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11/10/2009 9:35 PM by
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Recruited some new novices? Check.

Taught them the Toulmin model? Check.

Explained what a DA is? Check.

Explained how to extend a piece of evidence and why it’s important to do so? Ooops….

The above scenario pretty accurately explains my first debate experience. I spent a few weeks learning about the topic, could pretty comfortably talk about GMOs, still wasn’t sure about the Farm Bill, and had somehow managed to remember speech times. I was very, very confused however when, after my first debate ever, the judge (Turner) explained that I needed to extend my arguments. This particular phenomenon hadn’t been explained to me, probably because it’s so intuitive for those involved in the activity that my coaches didn’t think about it. (I’m sure this subject would have been addressed if I had participated in a practice debate before my first tournament).

The point of that excursion down memory lane is that there are lots of things that novices don’t know and that we, as coaches, may think of as trivial or unimportant. Debate is a great activity but if someone’s first tournament experience is really bad, and it certainly can be, then they might not come back. Since we all want to increase novice participation in the community, here are a few tips for making a new debater’s first tournament a really positive experience.

1. Do lots and lots of flowing drills

After every tournament I ask my novices what questions they have or what skills they would like to work on. One of the consistent responses that I get is that they want help keeping everything organized. Some questions can be as basic as “How do I know what the name of each page is?”

2. Explain the jargon

This is pretty self-explanatory although sometimes we use jargon that’s less obvious – “extend” and “concede” are good examples.  

3. Talk about attire

There is nothing more awkward than showing up in a suit and heels when everyone else is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The way that we dress in debate is one of those community norms that don’t mirror public assumptions about what debates are supposed to look like. If you tell them that casual is appropriate and they still want to rock the tux, tell ‘em to go for it.

4. Show them how to read a pairing

It is rare that you will have a 1:1 coach to team ratio at a tournament. So before the tournament you should take the time to print up a pairing/find an old one lying around and show the novices how to read it. That eliminates some frustration, for both you and the debaters.

5. Norms of disclosure

Some novices are tempted to either a) keep their aff secret or b) tell everything about it or the 1NC that they’re about to read. They also have no idea why, if an aff is new, the other team still won’t tell them about it. This is one of those circumstances when explaining how a particular community practice became a norm is a good idea.

This list is by no means exhaustive but I hope it makes you think about some of those practices that we tend to take for granted. It is worth the time to explain little, seemingly insignificant things to your new debaters – they will really appreciate it.