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I recently wrote this to my club because people are trying to partner up and there’s a lot of miscommunication that goes on. A couple people suggested I post this. I’m not sure if this is helpful or not, but if you feel like being bored and reading what I think about partnering, then read on.


Dear Vector families,


We hope you are enjoying your rest from the speech and debate season. We are trying to, but research for Ethos has of course already begun and there seems to be a nice little cyclone brewing in the partnerships arena. Idealist Isaiah wishes partnerships could happen in, oh, say December, after we know the new people in the club and have tried several partners and speaker positions. Idealist Isaiah is also naive Isaiah. So I’d like to offer some words of counsel as you select your partner for the upcoming year.


First, there’s always LD J. Mr. Johnson and I are going to try to merge some of the value and policy coaching, since debate is proving propositions no matter what format you use, while keeping topic analysis separate. It might be cool to take the opportunity of the rare fantastic value resolution and learn a different format and style of debate.


Second, it’s not that big of a deal. Really! I’ve seen as many “I could absolutely never partner with this person” as “this person and I would make a great team, if only he weren’t in such high demand.” I think that if every single person in our club partnered with every single person at the top of their blacklist, we’d have a great year and all learn a lot. Just might not be winning all the tournaments (or you might).


Whether you like it or not, participation in speech and debate has more life lessons than any other kind, and you should embrace the opportunity to become wiser, practice resolving conflicts through good communication, and work on your attitude. Debate brings up issues of finances, dress, respect/submission to parents, parental leadership, inter-familial commitments and peace, losing and winning, making good choices, and of course the research, communication skills, topic knowledge, and confidence that are more proper to the activity. Thus, partnering with your worst nightmare of a partner might actually stretch you more than you had in mind to be stretched—but remember, debate is about adapting to non-comfort zones, not finding the perfect compliment to the speaker positions you already like so you don’t have to work to stretch yourself into someone you are not. So you’re in for some good learning no matter which way you look at it—thus, it’s not a big deal.


When we moved to Maryland there was not a MD club and the Virginia club was all spoken for except the barely 14 year old girl that junior Isaiah got partnered with. That year was a real struggle as her time to work on debate was restricted to 2 hours every other week, I had to literally script every speech she gave until a couple tournaments before nationals (btw she was like 8th speaker at nats), CXes lasted 38 seconds, and I had to do the one speaker position of which I am petrified—1N. All the trials of that year are what made the successes of the next year possible, but the year was good in and of itself. I ended up, despite my frustration, sticking with my partner through some important trials, like the death of her sister, learned to network with others to get more briefs in my binders, learning a new role, and had to know enough for the both of us to do well. That was actually a really good year, looking back.


Third, don’t be emotional. When one person is offended because they aren’t at the top of “the list” that someone else has, or when someone says they want to partner with someone else even though all year you thought they’d partner with you next time around, or when you feel like one family was putting you off while they talked to another just to say no but reserve you in case their option 1 fell through, or when someone says you have certain weaknesses—DON’T BE SENSITIVE. It’s just debate partnerships and when people get offended or emotional it can turn a non-consequential thing into something souring that festers all year. Let’s please avoid that.


Because of fear of offending and the general mass chaos going on in the background (at least among 70% of people), we actually discussed coach-picked partnerships. We don’t think that should happen because of the lessons to be learned outlined above, and because ultimately our club is about family leadership, not about coaches telling everyone what to do (as if we know to begin with). However, if you would like our thoughts on partnerships we’d be happy to talk to you, but not to address problems with another family if you feel you’ve been “wronged.” I don’t think we’re there yet, but I’ve seen it happen before and we just cannot let things go that way.


Fourth, be honest. People asking you about partnerships have a right to know exactly your plan (I’ll be asking James first, Kelly second, you third, for example) and you can tell them what you’re thinking are the pros and cons. It can look like a romantic sitcom if we are not honest with each other (hey look, a good lesson in relationships too!). And let’s be sure and give extra grace to our seniors—as they will be graduating, they should really have preference of partnerships in the club.


Fifth, what should you look for? Similar commitment levels. That’s the most important thing. You can grow into new speaker positions, one person can research more than another, you can learn to speak more smoothly while the other has to practice making their own arguments this year, but if your families do not share commitment levels then someone will be frustrated. Usually you assess commitment this way: are you willing to travel to any tournaments (how many)? How many of the region 9 tournaments will you try to attend? Will we be treating debate as extracurricular or curricular?


Always end on a high note. Right.


I am stoked about next year. As long as we all don’t kill each other over the summer, we are going to really get a chance to go deeper. As our second year with everyone, we know strengths and weaknesses (and names!) better and your coaches have plans to push you further. Vector did a great job with content/analysis last year. While keeping that up, we’re going to this year try and practice eloquence, wit, and smoothness in debate speaking. This means we’ll be practicing a LOT if you’re not a novice (actually novices will practice too) because theory levels are pretty high right now.


If you’re interested in any light summer reading, I suggest either Aristotle’s Rhetoric or for something a little harder learn to use the figures of speech, tropes, and schemes laid out in Corbett’s Rhetoric for the Modern Student.


Inherently Yours,


Isaiah McPeak

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