Good morning, welcome. My name once again is Ross Garrett and MSU has allowed me to
come in and talk to you today about some global tips for debating. I call my advice The
Debater’s Dozen:The 13 Principles of Champions. I owe a great debt to many great debate
coaches and debaters I have worked with to help me create this advice, but I will mention a few
of the most important. First is Scott Deatherage he was the director of debate at Northwestern
University for a lot of the 90’s and the beginning part of 2000’s. He was one of the most
successful coaches in college debate history, and he gave a version of this speech. The entire
structure of the speech, much of the exact language, and almost all my thoughts on debate have
been highly influenced by his speech which is so famous in debate it is simply called “The
Speech.” One of my greatest regrets is that I heard this speech after I stopped debating and was
never able to discuss it with Scott himself.
The staff here at the SDI has helped me make extensive revisions and upgrades and I am very
grateful to them. Ryan Galloway who is the director of debate at Samford University was the
judge and now mentor who most influenced me. Mike Hall my debate coach at Liberty
University exposed me first to many of these ideas.
No matter what happens for you in this institute I want to thank you for taking the time and the
intellectual risk to be here. I consider each person in this room, for the simple virtue of the
commitment they have made, to already be champions.
You see a champion is not defined exclusively by what tournament or tournaments you have
won, or what records you have set or broken, but rather a champion subscribes to what Scott
Deatherage called the four pillars of success. They are these: Character, Commitment,
Teamwork and Hard work. Character, Commitment, Teamwork and Hard work. I have
attempted to turn observations about the differences between strong and the very best debaters
into the set of concrete suggestions that I will offer. They are here today not particular to any
specific team, case, or argument, but instead are intended to be characteristic in nature. They
describe a way of thinking about the process of effective debating. A process that is instinctive
and second nature for a winning debater. There are 13 principles of a great debater.
Number 1--CHOOSE. Choose. If you leave this institute and this session with only a single
principal in tow make it this--choose. The first most essential lesson of effective rebutting is
choice making. No matter the speech; be it the 1NC or the 2AR or any point in between. No
matter the argument type be it critique, topicality, politics, case or counterplan. The first and
most fundamental lesson of effective rebutting is choice making. Young debaters think they are
winning every argument and consider every argument to be important, especially in rebuttals.
My experience is precisely the opposite, rather instead it is the best arguments and the strongest
points that make the effective rebutalist the winning champion in the debate. As you begin each
constructive speech consider your alternatives. You lay out in the first negative speech an array
of alternatives, a variety of worlds for the judge, each is a different way for how you can
approach winning the debate in the 2NR. That said, you must in the end decide on an effective
strategy for the judge. You must choose for the judge the coherent set or complete package of
arguments you present as a totality in the last speech constitutes a way, a road, an avenue by
which they can conclude for the negative. The purpose of the rebuttal is NOT to show the judge
all the possible ways they might vote for you, RATHER you must take their hand and guide
them through ONE, SINGLE path to victory. Even great debaters sometimes take time to learn
My first National Debate Tournament was in 2009 and I was a junior and had worked my entire
debate career to be at that tournament. We had two debates where the affirmative was the same,
they tried to stop aquaculture. In both debates I read a CP with an internal net benefit and a
disadvantage that was not a net benefit to the CP, as well as some other arguments. In both
debates I thought we were ahead on both positions, and that by going for both I would pressure
the 2AR and more effectively leverage my advantages on each. In both instances even though I
believe that we should have been able to win, the other 2ARs were able to effectively and
conclusively show that my two strategies were not compatible with each other and win the
debate. I had violated the first rule—CHOOSE—you must choose the SINGLE AND 1 way to
win the debate, you must choose so that you can effectively compare your option to your
The National Debate Tournament in 2008 featured Wake Forest GL on the affirmative versus
Dartmouth KO on the negative. In the negative block Dartmouth chose four separate worlds
they extended two separate T arguments, a K, and a CP, but Wake with the chance to give two
rebuttals was able to effectively and conclusively show why the single affirmative plan was
better than all four options—it was a 5-0 for the affirmative. Even great teams can take time to
learn this lesson. Number 1—Choose. CHOOSE.
