It's a Friday afternoon, and you've just gotten out of school. You have an entire weekend free in front of you; and next weekend you will be jetting off to the biggest tournament of the year. If you're a mediocre debater, you will choose not to spend extra time preparing for this tournament. If you're a good debater, you'll have fun on the weekend and start your work on the following Monday, but you might find yourself pressed for time as the week wears on. If you plan on actually winning the tournament, you will have already started prepping by the time the school bell rings for the final time on Friday, and you will be prepared to utterly dominate your competition within seven days.
Yes, folks, there's a proven correlation between pre-tournament preparation and success in debate. Those who put in the extra effort are rewarded by their results. So what can you do during the week before a tournament to get better? Here are five pieces of advice.
1. Get ahead on your schoolwork. I'm serious. If you've got assignments due the day you get back from a long weekend of debate, that's the last thing that needs to be weighing on your mind during the tournament. The sooner you can get your papers and studying out of the way, the better, even if it involves an opportunity cost of not being able to do as much debate work. You don't get a grade for winning a tournament - you will feel the consequences if you needlessly bomb a test, however.
I've found that many teachers are also quite flexible when it comes to assignments and testing dates. When I went to Catholic Nationals last year over Memorial Day, I had to deal with the fact that I would have multiple final exams the week I came back. Instead of trying to go into those finals without studying, I simply asked to take them a week early, which worked out fine.
2. Start cutting updates. Good policy debaters don't rely on the same files they cut in August or September. They constantly update their arsenal of arguments with the latest information, filling up their tubs with evidence that assumes current conditions. This extends far beyond just cutting new politics shells. It encompasses work on your case, updating 2AC blocks to reflect arguments you heard at the previous tournament, writing answers to arguments that were made against your common 1NC off-case strategies, and updating disadvantage uniqueness and adjusting link stories accordingly. Do not be the team that does no updates and is thoroughly embarrassed when their outdated evidence doesn’t even come close to resembling the status quo.
3. Locate a field report of teams and prioritize work accordingly. Hopefully, you debate in a region where the flow of information is open and relatively fluid. If so, you should have a fairly strong indication of what cases are being run, and what generic off-case strategies to expect. Great debaters will not only gather intelligence, they will act on it. If they know a team runs a certain case, they will devote work to fleshing out specific answers to that case.
You should always focus on preparing for the best teams first. If you are a good debater, you can probably beat teams who are relatively unskilled and/or did not do anything to prepare. Your real test will come in rounds where you are evenly or over-matched with your opponents. These are the teams you will hit in elimination rounds, and you need to be ready for them.
4. Know your evidence. The best policy debate teams have read and highlighted every card in their tub before ever walking into a tournament round. Why is this beneficial? Being familiar with your evidence before you need to use it allows you to be much quicker on your feet. You’ll already be familiar with the warrants of the cards, making cross-examination and rebuttal evidence comparison infinitely easier. Plus, highlighting your evidence means your speeches will be more efficient, which in turns allows you to make a greater number of smart arguments. It’s just a good idea, and you should be doing this almost every week, even if you don’t have any upcoming tournaments.
5. Double your number of practice rounds. However many practice rounds you usually have in a given week, you should plan on doubling or even tripling that number. Why? Not only do you need to cut updates, you also need to be practicing putting those updates to use. The only way to do that is through rounds against your teammates. They don’t even have to be complete rounds - you can just skip straight to a certain part of the debate to be more efficient with your time.
Remember - the best teams are the ones that put in seven days of work or more. Waiting until Friday to start on your updates is a recipe for disaster - you will simply run out time. It has happened to me before, and I have actually lost a round or two before as a direct result of that. Preparation is the key to success, and I hope you find it within yourself to unlock it.