Your Novice Year: Lincoln Douglas or Team Policy?

There is no rivalry in the forensic world more heated than the one between Lincoln-Douglas (LD) and Team Policy (TP) debate. This rivalry can be fun, but it’s confusing for novices who are trying to decide what to pick. Here’s some solid guidance for that decision.

First, and by far more importantly: 

You should do both kinds of debate.

They’re both excellent. They teach different skill sets. Don’t let the rivalry become anything more serious than friendly banter. If you do 4-5 years in forensics and only do one kind of debate, it’s safe to assume that you’re either taking advice from the wrong people or you don’t have the courage to try anything you’re not instantly good at. You’re missing out. Do both.

Benefits of Lincoln-Douglas

Lighter workload. If you have several other extra-curricular events, like 4H or martial arts, you’ll appreciate the fact that LD places a lower emphasis on evidence. You still need evidence, and that evidence is held to the same standards of quality and transparency that you’ll find in TP, but you won’t need several file boxes of it. Most LDers go through the whole year with no more two dozen pages of briefs.

No partner needed. You don’t have to worry about finding a partner with whom you work well, and that has a comparable skill level. Your fate is entirely in your own hands.

Philosophy and ethics. In Lincoln-Douglas, you have to dig deep into the why of history. You become a philosopher. You’re forced to answer questions about the nature of right and wrong, the proper role of government, and what it means to be a person.

Shorter rounds. Lincoln-Douglas has 5 very short speeches. There is minimal margin for error, and that makes it very exciting both to do and to watch.  Many tournaments use a process called double flighting for LD, which means you debate once, then watch, then debate, then watch. That’s great for novices.

Best for: Small or young clubs. Abstract thinkers. Self-motivated people.

Benefits of Team Policy

Easier Theory. Policy theory is easy to grasp because you make policy calculations every single day. Policy theory does have its tricky regions – like counterplans – but the average round is very simple. The theory you learn in your first year will carry you as far as you need.

Teamwork. Policy matches you with a partner, which gives you a great opportunity to develop important skills in teamwork and conflict resolution. If you have a sibling or close friend who wants to get into this with you, that’s a great reason to choose TP for your first year. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that having a partner will lighten your burden. The workload in TP is well over double that of LD. You and your partner will both be working as hard as you can.

Policy and statistics. In policy, you dig into the what of current events. You become an expert in a certain area, capable of naming all the heads of state in Africa or the branches and functions of the United Nations or describing how alternate energy forms work. Of course, that means filling several file boxes with briefs of evidence that you found by spending several hours per week researching.

High-octane rounds. LD is more fun to watch, but I find TP more fun to do. This is because victory in TP is more complete. It lacks the arbitrariness of LD, where there’s always some philosophy or logical loophole to fall back on. In TP, you can utterly devastate your opponents because their key evidence is from Hamas or they made a strategic bungle that you can capitalize on with the longer speeches. The chance for total victory makes TP a lot of fun.

Best for: Large or established clubs. Detail-oriented thinkers. Team players.

When in Doubt

There’s no bad choice here, but LD is easier, faster, and less intimidating. While the initial learning curve is steeper, it is probably the best option for the average novice. Of course, that means your second year should be spent in policy!