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One of the first football games I  can remember watching was the 1999 AFC championship between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars were up 14-0 at halftime– looking good so far. Their defense had stepped up and the offense gotten a couple of touchdowns in.  They were all set to go to the Super Bowl. But then something happened and the Titans soon had it tied at 14 late into the third quarter. My 6-year-old heart soon realized the obvious: the Jaguars were going to lose. During the fourth quarter, the Titans not only gained the lead, but won handily: 33-14.

Football is filled with comebacks. Sometimes because a great rally by the losing team, or perhaps by sheer luck. But almost every time it is because the dominating team failed to put the nail in the coffin– the underdogs were given a second chance. This scenario is strangely reminiscent of too many debate rounds– many a negative team has seemingly dominated the constructives, and yet fails to follow-through in the most critical time– the rebuttals.

I think a good 1NR is precisely like a good opening drive on the second half of a football game: it’s the nail in the coffin. It’s the dominating team coming out with the same intensity it had during the first half. But throughout the past few years of debate, I’ve noticed a tendency to waste the 1NR– the speech that could be used to nail the coffin closed instead consists of (A) trying to addresss 8 minutes of analysis and case-building in the 2AC in 5 minutes, or (B) a restatement of the 2NC. Both are hardly effective uses of time.

I think there are several key things that should and should not go into a 1NR– I wish to cover three of them here:

1. Weighing. I put this first because it is the most important. The 1NR is the first rebuttal (give yourself a high-five if you knew that). To put that in a different, more important context: the 1NR is where you get to come up to the podium, and, for the first time, have every argument in the debate round on the flow (some of them fresh from the 2NC). This is the first speech that you can actually weigh everything in the debate round– a tremendous asset to have (you can get a positive spin on the arguments for the judge before the affirmative even starts to rebut).

2. Analysis. Every debater knows the huge burden that is placed on the 1AR: he/she must address 13 minutes of negative argumentation in a mere 5 minutes. Debaters have been using this to their advantage for many years: some spread the flow with so many arguments it’s close to impossible to cover everything. But spreading can be countered with good time-management and clever grouping.

That’s why it’s important to go deep with your argumentation. Having several responses to each argument leaves a virtual impossibility for the 1AR. After all, this is your opportunity to speak twice in a row, for 13 minutes, to convince the judge why you should win.  A solid negative block filled with 13 minutes of good analysis is an extremely difficult barrier to overcome.

3. Don’t try to address everything from the 2AC. Imagine a 2A who has written out least two or three responses to every common argument (which, though outside the scope of this article, is definitely something to do). In my experience, the teams who try to rebut all of the pre-written 2AC responses in the 1NR fail to do so– most of the time they only get to one or two of the responses, and even then, it’s somewhat inadequate. So my partner’s 1AR would go something like this: “Judge, reference back to the 2AC’s third response to this argument– which was never addressed by the negative team. Because this response was dropped, it is a reason to disregard this argument from your flow.”– infinitely quicker than having to actually explain: “Judge, my partner’s third response was X, to which the negative said Y. The problem with Y is Z. So then XYZ.”. Depth of analysis is your friend. So let the 2NC take care of some of the arguments, maybe extending the most important of them, which leaves the 1NR free to go deep into analysis and weigh the arguments succinctly.

Too often, the 1NR is treated as the least impactful speech of the round– after all, it’s in the middle of the debate round (just when the judge is sleepiest) and the monster 2NC with all of the DAs that come along with it is just before. But it’s precisely because of this positioning that can make the 1NR so important- just like the opening drive of the second half of a football game, it sets the pace for the rest of the debate round.

Go debate: pound that nail in the coffin.

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