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Which is better, NCFCA or Stoa? I’m not answering that question. Here’s why: I believe the activity of formally pitting arguments against each other is good. That’s why at Ethos we’re “pro debate,” period. It’s also why I’ve competed in, coached, or directed tournaments for eight leagues. O_o

Have you decided to tackle two resolutions at once? Maybe even in two leagues? As someone who has done that, I have a few words of advice.

1. View every experience as an experience. Most experiences are good, and the rest are good too if you learn from them. Even in the worst case scenario—spending a whole year debating two resolutions and performing worse than the year before—it was an experience! In the professional world, I have really lived two lives for the past six years… one we’ll call “communicationsteachinganddebate,” the other we’ll call “analysisbidsoperationsandbusiness”. The debate experience in two different worlds was great prep, and you can test your own strengths and weaknesses for your future.

2. Read. It has been my experience that most debaters don’t read for themselves. They hear and copy. Be one of those who learns a topic in depth. It’s not that hard really… it means finding three books in each topic and reading them, then staying generally on top of the news in each. Think of it this way: you have less time to devote to each resolution, so if you do the same thing others are doing (mostly copying…), you’ll only do it half as well. Differentiate to survive and you’ll find it an easier and more effective way to begin with.

3. Be a General. Generals look at the big picture—they aren’t the ones loading and firing weapons. They use strategy to outmaneuver, plan, and make key decisions. You need to learn to be strategic, which means picking only winning arguments, seeing how everything is unfolding in a round, and focusing on the war overall rather than particular costly battles. If you can outmaneuver your opponents by being simple, going in depth, using just a few arguments you know well, and being artistic and fun, you’ll be mastering strategems.

4. Be a Generalist. Don’t run squirrel cases (like space-based solar power or saving tigers in Nepal). Pick a really big idea and stick with it the whole year, learning rhetoric, stacking up current events and developments that support it, and using books since you picked an idea big enough people write books on the matter. Search for generic arguments, like pro/con isolationism, pro/con military force vs. diplomacy, criteria for use of military force, criteria for invasion, goals of the UN or DOD, and 21st Century Threats and Trends. Use these big picture ideas to eat the small picture ideas of opponents, or go head-to-head.

5. Love the Counterplan. You don’t need one with mandates, but more the idea of advocating an alternative. If someone says less UN, have a reason to do more UN; if someone says increase commitment, argue we should reduce commitments in general. So take a case idea and find the principle behind it, then argue the other way on the principle overall. I typically don’t put mandates on this strategy, but when someone says “sanction X country” I simply argue “engage countries, don’t isolate them” and prove my point.

6. Find and Develop Under-used Arguments. Debate ideas go in and out of vogue. Do what everyone isn’t and master arguments that aren’t in style, because most will not remember why they went out of style. Some examples:

So while most people are finding data points, you need to be finding connections. Then you plug data points you hear into the connections you have and off you go. It means big picture arguments, disadvantages, counterplans, and disagreement with overall ideas… not researching to the Nth degree on any one case.

Go debate.

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