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10/18-10/25: LD Tournament Results and Traditional Debate: Misconceptions and Strategies
Lincoln Douglas Debate
This weekend, LD debaters competed at the JW Patterson High School Invitational.
Congratulations to LC Anderson’s Nathaniel Watkins and Luke Schooler for co-championing the JW Patterson High School Invitational. In semifinals, Nathaniel defeated Coppell’s Sirini Karunadasa on a 3-0 decision (Glendinning, Kieklak, Smith) and Luke defeated Harvard Westlake’s Luke Rascoff on a 2-1 decision (Icsel, Waheed, Walters*). Additional congratulations to Nathaniel for being the top speaker.
Full pairings and results can be found here.
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The public forum topic is “Resolved: The United States federal government should forgive all federal student loan debt.”
The Lincoln-Douglas topic is “Resolved: The United States ought to prohibit the extraction of fossil fuels from federal public lands and waters.”
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Traditional Debate: Misconceptions and Strategies
by Leon Huang
We’ve all heard it before.
“What do you mean we lost the round because we weren’t convincing? What kind of RFD is that?”
“What a screw. Do these judges even pay attention?”
Or, my personal favorite:
“Wait. I won, but got 20 speaks?”
Losing sucks, and it sucks more when it’s for reasons you don’t agree with. Debate is a communication activity, but it’s pretty hard to communicate your ideas when your judge is unpredictable.
Debating in front of experienced judges is challenging. From weighing arguments to other technical quirks, there’s countless things debaters need to keep track of to set themselves up for success in the round. Debating in a traditional setting, or in front of “lay” judges, is also difficult. But now, debaters need to shift their focus from technical nuance to rhetorical competence.
Here are some common misconceptions I hear about traditional debate.
Win the flow while speaking slow.
The one thing that doesn’t exist in a traditional round is the flow. Things such as extensions, weighing, all matter less when it comes to an inexperienced judge. This is not an invitation to cheat, but rather a suggestion that the two debate styles do not have a heavy overlap in a technical sense. You should still do things such as weighing and extensions in front of traditional judges, but the way you frame these strategies should be different.
Traditional judges care less than experienced judges.
Sure, they care less about technicalities in the debate. Maybe they’ll look past a shady extension or be hesitant to vote for unconvincing arguments. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means they have different standards and opinions. Something to remember is that similar to how debaters sacrifice their weekends for competition, judges sacrifice their weekends to make competition possible. They’ll pay attention to rounds and do their best to render a decision, but it’s your job to guide their ballot in your favor.
Traditional judges vote randomly!
It’s not incorrect to say that there isn’t a “one size fits all” standard for traditional judges. With experienced judges, many value the merits of strategies such as weighing and collapsing.
When it comes to traditional judges, it’s different. Some count up arguments won by both sides and vote for whoever won more arguments. Some vote for the team that was more dominant in crossfire. Some vote for the team that spoke in a more convincing way. It’s difficult to predict, especially when their paradigm might be empty. But that doesn’t mean adaptation is impossible.
So how do you guide a traditional ballot in your favor? Here are a couple tricks that I adopted in my debate career that I found helped tremendously.
Don’t speak too fast. Don’t use heavy jargon. Don’t run anything that is politically charged (i.e. Politics DA). Don’t run anything that might be found ridiculous (i.e. spark). Be nice in round. Assert yourself in cross. Sound confident. Make sense?
In a traditional round, rounds can be won in the constructive speech. Having compelling case narratives makes your job easier. If, after the first two constructive speeches, the judge automatically finds your side more convincing, it means that you have to do less work to win their ballot.
My favorite cards to include for a good narrative when I was a debater were spikes, empirics, and layered uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to include extra evidence that adds nuance to your argument. Find the tradeoff between length and persuasion, you don’t want to invest too much time into one argument.
Collapse, but not really.
In a traditional setting, extensions aren’t key to the ballot. You should extend arguments to reiterate nuance and narrative, but, generally, there isn’t an emphasis on layered extensions that technical judges might have.
When I debated in a traditional setting, I would extend one of my arguments (usually the one I wanted the round to be centered upon), but still defend the rest of my arguments (without extending them). I found that this avoids losing because I “won less arguments” (remember those judges that tally up points?) and also forces your opponents into allocating their speech time into attacking arguments that aren’t a point of emphasis in debate. Usually, this strategy makes it so that the argument you want to make into a point of emphasis is undercovered.
Traditional debate is an inevitable part of debate, and complaining about judges won’t help you get better. Adaptation is a key skill to have in your debate journey, and debaters who master this skill will inevitably get rewarded.
Leon Huang debated at Leland High School in California for four years. In his junior year, he was co-captain of the PF team, and as a senior was President of his debate team. Leon has qualified to the Tournament of Champions three times, receiving a total of 7 bids, as well as the NSDA National Tournament two times. Most notably, he placed 12th at the 2022 NSDA national tournament and championed the 2021 John Lewis SVUDL Invitational. Leon has had experience in every situation–whether as a first speaker in a lay round or a second speaker debating against theory.