Number 2. Offense, Offense, OFFENSE! Offense, Offense, OFFENSE! Don't ask questions,
argue. Don't ask, ARGUE! People often say they make defensive arguments, but they make
defensive argumentation in order to try and fend off what the other side is bringing to the judges
plate. My own view is that effectively presented there is no such thing as a defensive argument.
The key to offensive argumentation is this; you have to anticipate your opponents’ warrants and
to undermine their credibility BEFORE your opponent develops an explanation in the first
instance. Let me repeat that, the key to offensive argumentation is to anticipate your opponents
warrant and undermine their credibility BEFORE your opponent develops an offensive
explanation in the first instance.
Consider a typical first negative constructive it is often full of short-circuited arguments. It's full
of disadvantages that lack internal linkages, it is full of counterplans that have brief explanations
for why the counterplan is competitive against the affirmative plan, and it’s full of generic
critiques that have only a vague link to the first affirmative constructive. The key to winning
those debates is the hard hitting 2AC, the one that not only wonders what the relationship
between the particular disadvantage is, but in fact instead anticipates what the negative block
will offer in regard to that explanation and undermines its effectiveness before the negative has
had a chance to develop it in the first instance.
For example, take the EU CP. It starts with the premise that the EU space program can solve just
as well as NASA, and if the negative is really good they might include one card that is specific to
the affirmative. What’s missing are cards about all of the other affirmatives internal links. The
typical 2AC might say “how can the EU possibly solve our affirmative? QUESTION MARK.
Anytime your statement ends in a question mark you are making a defensive claim without an
offensive argument. Rather instead the argument you ought to make in the 2AC is Solvency
deficit—the EU CP can’t solve for our internal links because they would use different
technology, have no experience, the US would receive no leadership AND the space industry is
key to our economy. Number 2 offense, Offense, OFFENSE. Anticipate what relationship they
will draw in the negative block or future speeches and undermine the credibility of that
relationship before it happens in the first instance.
Number three--Comparison. Comparison. Comparison is at the heart of reasoning it is the
reason why one argument ought to trump another. It is the most difficult skill in debate to teach
and the most difficult skill in debate to learn. Comparison is the reason why the judge should
vote for you when they set your vision of the world next to your opponents’. You see the judge
doesn't operate in a vacuum alone. He or she understands not only your proposal, but they also
consider the similar credibility of the alternative vision of that debate world that is offered by
your opponent. The critical question in the debate is how does the judge choose between those
two competing alternatives? By what yardstick, by what ruler, by what measure, are they to
choose which team is right when a question of close call comes before them? Understand this
too, in the judge's mind almost all the calls are close calls. The room is full of grey areas, but
rarely are there black and white decisions to be made as arguments are compared to one another.
The game in that respect is first and foremost a game of argument resolution. That means that
the team that best defines the essential difference between their own position and their
opponents’ on the nexus question usually wins the debate. The nexus question is the tipping
point of the debate, the place where if the judge had to say one and only one question determined
my thinking about all other issues it would be the nexus question, the tipping point. It is the
team that most clearly defines its own relationship to the nexus point that is likely going to
persuade a judging panel in a close debate.
Comparison is the most fundamental building block of any winning strategy. So let’s say you’re
affirmative and the negative reads a politics disadvantage you frankly have only 1 uniqueness
card for. You read it, and need to win the uniqueness debate and they read 5 more in the block.
So what are you to do? Simply wave your white flag surrender and go to lunch? Take your 27s?
Well not precisely. To return to comparison the critical question is how can you make the nexus
question the judges uses to compare uniqueness favorable to you. It can be done, don't give up.
It can be done in a relatively simple manner. The question is how in fact is your evidence
different? You might say our evidence is predictive of what will happen after the political drama
plays out on the DA, their evidence is all just about where the bill is at right now. The argument
may be tenuous, but it is feasible if you give the judge comparison. If you show the judge why
your vision, your strategic sense, of what the debate looks like is what it should be. You have to
control the ground of the debate, you have to control the comparison of debate options.
