Q&A: Partnering Problems?

Q: I’m having a bit of a partner crisis and was wondering if you had any thoughts/advice on the situation.

My incredible partner has just graduated. We did very well competitively in the past year and I’m looking to continue to have success on the national level in the coming years. I need a new partner and unfortunately, my school is very small. My options are limited to converting an LD kid or poaching a PFer from another partnership.


Partnering is a complex thing. How people get paired works differently on every team, but here are the things you should consider as you move on.

1. Who usually pairs teams, debaters or your coach?

If your coach pairs teams, you should approach them to have a conversation. Ask who they are considering pairing you with and who you have considered for a partner. If your coach ultimately decides all conversations or thoughts should go through them.

If debaters decide partnerships, please consider the following questions:

2. Has anyone stepped forward that wants to be your partner?

Willingness to partner is a huge aspect of success. If there is someone who has shown interest and you think it could work, sit down and have a conversation about what kind of commitment you each have to debate. You want to have similar levels of commitment to work, competing, etc.

3. Is the LD person open to switching?

If someone is considering crossing over to PF, I would definitely consider this option. Again, willingness to partner is huge. Also LD skills can easily transfer into PF if the person is willing to learn and adapt.

4. Is the partnership you are considering breaking a successful one, both in round and partner dynamics wise?
The word “poach” is interesting because it has an inherently negative connotation. I think breaking up a partnership needs to be thought about long and hard. The reason for breaking cannot solely be your desire to succeed. Think about if the partnership is working and has been successful – if so, don’t touch it. If the team seems to be unsatisfied or unevenly matched, you should approach both of them with the idea. Remember, at the end of the day you will have to spend time with both partners.
I would suggest having your coach sit down with you and the partners to have the discussion. There should be an alternative partner readily available for the person who may soon be partnerless. Think about all the details before approaching this option.
5. Consider switching partners if things don’t work out.

When you find a new partner (unless you have broken another PF partnership), consider it a trial run. This should be discussed with the partner before you treat the partnership this way. You can always try and work things out, but if by about mid-year it feels like you are not moving in the same direction, consider trying a different partner. As a sophomore you do have some time to sort things out before you really need a committed partnership. I did not debate with my long term partner until junior year, and it was worth the wait.


In any partnering concern, remember that you are dealing with people- friends, peers, and teammates. Make sure you realize that partnering isn’t just a strategic game, but also that emotions and feelings will be involved. Tread carefully and think about the impact of your choices before making any moves. Always go to a trusted coach, varsity team member, or mentor to discuss your options.


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