When Partner Skill Doesn't Match

This post is for duo, policy, and parli debaters looking for partners.

At a recent camp, I was asked: “No one in my area has as much experience as me. Should I just partner with someone who isn’t as good?” There are three possible answers to this question. Each has merit, but there are no perfect solutions to this problem.

Option 1: Cast the Net Wider

Skype is the most important invention in the forensic world since Google. While duo partners should still expect to spend dozens of hours in person blocking, debaters can accomplish almost everything they need to do with a microphone and a webcam. Many teams have forged successful friendships from hundreds of miles away, meeting only at tournaments. Of course, you’d much rather have a partner who can come to club meets – but if you’re advanced enough to be picking a partner, you should be advanced enough to consider long distance.

Think about clubs in nearby states (within your region, if applicable).  You should have met plenty of people that you liked and respected. Extend feelers; start a conversation.

Make sure that your coach and the coach of the other club know what you’re doing. The hardest part about long-distance partnerships is rarely the distance; usually it’s the politics associated with the switch. Somebody is going to have to abandon his club. That’s especially difficult if he has siblings in the local club. Make sure you discuss potential challenges like evidence and intelligence sharing before tournaments show up so you’re not blindsided.

Option 2: Go Solo

All forms of forensics have something unique to offer you. Don’t miss out!

I was once a skeptical TPer who looked down my nose at LD. I thought it was somehow lesser than team policy: easier, simpler, shorter. Then I gave it a try, and boy was I wrong! If you haven’t competed in Lincoln-Douglas yet, get over whatever excuses are holding you back and go for it. Be challenged by the complexities of the theory. Sink or swim based solely on your wits. Thrive in a format that’s so short that your opponent can’t recover from any of his mistakes.

In interp, you should pick your events based on your piece. If your piece is well-suited to duo, then you can start looking for partners. If you can’t find any that work with you and the piece, find a different piece that’s better suited to individual performances – or one that will work with your potential partners.

Going solo is the only “no compromise” option, in the sense that it will give you the full speech experience without any significant costs that could potentially hold you back from your potential for the year.

Option 3: Settle for Less

If you can’t find a suitable partner anywhere and you don’t want to fly alone, you can opt to settle for a partner who is noticeably below your ability and/or experience level.

I’m surprised by how popular this option is. When you settle, you’re guaranteeing that you won’t get the most you can out of the year. You’re saddling yourself with an entire season’s worth of what-ifs. That’s not really fair to you – and it’s not fair to your partner either, because no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to completely suppress feelings of resentment. Think you can now? Give it a few out-rounds and come back to me.

That said, competing with a weaker partner doesn’t have to be a wasted year. In fact, it can be an opportunity. The secret is to completely release your own ego. Accept that you won’t perform up to your potential. The year isn’t about you anymore. Focus on giving your partner the best year possible. Take him places he’s never been. Patiently teach him things he’s never heard of, and inspire him to be great. Fight alongside him. And perhaps most importantly: never, ever, ever speak ill of him or tolerate badmouthing from anyone else. He’s your partner. Be proud of him.

There are no painless solutions to a dearth of good partner options within your club, but with creative thinking you can still have a great year.