Comparison is the most fundamental building block of any winning strategy. The time you
devote to resolving arguments, to resolving the nexus question in rebuttals is the most valuable
time you spend in the debate.
Number 4--It's all about the link. It's all about the link. The outcome of the debate is first and
foremost a fight for control of the ground. It's first and foremost a fight for control of the ground
of the debate. The team that wins the debate is the team that convinces the judge that their
offensive argument is most relevant when the judge goes to compare the two sides. That applies
to affirmatives, but it is not just about affirmatives it is also about negative counterplans, what
are the disadvantages what are the reasons that they may be undesirable? It is about critical
alternatives and the way that critique alternatives function to change a world vision in ways that
may be positive or negative. It's about anything that constitutes a competing alternative, the plan
vs. a counterplan, a critique vs. an affirmative plan, a critique vs. a counter-critique. Any way
that a team poses two systems against one another it is all about the link.
In this sense the notion of offensive arguments is a broad one, not a narrow one. It is a broad one,
not a narrow one. For the affirmative case arguments, case advantages are offense, performance
criteria is offensive, and critical frameworks are offensive. For the negative the concept is also
broad one competitive counterplans are offense, disadvantages to the plan are offensive and
critiques are offensive. Working from this framework both teams must work to maximize the
probability that their own set of offensive arguments are those that the judge views as most
credible. In order to accomplish that both teams must work to strengthen the link to their
offensive argumentation as much as possible. They must strengthen the link to their offensive
argumentation as much as possible.
In my own view, and I will confess for a moment that this is a bit of old school thinking, you will
hear a lot of controversy about this amongst the faculty here at the institute. It is not just the
faculty at the SDI; I am probably in a 1/3 to 2/3 minority on this. My own view is that debaters
focus far too much on questions of impact and far too little on questions of linkage. See the
judge as I said, is first and foremost a skeptic. They do not believe anything that you say. Don't
preach to them as if what you have is gospel and what the other team offers is non-sense. Instead
understand that what you offer is something they seek to understand, that they seek to know
more about, but that they begin from skeptical positioning. As such they are typically skeptical
of most any assertion made in debate, evidence or otherwise. What that means is that their
skepticism starts with the link arguments, because the link arguments are where most issues in
the debate typically begin. When the affirmative presents a perceived claim one that is built on a
series of linkages the judge brings a sense of skepticism to the table they don't really believe that
the steps required to prove that space exploration ultimately stops a complete economic collapse
are in fact credible. They are skeptical of this, because they have heard that everything is key to
the economy from shoe laces to pie, for years and years. And so accordingly it is the process of
building the relationship between cause and effect that you have to focus on first and foremost.
The link question is critical to convincing the judge your argument is relevant and true.
The result of that is that debaters must aggressively work to construct not only a tenable link but
a highly credible case for the link for the world that they wish the judge to envision. That is not
a matter of repeating generic link arguments in the negative block, or repeating taglines and
solvency arguments from the 1AC.
What that means is that in the negative block we want to build what is called a link wall. A link
wall is a series of arguments that creates the credibility of what happens when the plan passes.
The corollary to this is that uniqueness and link arguments in my mind begin to be inter-related.
How many times have you been in debates so far in your young debate career where the
affirmative team has offered uniqueness arguments against your disads that you had no specific
evidence? They will claim that Libya, immigration, or the debt ceiling hurt Obama's political
capital or his credibility and you have no evidence for the counter attack against the specific
proposition that his position on Libya threatens his political capital in the status quo. So the
result is that you have to convince the judge that the LINK, which IS about the plan, is the
critical breaking point that you define the debate around. For the negative it is about reading
Catch this one, believe it or not, I advise people to read more link evidence on the negative to
their generic arguments in the negative block EVEN WHEN the link argument is barely or not at
all challenged in the 2AC. Now I'll put a caveat on that, and my caveat is not true when the
ONLY thing the affirmative does is impact turn your argument. But in EVERY other
circumstance EVEN WHEN the affirmative barely challenges your link arguments, you read
more link evidence in the 2NC. Why would you possibly do that they didn't challenge the link
argument we read? First, because links and uniqueness are so inter-related and second because
the judge doesn't believe you, they don't, they really don't. And so you have to hammer it home,
you have to make decisively, and clearly, and conclusively the case that you are right about the
link question. That might open up the opportunity for the 1AR to make some kind of answer
against the link but in the end I think you are on stronger ground the more that you build the link.
