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!