It’s that time of year when debaters from across the NFL world prepare rigorously (more or less) and make their way to NFL Nationals, this year held in Indianapolis. While Nationals is always a fun time, you’re also there to compete, and the tournament is substantially different than most of the tournaments you’ve attended. With that in mind, here are three things you can do to improve your chances of having competitive success at Nationals.
1. Be prepared for diversity.
Nationals is full of judges and competitors with idiosyncratic sensibilities about style. Expectations for case structure, delivery, and affirmative and negative burdens will run the gamut. So will preferences for a more pragmatic, topic-specific debate versus a more abstract, philosophical debate. There are a couple of things you can do to prepare for this.
First, use a simple, positional casing style. Remember, an argument is an argument. If you have a compelling, straightforward thesis on the topic you will appeal to a much wider range of judges. Trying to be overly technical or overly complex is likely to obscure your argument and alienate a large chunk of the judging pool. Note that this does not mean dumbing down your argument. It means advancing a clear and precise advocacy so that form does not get in the way of substance.
Second, impose your will on the round. You will inevitably be in debates where it seems like you and your opponent are talking past each other. The more you can talk about your burden and how your case meets that burden, the better off you are. You want the judge evaluating the round through the lens that you have provided. Force your opponent to come down out of the clouds to address your position on your terms. “My opponent is not explaining the implications of his argument on the criterion. My analysis demonstrates that governments have an obligation to provide a basic minimum level of wellbeing for all their citizens and my first contention demonstrates that narrowing the rich/poor gap is necessary to accomplish this.”
2. Be mindful of your physical and mental health.
Nationals is an unusually demanding tournament. It is long, stressful, there are big breaks between rounds, and you generally don’t know how you’re doing. Combine those things with nervousness about competing for a National Championship and the week can get pretty wearing.
First, you need to take care of yourself physically. Make sure you work hard in the lead-up to the tournament so that you don’t have to spend long hours at the tournament trying to cram in all the preparation you feel you need. Get plenty of sleep and try to eat healthy. These things can be difficult when you’re traveling, but if you can try not to vary your routine too dramatically. This will prevent you from feeling strung out and therefore failing to debate your best.
Second, take care of yourself mentally. Sometimes there are long breaks in between rounds, so have a plan for what you are going to do to relax. You can play cards, watch a movie, hang out with teammates, whatever. If you try to stay 100% focused over the course of a long day, you will wear yourself out. Have a plan for how you are going to deal with stress. On the flip side, think about how you want to refocus yourself when it’s time to debate. Before the round, read your case out loud, read through your blocks and frontlines, etc. You can’t script everything that is going to happen in the round, but you can get yourself in the right frame of mind to make good decisions in the round. Alternatively, maybe trying to do too much before a round psyches you out. If you know that’s true, plan ahead – have a simple pre-round routine that won’t get you too locked into your preparation. The general point is that planning ahead for how you are going to manage your state of mind will help you to be ready to debate your best when the time comes.
3. Get back in the swing of things.
For many of you Nationals will be your first debate round in months, and for most it will be their first rounds on the topic. The combination is a recipe for extreme rustiness. So, finding ways to debate before the tournament is essential. Have practice rounds with teammates, other qualifiers from your district (or one nearby), or with friends who also qualified. For friends from camp or people who are otherwise far away, have rounds over Skype. Don’t be discouraged if these aren’t great rounds – the point is to shake the rust off before the tournament rather than during it.
Best of luck to everyone – swing by the Victory Briefs table and let us know how you’re doing!