Debate- Catching the Squirrel: The importance of sticking to your guns By: Eric Meinerding

Eric is hosting a Second Semester Online TP Club. To hear all of his great teaching, like the article below, sign up to be a part of the group. Sessions are recorded, and he’s giving away a free personalized coaching session- so what do you have to lose?!?!

…. You’re in out rounds and your opponent has just pulled out a new case and is expertly explaining the details of an organization you have never even heard of and why it needs to change to a panel of judges who probably know more about it than you do at this point. You’re panicking. You’re tournament life is on the line and you don’t have a single piece of evidence that even mentions the AFF case. Even still, throwing in the towel isn’t an option so you start thinking creatively…

They have caught you off guard and will probably be very prepared for any generic argument you can throw at them, so you have to pull out a trick of your own to catch up. Maybe it’s a new theory argument you’ve wanted to try out, or a counterplan you made up on the spot with three pieces of evidence to back it up with. As someone who has been in the position of being absolutely clueless about what my opponent is saying I can assure you these are almost certainly not the best arguments to deploy in this situation. Instead, take a breath and stick to your guns. Rely on the basics drilled into you by your coach and calmly approach the debate. Trust me, when you start to throw out panic arguments it doesn’t end well.

For proof of that, let me recount a comedy of errors I repeatedly made in this very situation. My partner and I were debating in the quarterfinals at the regional championship. If we won that round we would qualify for Nationals. It was the closest either of us had come to qualifying and the pressure was certainly mounting. We were the negative team in this debate and our opponents read a case we had neither researched or heard about through the tournament rumor mill. We began preparing a straight-forward topicality argument and some analytics on their evidence and sources. But neither of us thought it would be enough and we made a rushed decision to read a barely applicable counterplan that sounded like the magic bullet at the time. Spoiler alert: It was not. The counterplan linked to most of our arguments against their case and made us contradict ourselves repeatedly. It distracted from the only argument we could have actually won the round on and we got thoroughly dismantled.

What makes this story even worse is my partner made essentially the same mistake in the same room, against the same debater, with a national championship slot on the line the following year. We had a tendency to believe we could only win certain rounds if we had creative, out of the box arguments that the other team was not prepared for. And now as a judge and coach, I see many other debaters make similar mistakes when they are put under pressure. Instead of relying on the arguments they have spent countless hours researching and practicing, they tend to get flustered and put themselves in situations that might seem like the only possible option in the moment, but is truly the weakest position from a buffet of possible strategies.

So how does develop winning arguments in a debate where they start the 1AC with zero arguments at all? Remember the basics and stick to the essential argumentative structures that every debate relies on in every single round, whether they have thirty cards or none. The basic mindset one should have if they have done their due diligence in preparing to debate the topic for the year is that if none of your research applies, they are probably dancing with the resolution and topicality should be your go to. Topicality doesn’t have to be an argument to fill time and only try to win off of it when your opponents mess up. In situations like this, T can and should be your A strat. It’s a simple argument that is often a matter of execution rather than preparation.

However, never put all of your hopes and dreams on one argument if you aren’t forced to. New cases are often shallowly researched and there is about an eighty percent chance the opposing debaters put it together in the car ride to the tournament. They may sound prepared and knowledgeable and appear very formidable, but so too did Napoleon’s army before winter struck in Russia. There is no reason Napoleon shouldn’t have been prepared for a Russian winter, but nevertheless, he was and failed because of it. Likewise, the generic case arguments and disadvantages you are going to read may be something your opponent should be ready to combat, but is really the chink in their armor. So when you get assigned by your team to research the generic arguments for that year’s topic, don’t skim over the research. These arguments can be the key to winning round after round if deployed effectively.

And ultimately that is the key. Whatever argument you may decide to read, it must be deployed effectively. A bad argument can become a winning argument if executed well, and even the most thoroughly researched and rehearsed case or disad can fall apart if the debater is not prepared to defend against a well executed, simple argument. They may know more about their argument and yes that knowledge gap between you and your opponent on this case is intimidating, but do not sell yourself short. The basics are the basics for a reason. Because they are fundamental to winning any argument. Make sure your arguments are presented clearly, that they have impacts, and that you are constantly reminding your judge that your impacts matter far more than the opposing team. Do four point refutation. Flow well. Ask good cross ex questions. Read fundamental arguments, not flashy ones. Tag your points. Stick to your guns. Debate is a game of inches, not miles. And the well executed basics are what will give you that slight, yet round-changing advantage.

If you want to learn more from Eric- join his Second Semester Online TP Club! They have only met twice so far, and sessions have been recorded! We would love to see you TONIGHT! 

Eric is studying Policy and Law at Liberty University. He competed in the NCFCA for six years focusing mostly on limited preparation events and both styles of debate, qualifying to nationals in both TP and LD his senior year, along with speech events. Eric competed on Liberty’s Policy Debate Team for three semesters at both the junior varsity and varsity levels. Eric sees competitive forensics as way to develop one’s communication and argumentation skills to use in all facets life. Eric loves looking at debate from the perspective of a game, meaning he wants to help debaters process and execute the most strategic arguments and preparation methods for all styles of debate, along with effective rhetorical skills to present those arguments in debate rounds as well as forensics categories.