more understanding than others, but they are just arguments. If you want to be able to take on a new high tech aff with less than 45 minutes of prep before the final round of the NDT, the last thing that you want to tell your coach/partner is ‘I can’t argue __.'”
I think the same principle applies to speaker positions. By embracing the positionless philosophy that has taken over team sports in recent years, debaters can ensure that they are versatile and well-prepared to take on any role. They can also give themselves, their teammates, and their coaches more options for maximizing their strengths at particular tournaments and in particular debates. To paraphrase Atchison, the last thing you want to tell your coach/partner before a big tournament or debate is “I can’t debate at that speaker position.” Developmentally and strategically, I think positionless debate is the wave of the future.