Are you ready to start improving bit by bit at LD? This is the episode for you!
My name is Marcus Viney, Head Coach of Cheyenne East, and this is, Episode 3: Getting Better in LD!
Last time we got started with LD; this time we’re going to look at how to get better as you begin your journey. Whether you’re experienced or not, it’s helpful to have a clear idea of what a good debater looks and sounds like. There is no perfect formula because there are many styles, but there are three basic things that make a good debater: content, organization, and delivery. Last episode, we covered the difference between skill and content. Practicing the skills of debate will take you far, but never as far as someone who really knows the topic. When a new resolution comes out, the single best thing you can do is read, and then read some more. However, knowing a lot won’t do you much good if you’re not organized. Debate isn’t just about making arguments, it’s about making them at the right time. If you can't find what you need when you need it, you’re toast. I recommend starting with a single, well-organized space for all of your debate materials, like a Google drive, or an accordion file. Lastly, a good debater will master delivery. You’ll realize pretty quickly that knowledge about the topic and organization of your own materials will automatically make you feel more confident, and that translates into more powerful and persuasive delivery. As for your personal presentation style, well, that’s yet to be discovered!
Someone once told me that “LD” stands for lonely debate. Okay, rude, but also, not totally accurate. Yes, you’re all by yourself in round, but the best LD-ers are like wolves—they travel in packs. Having even one other person to bounce ideas off of is crucial. Whether it’s a coach or even a friend, there’s a little thing I like to call the “Coaching Triangle” that will boost you forward in debate. It consists of: norming, observing, and adjusting. A norm is the ideal or goal that you are striving for; observing is watching or taking in information about what you’re doing; and adjusting is correcting back towards the norm or goal. Without a norm, or an idea of what your pack thinks is good debate, you don’t have anything to strive for or achieve, so you will either progress randomly or not all. Without observation, you won’t know how far you are from the norm. Bottom line is: you need someone to observe you in practice and at tournaments to give you feedback. Lastly, without adjustment, there’s no point in having a norm or observation. This can be tough, but unless you absorb and enact feedback, you’ll never grow or get better.
If I only had one piece of advice to offer a new debater, it would be this: cultivate a growth mindset. A fixed mindset in debate says, “I’m already smart and good at debate; any loss or failure is just because my judge was bad or didn’t understand what I was doing.” A growth mindset, on the other hand, flips this attitude and says, “I’m a work in progress. I’m not always sure why I lose a round, but I can figure it out, and make myself better for next time.” This basic idea—that you can get better—is worth far more than any other raw talent someone else might have above you. And the best engine for this mindset is a set of three simple questions you can ask yourself after any speech, round, or tournament: What did I do well? What did I not do so well? And what can I do to get better for next time? These may sound simple, but I’ve seen them make some truly magical transformations.
Let’s talk about how we can put all of this into practice with a few simple activities. The first, called “Reverse Engineer,” is one that can help your LD wolfpack norm around what you think makes a good debater. Essentially watch an LD round on YouTube or the NSDA website, and break it down and discuss how the debaters build themselves up in terms of content, organization, and delivery. If you’re wondering, there’s a surprisingly good round from 1988 (Go Anoop!). If you don’t have the NSDA resource package, it’s worth it for this function alone. The next activity may sound a little uncomfortable, but it’s worth it as well. Can you guess what it is from the name? “Record and Talk”? That’s right, record yourself and talk about it after. You can use a phone or Zoom, as long as you can see and hear yourself debating or speaking. Look, no one likes the sound of their own voice (which is why I won’t ever know what this episode sounds like), but it couldn’t be more helpful to view yourself through the lens of content, organization, and delivery. You will grow. The last idea is a “Reflection Journal,” something that the Makalya Kramer also recommends. Basically this can be a place where you make explicit what you think a good debater is, what your goals are for a given tournament or even the whole year, and how you answer the three basic questions of self-reflection on a regular basis. What did I do well? What did I not do so well? And what I can do to improve for next time? If you can be diligent about this process, I promise you will get better in LD, and maybe someday you’ll even make a podcast much better than this one. That’s enough for now, I’ll talk to you next time.