For the negative it is about using specific warrants in a precise fashion. It is about using specific
warrants in a precise fashion. Don't say the affirmative talks about. Scratch the phrase "talks
about" out of your vocabulary. Eliminate it completely and totally. The phrase is "The Smith
evidence says" and then quote the exact phrase from the evidence in question that you are using
from the affirmative to relate to your offensive argument. It is not about generalizing what the
claim the affirmative has made is. IT IS about being specific about what their evidence has
proven and using the exact phraseology to accomplish that.
For the affirmative on the other hand. This is about drawing credible connections between the
plan and anticipated outcomes. It is about making that connection believable. It is about using
your evidence aggressively and in a specific and precise fashion. Again it is not our evidence
says, but instead it is Our Jones evidence proves and I quote and reach in and use those exact and
precise claims not generalizations about them. For the affirmative it is about not ever, ever, ever,
letting the negative characterizing the plan with unchallenged link arguments. It is about never,
ever, ever letting the negative getting away with telling the judge what your plan means at the
link level. That is a prescription for a negative win every single time. When they make a link
argument you counter it fast, you counter it hard, and counter it offensively, offensively,
offensively. You use the framework of the first affirmative constructive to do so. You use the
1AC in an offensive and retaliatory fashion to control the ground of the debate.
In the final round of the 2006 NDT Michigan State was negative against Wake Forest, and the
topic required the affirmative to pressure China. Wake forest broke a new affirmative that
pressured China for their toy manufacturing practices. Michigan state had anticipated this type
of affirmative, but the only had generic arguments to this category of affirmative. Ryan Burke
from Michigan state discovered an exact line in the Newman evidence that provided a link to
their generics. He used the exact language to connect his generics to the specific plan---and it
was a 4-1 for the negative from MSU.—IT’s all about the link.
Number 5--control the framework of the debate. Control the framework of the debate. I think
that some sports analogies can help with this and I hope people who aren’t sports fans try to
follow. When I think of control the ground of the debate I think of it this way, they say that
football is a game of inches. And of the thousands and thousands of inches that are fought for in
a close football game only a very few determine the outcome, in a close game at least. I am huge
New York Giants fan and a few years ago they were playing the undefeated New England
Patriots in the Super Bowl. That game came down to one play at the end of the fourth quarter.
The outcome of that game rested on just a few inches and there were probably 10,000 inches
worth of ground covered in that game.
Debate, similarly, is a game of words. The outcome of a debate is determined on the basis of a
few words, not many. In the same way that a close football game might come down to one or
two essential plays the outcome of a good debate might come down to a single strategic decision
or a particular tactical argument. The entire debate is first and foremost about the essential
question upon which the outcome turns. What that means in practical terms for you is that if it is
your desire to win the debate by proving that your asteroid advantage impacts are of greater
magnitude than the negative disadvantages. Then to win you have to first and foremost, convince
the judge that the framework by which he or she should decide the outcome is magnitude based.
Similarly if you are on the negative and you want to win an impact comparison most likely you
have to convince the judge that the outcome of the debate is timeframe based. The timeframe of
your impact is soon, but the magnitude might not be as absolute as the affirmative, so you tell the
judge to focus on timeframe because we can always get another chance to deal with asteroids,
but we have to prevent the most immediate impacts first.
Similarly, in critical situations, framework analysis is critical to the outcome of almost every
critical affirmative and almost every negative. The framework analysis is principally a fight for
control of the ground of the debate. Framework analysis is almost exclusively an argument
about who controls the rules for which team should be the one that governs the decision making
criterion for the debate. And so both sides must engage in it.
