What do I mean by that? I mean that you should keep your flows and keep your ballots. These are the best teaching tools available. Follow these steps to learn from your ballots and flows:
1. Make sure you photocopy your partner’s flow so you have a copy of it. If you know your opponents, contact them and see if they will send you their copies of the flow of the round. Take all of these flows and combine them into one. This should help you get an accurate picture of what the debaters heard during the round and felt was important during the round. Take those flows and sort out the arguments that were run. Get these typed up! You will use these all season long!
2. Hopefully, you had a judge who likes to write comments. Read all the comments and try to coordinate the comments with the flow. Did the judge comment on an argument? Write down (type up) what the judge said on the flow paper of arguments run. This lets you know what the judge heard/felt was important in the round. Every judge opinion counts, even if you disagree or felt he misunderstood. Write them all down in your flow.
3. Now you should be able to figure out exactly which arguments should be dropped or need improvement. You know where you need to provide clarity or find better wording. You know where you lost a judge or even how you lost the judge (bias, poor wording, etc.). Take notes of this so you don’t forget. This will let you know where to focus your research time (especially as you gather a bunch of these notes over the course of several tournaments).
4. Now, look at your speaker points. Get an average of your speaker points for that round (add your points up and divide by the number of rounds). Now, write down (type up) the comments the judges made on your speaking. Your goal is to get your average up every tournament. The method to reach that goal is to identify the common issues the judges are bringing up and focus your time to improve those areas. If you can improve one area by one point, you will bring your average up. Three out of four judges giving you low points in evidence is a tell-tale sign that you need to work in that area.
5. Keep these figures for the season. Having them in a computer database such as Excel will help you out. Follow these steps for every tournament and if you can, do this as part of “tournament breakdown” during class. It gives great accountability if you can identify areas you need to work on with teammates who will help you out and cheer you on.
The ballots and flows are your most valuable tool for improvement. Actually analyzing them and using them to focus your practice/research will help improve your tournament results tremendously.