There has been no shortage of content covering counterplans over the years, but unfortunately there has been a lack of resources for those who already understand the theory. If you are one of those brave debaters who understands the risks and still wants to run a CP, this article is for you.
To clarify, this article assumes one major thing: that you understand the theory behind the type of counterplan you are running. If you don’t understand the justifications yourself, you have no chance of convincing a judge and will likely be embarrassed by the affirmative team. Before you can even think about winning with a CP, you need to know the theory like the back of your hand, know what the most common aff responses are, and know your responses to their responses. Not sure you’re up to speed? The other blog posts on CPs are a perfectly fine place to start.
If the judge is confused about what your strategy is when the 1N has finished their first speech, you’ve essentially already lost. A poor first impression will mean fighting uphill for the rest of the round. To eliminate this risk,
Unless you were specifically told otherwise in the judging philosophy, assume your judge knows nothing about counterplans. Spell out the fact that you are proposing a different, better plan that should be voted for instead of the affirmative plan. Don’t use the term “mutual exclusivity,” but do explain why it’s important that they choose one side or the other. Frame the debate very, very carefully by explaining that they must vote for the plan that is most advantageous.
Why is this so important, you ask? Because most judges are easily swayed by the aff team saying that “there are two affirmative teams.” To spike this, make it crystal clear that the judge should vote for the team with the better plan, and that you most definitely have the better plan. There’s no need to explain theory or to argue why the above is true– the most important thing during your first speech is to ensure that the judge understands your position, not to get them to agree with it.
Depending on how the affirmative responds, the debate round will go one of two very different ways.
Option A: The Easy One
The aff will not argue that your strategy isn’t valid, but will accept the counterplan and begin a civil discussion over which plan is preferable.
In this case, don’t just assume there is no CP debate and carry on with the round: there’s still judge bias to worry about. Take a few seconds to talk about how the aff has conceded the “legality” of your counterplan, and how that’s no longer a voting issue in the round. Doing this doesn’t take long, and it can save you tons of pain later when you find that the judge didn’t care that both teams agreed and still votes aff because “counterplans bad.”
Option B: The Painful One
The aff will declare your counterplan unacceptable by Debate Law, thus condemning the round to be a back and forth battle of debate theory in which you will probably destroy them.
The option is probably the more realistic one. If you’re well equipped (cough you should be cough) then you should have no trouble poking holes in their arguments. The important thing to be careful of is not overwhelming the judge. Don’t just spit the theory back out at them, make sure you’re condensing and clarifying. Before the round even begins, decide on the analogies and reasons to prefer that you are going to use to persuade them.
Additionally, you need to be the more confident team. Be clear, act like you know you’re right (because you are), and don’t act scared of the arguments. Handle the issues concisely but powerfully, and then move on to more reasons to prefer your plan.
Remember, counterplans aren’t just an interesting hypothetical or a fun lecture topic: they’re a viable, useful, and very powerful strategy. I hope that this helps make your rounds with them more enjoyable!