Number 6--cover smart. You see one of the things that you learned during the years you have
been engaged in the game is that at first the debate game seems pretty easy. You start the
beginning of your novice year and you've got these files that these older students on your team
have given to you or that you got from off the web page of some workshop or wherever you had
gotten them. You are a pretty smart kid you zip through them and you are on YouTube and you
read blocks all at the same time, multi-tasking. You go in the first semester and you kind of
figure out that “Well gee I got a little more developed material than the other side most of the
time.” We just seem to talk a little bit quicker, then you discover the negative block and they
give you the 1AR and you think, "This is not fair", they get to talk for 13 minutes, and then you
get your five, and you think "This is not fair." But then all of the sudden it is not that big of a
deal because the negative team on the other side hasn't really learned what to do with the block
and so the 1NR stands up and says "What my partner told you was," and he or she just repeats
most of what their colleague just said. This coverage game is not that big a deal, so what.
Keep going along, novice year progresses, then those little pricks on the other side they start
talking a little faster too, because they start figuring out that if they quit talking so slowly, and if
they don't repeat everything their partner said but say different things all the time that your life is
going to be a lot harder than it was before. Well all of the sudden it is a lot more difficult, and
then the worst comes. You think you are going to be really fast and quick like those other kids
on the top team on your school. You start talking and your braces get in the way and you can't
talk that fast, it's not working out very well.
You see here is the trick: the outcome of the debate is about substantive questions not about
technical ones. The outcome of the debate is about substantive questions not about technical
ones especially in late outrounds. Technique can never, ever, ever, ever, trump substance in an
ultimate sense. If you learn the prior lessons, how to choose your arguments wisely, if you learn
how to define comparison on the nexus question, if you learn how to control the framework of
the ground of the debate, you learn how to make all your arguments in an offensive manner, then
in that circumstance coverage will never hurt you.
One of my favorite debaters Andy Ryan gave a speech on this exact issue this year at the
Greenhill tournament and he was famous for this. In the final round of the National Debate
Tournament in 2001, his team from Iowa and a team from Emory were debating, Iowa was
affirmative. Andy had debated with one of the debaters from Emory at Caddo Magnet and won
the TOC together when they were in high school, you can talk about our very own Will Repko
about that debate if you want to hear more. One of them was blazingly fast and one of them
pokey and plaintively slow. And the two debated over and over again in college and the kid
Andy Ryan who was plaintively slow managed to win almost every time. How did he do it?
Because he had down the prospect of making argument choice and comparison on the nexus
question, and so the judge could say that his opponent had won a big percentage of arguments
and he had won the most important arguments. Cover smart, cover smart. Don't think you have
to cover every argument in the debate.
If you happen to be one of those random kids who has the capacity to cover every single
argument in a debate without really much challenge then I would go ahead and encourage you to
take advantage of that skill. It is just not very common.
Number 7--make every argument count. Here is the critical rule of thumb if you cannot visualize
how a particular argument in your first constructive would be employed effectively in your last
rebuttal as part of a winning strategy then don't invest in it in the first instance. If you can't see
how a specific argument in the first constructive would play a constructive role in the last
rebuttal then don't spend time on it in the first place. Don't misunderstand me that doesn't mean
you can't have multiple strategies in the first negative constructive, you can. You can present
counterplans, case arguments, and a disadvantage. You can also present a critique that is
consistent with those things, but as you do those things be aware that you limit your own
strategic options as much as you add demand on to the coverage needs of the other team.
Accordingly when you make choices for what goes into the first speech, the first speech is not a
random collection of items, thoughts, and arguments. I used to think of the first speech as
essentially a place where you just kind of threw out anything and everything you thought might
be relevant and then I began to understand the difference between an argument and a strategy.
Effective strategy is one that conceptualizes all arguments as part of A winning strategy. You
may choose to put out two winning strategies in the first negative constructive, you might even
think about three, although I think you are stretching it at that juncture. But in any case the point
is that every single thing you say in constructives ought to be something that you at least can
visualize deploying in the rebuttals if it is to be effective in the first place.
