The Most Common Mistakes People Make at Nationals (Part 1)

Nationals is right around the corner! Debate like a veteran by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Making Drastic Changes

At this point in the year, the metagame has slowed to a crawl. The most effective evidence, plans, applications, and values have been found. If you see anything new, it’s likely to be a wild squirrel case – which might be powerful, but it’s likely to draw most of its power just from the fact that it intimidates you. If you stay calm and argue logically, the weird stuff will come apart.

You’ve been arguing all year with a case that’s effective enough to take you to nationals. Sure, other people know your case, but they don’t know it as well as you do. Focus on refining your case and efficiently taking down arguments against it. Early in the year, building a new case is just good sense. Now, it’s a Hail Mary pass: it should only be a last resort if you’re very unhappy with your current case.

Exception: If you’ve built a strategy of constantly changing your cases – which can be effective in team policy debate – keep doing that.

2. Neglecting Nutrition and Rest

The National tournament is big, loud, and intense. Your acute stress response will be working overtime the moment your plane lands. The tournament will keep going for days and days, and if you want to succeed, you need to be on your game in outrounds. I’ve seen more national outrounds than I care to count that were won handily by one debater simply because he was taking care of his body and his opponent wasn’t.

Nutrition and rest are the subjects of future blog posts, but let's hit the high notes.

Sleep - consistency is everything. Aim for the sleeping at same hours (and for the same number of them) every evening. Typically the 7 hours from 11:30pm - 6:30am are the easiest to keep to. If you have a partner, try to communicate sleeping times so that both of you stay on the same page.

Nutrition - avoid sugar and caffeine. Sugar crashes you and caffeine overloads you. Caffeine spikes adrenaline, your fight-or-flight response, and also the same hormone your body gets flooded with at a national tournament. It's very difficult for the body to manage the adrenaline spikes from postings and break announcements in combination with a triple espresso shot mocha. Drink plenty of water and your body will thank you.

What to eat: try to go for an even ratio of complex carbs, fats, and lean protein. Almonds and dark chocolate make a great snack between rounds if you're hungry.

3. Under-explaining Arguments

You’ve been competing for a year. When you hear an argument, you already know what you’re going to argue and what your opponent will say in response. You have the voter partially memorized. That’s great, but beware of this danger: because you’re so familiar with the arguments, you run the risk of skipping important clarification. You forget that the community judge doesn’t know the topic as well as you and your opponent do; you forget to explain what an acronym means or you run a complex application with an impact that isn’t readily obvious.

On the other side of that coin, you should view this tendency as an opportunity. Jump on poorly explained arguments. Challenge things your opponent didn’t say because he assumed that everyone already knew about them. Be the voice of reason and common sense; the only one who speaks the judge’s language.

Next three coming soon.