Tips for Nationals PF Competitors

First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS! It is a huge accomplishment to qualify to Nationals and one you should celebrate. While you probably have the PF basics down pat, I thought giving you some Nationals specific tips would be helpful- especially for teams that have never been before. Having competed at three Nationals and judged at two (my third will be Kansas this year!), I have just a bit of experience. Please feel free to email me any questions at if you have questions I have not answered here!


At a minimum, you will debate two days at Nationals. Preliminary rounds span Monday and Tuesday and break rounds begin late Tuesday and go until Thursday (Finals are on Friday). This means when each day’s rounds are over, you have something a normal tournament does not afford – time. This time should be put to good use with the following:

  • Revisions.

Count every debate round as a rough draft of your case. As you debate, you always find the holes you missed or perhaps hear a better way of explaining one of your arguments. At the end of Monday, take a fine toothed comb to both of your cases and edit. You should do this each evening if you are progressing to the next day. The teams that make it to out rounds are the teams that are improving their cases.

  • Research.
    • With holes in arguments come holes in evidence. With each round make note of the evidence you needed or wanted to have but did not. Find this evidence at the end of the day.
    • Keep track of any good evidence your opponents bring to the table. If it is good evidence, integrate it in to your files or blocks. Also prepare blocks to specific evidence that you hear repeatedly to better your rebuttals.
    • If you’ve heard evidence that is too good to be true, find the hole. Prepare a block that addresses the flaws.
    • If you heard anything that you did not understand or had not heard of, research it! Do not start the next day with unknowns.
  • Rest and eat well. Nationals is a marathon tournament like no other. If you are lucky enough to make it to Wednesday and beyond, you need to be in tip top condition. Treat yourself well, but eat healthy. One too many barbeque dinners in Kansas 2007 taught me the downside of heavy eating. Make sure you sleep. Though research and revision will improve your cases, you need to be awake to debate! Protect your sleep time, shower time, relaxing time so you can give 100% in round.


Keep your ears open outside of rounds. I’m not saying you should eavesdrop, but if you hear teams discussing an opponent, listen. If you hear teams discussing evidence or an argument, listen. You should be learning at all times and aware of what is going on around you. If people are speaking at an audible level, that is their fault if they do not want to be heard.


If you do not break to out rounds or you are out o the tournament, I encourage you to consider:

  • Do a supplemental event. These events start on Wednesday and continue until Friday (if you make finals). You may be frustrated at your PF losses, but the best way to channel that energy is to do something. Doing Extemp Comm after dropping in PF outrounds in 2008 was one of the best choices I made in debate. Though I was furious about dropping in PF my senior year, I channeled that into Extemp Comm and ended up getting 4th in finals. All supplementals can be fun and a great way to stay active the rest of the tournament.
  • Watch rounds. Especially if this is your first National tournament, you should be watching rounds. You always learn from watching the best debaters. The best debaters are at Nationals so… watch rounds!


Be aware of your judges. While the judging pool should be more well versed in PF than other tournaments you attend, you still can have parents and community judges in the pool. Be alert to what kind of judge you have each round and do not make assumptions about judging experience. If paradigms are posted, refer to those. If not, cue in to the judge’s cues in order to adapt. See my earlier post on judge adaptation.


Also keep in mind that almost anyone around you at the tournament could be a judge (minus the debaters who will have competitor ribbons). This means you should be professional at all times because the people around you could judge you at some point. Also be aware that how you treat a competitor could affect how you are judged. Often judges are coaches, and if their students had a negative experience with you, that could make it the coach’s ears. Be professional – period.


Don’t prejudge yourself as the losing team. You may face a nationally renowned team – and you have a very important choice to make. Will you give them the round from the start by assuming that you will lose? Or will you believe that you, too, are a worthy competitor who will challenge this “great” team? My philosophy is that the bigger they are the harder they fall. Aim to be the team that beats “that” team, rather than the team that concedes before the first speech ever begins.


Keep doing what you have always done! Don’t change your speaking, your argumentation, your tournament practices and habits. Whatever you did throughout the season has brought you to Nationals. While you can always improve your skill, case, research, etc, making major changes right before the tournament is recipe for disaster. If you are uncomfortable, it will show in your presentation and in your debating. Improve, but don’t make radical changes.


Have fun! Nationals is not simply about debate. You get to meet people from around the country, attend fun and corny NSDA planned events, and get to visit a new place. The three National tournaments I competed at were awesome not only because my partner and I were successful, but because we decided to have fun – whether it was in a debate round or with our teammates at dinner. (I also suggest making time for Interp finals if you can – I have never regretted watching those!).


Best of luck!



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