In 2009 Wake Forest GL, who we already discussed, was again in the finals but this time on the
negative against Scott Harris’ KU BJ. They read 11 off in the 1NC, you see in this debate they
thought that the 1NC was just a place where you threw anything and everything and see what
sticks. But against two of the best debaters in the country from KU with three speeches to give
KU was able to effectively and efficiently point out contradictions and problems, it was a 4-1 for
Number 8--anticipate and know. The best debaters I've ever coached are those who know more
about their competitors’ arguments than do their opponents. They know more about their
competitors’ arguments than do their opponents. When I stop to think about what distinguishes
the best of the best from each other the one thing that occurs to me is that the very strong
students are those who simply know more about their competitors’ arguments than do their
opponents. What their arguments are, what they might do with them, what they said, what they
should have said, what they thought they said, what the judges thought they said, and what the
judges thought they should have said.
I will tell a story about Michael Gotlieb, he was a great debater for Northwestern and he won the
National Debate Tournament. You know I listen to videos of him and he's pretty persuasive, he's
very fast, he's very clear, he's all these things, and is he better at any of those things than other
fine debaters? No, other debaters I have watched were just as clear, who were just as fast. But
almost no one was better prepared than Michael Gottlieb. He never lost to the same team twice,
not once, not a single time, in four years, not a single time. Every time he lost to a team the first
time, when he lost to a team the first time, which wasn't all that terribly often, he demanded the
ball. I say demand the ball, I mean to say he insisted that the assignment in question was his for
the taking. He was the top seed at Wake Forest which is the biggest college tournament in the
country when Mike was a junior and lost in the octofinals. They were debating a team from
Georgetown, a very good team from Georgetown, with an excellent case about monetary reform
in the international banking system. Northwestern had one of their best researchers assigned to
the case, back in Evanston they started strategizing and talking it through. Mike just stopped the
discussion mid-sentence and said, "No, I'm taking this assignment."
Northwestern met them the next tournament in the quarterfinals and won the coin flip without
flinching or even asking them what they were running he said, "We'll take the negative." 3-0 for
Strategies are not generic, at least not at the top level. There are plenty of times when generic
strategies come into play and they have to come into play. But the more specific that they are, at
the top level, the greater your odds of winning debates are. You have to learn how to fit what it
is you have to say to what the other team has, even when you are using your generics. You've
got to make them fit. That means when you are negative, for instance, you take the first
affirmative and you don't generalize about what kind of arguments it makes, make specific
references and exact phrases, and exact phraseologies, and exact words from their evidence, and
exact claims that they were making. Make effective strategies fit in a very specific manner.
Effective strategies demand specifics, they are not based on tricks, but rather they are based on
depth of knowledge, depth of reading, depth of understanding, depth of literature, and ground
fundamentally in the differences between what the two sides advocate and what is supported in
the literature on both. Understand that the better, you know your opponent’s arguments the
better off your chance to win.
John Smith was a world class wrestler coach at Oklahoma State University, he coached six world
championship wrestlers he said this about preparation, "Win or lose you will never regret
working hard, making sacrifices, being disciplined, or focusing too much. But rather success is
measured by what we have done to prepare for competition.
Number 9--style and substance. Style and substance are fundamentally inseparable. As one of
my recent graduates Lee Quinn likes to say the judge is a human and they want to vote for other
humans, not robots. The judge has to want to vote for you they have to know, they have to hear,
they have to feel, they have to believe. The judge is not an informational processor, the judge is
not a CPU, the judge is not a computer. The judge is a person with real experiences, background,
understanding, with knowledge that they have gained, not simply from the academic enterprise
of sitting and listening and flowing you, but from interaction and experience. The thing that the
debate judge brings uniquely to the table, and other people do not, is that they bring a willingness
to hear and listen to any angle, approach, substance, or situation, no matter how unique or
different their own experiences may be. This does not suggest that they accept what you say de
facto solely because you say it, but instead they have to want to, style and substance are
Number 10--narrate and judge the debate. The key here is to learn how to write the ballot for the
judge. My coach Mike Hall loved to have me go through this exercise before I debated;
especially if we were uncertain about the judge. He would say, "Remember you have got to write
the ballot for the judge." As a coach here is how I have tried to help my students understand this
point. I tell them before your last rebuttal imagine if you concede all your opponents’ arguments
how can you still win they debate. You have to start by understanding the other sides' strengths,
not their weaknesses. Understand the other sides' strengths, not their weaknesses What that
forced you to do is to get into the mind of the judge and understand where the strengths of your
opponent lies, and what impact that assessment may have on the judge's thinking.
