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What were the biggest things that helped you really start understanding debate as you were first starting out? We all have a short list of things that really made things “click” for us, and if you can remember those things, there’s a good chance that you could make a gigantic impact on some competitors just starting/about to start their first year of debate.
The point I’m trying to make is this: I want you, as a seasoned debater, to take the time to pass on some of that juicy knowledge that you have. Find a novice in your club or that you otherwise have contact with, sit down with them, and start talking.


Why do I think that this is so important that I want to write an article about it? Well, because the benefits to helping younger debaters are as huge as they are numerous.

Let’s start with the most obvious: helping a new debater means that a new debater gets helped. While this statement couldn’t be simpler, I think many of us who have been in debate for several years lose sight of just how complicated debate can be when you first get into it: there’s so much to learn that you don’t even know where to start.

Think back to your first year, and everything that was going through your head. If you’re like most people, it’s all a big blur of confusion, fear, and disappointment. Your novice year probably wasn’t as horrific as mine, but generally speaking the first year of debate is characterized by bad speaks, little to no research, and wins that were few and far between (thank goodness for powermatching).

If you’re a veteran debater, you have an opportunity. You can make someone’s year a whole lot better by simply spending even just a few days walking some newbies through the basics. If you’re lucky enough, you may have even had someone do this for you at one point. Talking about the basics might be routine and boring for you, but sometimes even that can be extremely helpful for new debaters, more helpful than you can imagine.

Second, helping new debaters can actually help you. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but sometimes teaching can be very helpful for your own personal growth. It solidifies ideas in your mind, and gets you thinking about newer and better ways to achieve things. For example, if you’re explaining stock issues to a new debater, it’s helping you think of new ways to explain stock issues to a judge. You may find a new way that works better than the way that you’ve been doing before.

I’ve seen this principle play out when it comes with writing blog articles here: when you are forced to communicate ideas in a formatted way, you’d be surprised at how much you learn from it. Even if it’s an idea that I’m already extremely familiar with, putting it on paper or teaching it to someone new can develop and solidify the idea even further.

But finally, and most importantly, coaching novices helps you build relationships. You may become great friends with people you talk to, and that’s wonderful, but it may not happen every time. What is happening every time is that you are learning how to start conversations and teach complex ideas to someone you have never met before that day. And that’s what speech and debate is all about, those are the real world skills that will serve you for the rest of your life.


Hopefully you’re feeling motivated to start mentoring some new debaters, if it wasn’t something that you’re already doing. If that’s the case, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Make it a conversation. In my experience, conversations are always preferable to lectures. Prompt whoever it is that you’re teaching to share their thoughts on the issue as well, and to ask plenty of questions. The more engaged and invested they are, the more likely it is that you’re teaching something that is going to be remembered.
Do rounds. While mentoring can shorten the amount of time that it takes for a novice to “get” debate, it’s no replacement for practice. Have miniature rounds with them, watch their rounds against others, and then give them your feedback. The less time that they’re sitting and listening and the more time that they’re standing and speaking, the better.
Check on their progress. Constantly assessing what the student knows and where they’re at is key for two reasons. First, you can confirm that they’re actually learning. Secondly, you can make sure that they’re learning correctly. It’s far from uncommon for advice to be misunderstood, or applied in the wrong situation. Once you know that they have the ball, confirm that they’re running the right way with it.

In conclusion, mentoring a younger debater has a myriad of benefits, and I would highly recommend that you do it at least once. Never ever underestimate the impact that your time and advice can have.

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