Q&A: Less than ideal partnership?

Q: In general, how do you recommend dealing with a partner situation that is less than ideal?

I don’t want to feel limited by my partner in the coming years. I want to do as well as possible in debate and I need a partner who can help me achieve that level of success. Debate is an area where I can’t really have a “c’est la vie” attitude – I just care too much.


Never enter a partnership expecting to be best friends. If this happens, consider yourself lucky. It is healthier to expect someone with whom you can work hard, both in round and in trying to improve your debating. Partners should have similar expectations for debate. This means similar commitment levels to your program, to attending tournaments, to traveling, and the amount of time spent preparing for debates. Sharing these expectations will protect your team for unnecessary conflicts. Conflicts will surely arise if you do not agree on these things.

If you do have conflicts, make sure you talk about them – best if you can have a neutral third party (a coach or team mentor) be present for the conversation. Things can get personal fast with just two partners and you want to keep things civil.

I do believe you should aim to partner with  someone with similar debate experience. Debate experience includes all forms of debate, not just PF. When possible, match yourself with someone with an equal number of rounds under his or her belt. Poorly matched pairs end up being mentorship relationships rather than teams.

You want to be a united front even if your team is struggling in round or with relational issues outside of the round. For the time of the round, lay down any swords you’ve raised at each other. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches and mistakes that will happen in round – together. Work to highlight and maximize each other’s strengths. Work on making your team a unit: have traditions, pump-up music, superstitions, special binders or flow pens, matching ties, or whatever else makes your team “you”. Your partner is not just a debater, but also a person. You are more than a debater to your partner. Do not take yourself or debate too seriously!


Q&A: Nationals Preparation

Q: Would you recommend purchasing briefs in addition to independent research, or should I just focus on independent research?

A: One thing I think briefs are invaluable for is argument coverage. Because brief writers have thoroughly brainstormed and researched the topic, they are likely to cover the span of argument that exist (whether they are winning or not). Briefs then can help you double check your argument and block coverage. Especially with Nationals, I think its worth a small investment to buy a least one good brief to supplement your independent research. However, I think independent research is crucial because it forces you to understand the topic at a deeper level – briefs allow you to process pre-processed information. Doing your own research will force you to find the gaps in your knowledge and also lead you down more inventive and perhaps novel paths because you don’t have a preset idea of what the arguments are.

Q: What is the typical judging pool like?

A: I think over time the pool has gotten more experienced. More ex-PF debaters are coming back as judges, more coaches are familiar with the event, and so there is going to be a segment of the judging pool that is very debate-experienced. However, PF remains a lay friendly event so you will still have your parent judges and community members coming in to judge.

Q: Any special advice for prepping for nationals?

Do what you do best. Whatever you have been doing well all year that qualified you, keep doing it! One thing that may get forgotten in the rush to Nationals is practice rounds. This may be harder to arrange because your teammates are done for the year, you may be the only team at your school preparing the topic – but if you can get some of your peers (or maybe even a team from another school in your area) to do practice rounds, this is invaluable. You do not want your first debate on the topic to be Round 1 at Nats. Get some practice rounds under your belt – even if you just do a maverick round partner vs partner!

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.

Q&A: September/October Topic

Q: When having some practice debates at my school I run into a lot of Negative Teams running the argument of gentrification.  The argument is that sports stadiums are now located in downtown areas, and as a result it raises income of houses which results in people of low socioeconomic classes being pushed out.  I really like this argument, but when running against it, on the AFF, I do not know what to say.


On this argument I think there are a few modes of attack:
1. Do they provide evidence of gentrification or just talk about it as a possible impact? Force the con to provide concrete examples in order to win the argument.
2. Outweigh with larger benefits to the community. Though gentrification is not good, if there are bigger or more probable positive to the benefits to the community you can outweigh.
3. Argue that the PRO side helps the whole community economically and therefore benefits everyone. What affects everyone should be prioritized in the judge’s decision.

I like the gentrification argument for Con (a post on this in the coming week) but I do think Pro’s best strategy is outweighing.


Q: On the pro side, we are arguing how stadiums generate social capital, and discuss the benefits of that, whereas the con is mostly arguing economic harms. Do you have an advice on weighing social vs economic, because I am finding social benefits difficult to measure because you can’t exactly place a number on them.



You can argue the social benefits link to more concrete things (ie happiness, better self esteem, social cohesion) and expand on why these are good for the community. In general economics should not automatically trump qualitative arguments – explain that to the judge and say that sometimes what matters most to a community isn’t “cost – effective” or produces an economic return. I think these qualitative arguments works best in a framework that acknowledges that both qualitative and quantitative impacts matter.