In this respect you have to understand that you have to give the other team credit. Know that the
world is full of that grey argumentation I described earlier, not exclusively of black and white
argument differences. Use this rule of how you execute this in a debate, take the first 30 seconds
of your prep time for the last rebuttal and ask yourself this question, "If we are to lose this
debate, why will it be so?" The judge will look at us at the end and describe a ballot for our
opponent, where will their reasoning begin? Then start thinking about how to prepare a rebuttal
around the answer to that question. If you do so you will improve your win/loss record by a
measurable or noticeable percentage.
Number 11--teamwork. Michael Jordan said, "Talent wins games, teamwork wins
championships." I can't tell you the number of highly skilled or talented debaters I've watched
who I've thought could have been successful, but instead ended up as octofinalist. The reason
they end up being consistent octofinalists is either because they didn't put enough effort required
to make the final leap, or the alternative even if they did they focused on individual gain or glory
and not on winning debates. I know many high school debaters who can now know speakers
points since they are posted in real time at big tournaments and who obsess with figuring out in
between debates who top speaker is. Not who their opponents would be, not what set of
arguments needed to be produced, not what the next challenges and opportunities will be, but
how well they had done that day.
Remember something you are on the same team, you are in this together, your partner will make
mistakes; know that, I can promise that, your colleague will make mistakes. Guess what? So
will you. Divisiveness over errors will not help. The past is relevant only insofar as it informs
future decisions, future strategy, future argument choice, and future debates. Respect your
partner understand they have reasons for the choices they make, know that at the end when they
deliver their rebuttal it is ultimately their choice to make. They can consult you and should, but
at decision making time one person has got to make the call and that one person is the person
who has to give the speech.
Phil Jackson said this about team relations, "We alone can destroy our championship
opportunity." Teamwork is the focused work that you bring to the table to aid in the effort.
Pat Riley said, "The truly great actors go out of their way to make sure the supporting actors are
brilliant, because they want the movie to be great. These are the people that really understand
the essence of leadership."
Robert Woodruff former president of the Coca-Cola Corporation said, "There is no limit to what
you can do or where you can go if you don't mind who gets the credit."
Jamie Cohen a student at Brown University three time NCAA crew national championship
winner said, "It is important to respect both your teammates and your opponents, because
friendships make victory last forever."
Number 12--prepare to win. Prepare to win means that strategizing is never a petty affair. It
starts when the topic is released and goes until the final debate is concluded and continues at all
points in between. Preparing to win is about using your prep time effectively. Matt Struth who
was the first debater from Mary Washington to get a first round bid as one of the top 16 teams in
the country and a coach of mine always said, “Everything is prep time, lunch is prep time, time
before the judge gives a decision is prep time, van rides are prep time.” In the tournament
context that means that your prep time for a specific debate starts when a pairing is released and
concludes when a judge's decision is announced and explained fully. You have to learn to
research and practice, on a regular basis.
This year at Samford our goal for the entire season was to make it to the elimination rounds of
the NDT a place Samford had not been in 26 years. From the minute that we qualified to the
tournament we created a list of about 40 teams we had to beat to make elimination rounds. The
team gave up our spring break and spent an entire week creating strategies, cutting cards, and
writing new affirmatives. I worked with Dan Bagwell especially on a new affirmative we were
preparing, he was a junior and was terrified that in our break round he would be AFF. He was
terrified because his partner was a senior and a 2N and he didn’t want to end his partner’s career.
So we worked on it, we practiced it, he had me create the toughest negative strategy I could and
gave me infinite speech time against him. And in round 8 we were locked affirmative and we hit
Vanderbilt a team we have NEVER beaten in the regular season, but we read our new
affirmative, and at the end of the debate it was a 3-0 for the affirmative.
Be detail oriented. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Take advantage of one and
balance and correct for the other. Take advantage of your own strengths. Mike. Singleterry is
probably the finest middle linebacker ever to play football. Upon his retirement and induction
into the NFL hall of fame his coach Mike Ditka from the Chicago Bears said, "Mike Singleterry
prepared for each game as if it were his last."
The 1968 Olympic gold medalist Jane Clark-Kelly said, "Every day you must challenge yourself
to do better than before."
Number 13--focus and concentration. These are the keys together they unlock the secrets; the
secrets are the fundamentals; choice, clash, offense, controlling the ground of the debate, and all
the rest. Focus and concentration are the keys that make them the instinctive skills they need to
be. These skills as simple as they seem will help you overcome the most demanding obstacles.
Together they will permit you to rise to the most challenging situation you can imagine. Greg
Louganis the swimming and diving great put it this way, "You always want your opponent to
have a career day, because that will elevate your performance to a level you did not know you
Chris Everett the tennis champion said simply, "Single-mindedness that is what it takes to win a
I can't promise immediate results these fundamentals may not work in round 4 of your first
tournament against a new affirmative case for which you have no evidence. They may fail you
in a particular elimination round when your strategy is skewed by a misunderstanding, by you or
the judge. But in the end I can tell you this they are your first, your last, your only best chance to
be the best that you can be. For each of you this will be a long and difficult road. Remember
nothing worth having ever comes easy. With patience, hard work, commitment, dedication, and
with the fundamentals in your sights these things will get you through.
We've talked a lot this afternoon about great debaters and great debate teams. I've used a number
of examples. I said in my opening remarks that I would return to my central theme. Greatness is
not defined exclusively by winning, watches, trophies, or other awards. Greatness is something
much bigger than winning any debate or tournament, instead it is made of precisely where I
began; character, commitment, teamwork, and hard work. Greatness is about a lot more than
winning. Great debaters are those who dedicated themselves to improving every aspect of their
skills. Great debaters work for what they achieve, they research, they strategize, they practice.
Great debaters win with class and lose with grace.
One thing Dr. Galloway always says at Samford is that when one of us wins we all win. When
one of us loses we all lose. That remains true without regard to whose particular names are
engraved on a trophy at any given time, or who won the last tournament. But instead those who
are believers in the fundamentals are champions.
Greg Louganis said that, "Victory is not necessarily a gold medal."
Carl Lewis the great runner said, "It's all about the journey, not about the outcome."
As I wrap up this presentation I leave you with three closing thoughts. The first is a quotation
from an American philosopher in the early part of the 20th century named Alexander
Mickleback. He said this, "When I try to single out from the long line of students one group who
will stand out as intellectually the best, the best in college work, the best in promise of future
intellectual achievement. As much as I would like to do so I cannot draw the line around my
own favorite students of philosophy, nor those of mathematics, biology, or other fields. Nor
could I fairly award the palm to the accomplished students of Phi Beta Kappa. It seems to me
that stronger than any other group in intellectual fiber, keener in intellectual interest, better
equipped to do battle with the coming challenges, are the debaters. Those who band together
with friends from other schools searching for the solutions to great challenges."
Second is a quote from a man from Northern Iowa. It is this "Never be afraid of taking
calculated risks in your own personal life. Be willing to work longer and harder at your craft
than the next person. Never settle for being good at something, when you can be great. Learn to
be hard on yourself when you don't quite give it your best and easy on yourself when your best
isn't quite good enough. Know that failing means only that you did not achieve your desired goal
and the sooner that you take the word can't out of your vocabulary the better."
And finally Scott Deatherage’s own thoughts, he shared these the last time he ever gave his
version of this speech the summer before his death. “I rest confident knowing this, knowing that
debate, no other experience than debate, has had the most profound impact on my own sense of
self, on who and where I am today. As I look back on the contours of my own life there are
many things about it I would change if I could, but not this. Long hours, demanding schedules,
all that goes into effective debating, and effective coaching. The lost weekends, I would do it all
again. I would do it all again not for any particular tournament or trophy, not for the specifics of
any topic, not even for the intellectual benefits that debate bestows upon its participants critical
thinking and so forth. I would do it all again for the chance to work with hardworking,
dedicated, and committed students like those assembled in this room.”