A Debate Summer To-Do-List by Nethmin Liyanage

As the debate season comes to a close and seniors leave their teams and the world of debate in search of their next great adventure, younger students in debate are left wondering how to fill the leadership positions that the seniors left behind while also improving their own skills and preparing to reach their goals for the upcoming season. The summer can often feel like a vast expanse of time in which debaters have the time to cut every card, compile every backfile, and do every drill. However, it can also feel overwhelming to know that you need to do these things while simultaneously not knowing where to start. We hope that this article can serve as a guide and some form of a to-do list as you approach your summer prep. The most important thing to remember when reading this is that every debater, circuit, and team is different, and that our advice should provide a starting point, not a list of requirements. Keep in mind that when preparing over the summer, you should make sure that you have some idea of what your tournament schedule looks like, and what kind of adaptation needs to occur in order for you to succeed with your schedule. No matter how much time you put into learning psychoanalysis, it will likely not be the route to winning your ultra-traditional state tournament. What is most important is that debaters keep in mind what their goals are and target their summer prep in a way that helps them to meet those goals.

We’ve divided this article up into a few sections for ease of navigation + clarity.

1.) Scheduling and Logistics:

When it comes to choosing tournaments, many debaters (especially those who compete independently or are part of a small team) will choose tournaments and make scheduling plans mid-season. At the beginning of the season, they have very little or no idea of what tournaments they will attend. They just figure it out as they go!  While this option can seem tempting, you should outline your debate schedule prior to the start of the season. This will ensure that you have enough time to find chaperones/judges, book hotels and flights, and prepare for the actual tournament. This method of planning will also help with budgeting and ensuring that you are doing what is best for your finances.

One consideration for the upcoming season is whether a tournament will be virtual or in-person. Both types of tournaments offer their own benefits and drawbacks, and it is up to you to make a decision on what you prefer and what is best for your schedule. As of this article being published, tournaments have not released much information on what form they will take. However, this is an important consideration, and is definitely one that you should look into prior to making plans. More information regarding the status of online or in-person tournaments will likely be available in late July or early August. You should pay attention to debate Facebook groups as well as tournaments’ Tabroom pages in order to see what each tournament’s plan is for their event.

Here are some considerations that should be taken into account when making your tournament schedule:

  • Coordinating tournament schedules between local and national circuits – when are important local events such as states and national qualifiers?
  • Try to travel with a friend or a teammate in order to cut costs
  • Try to compete 2-3 times on a topic to ensure that the prep you are doing can be used for more than one tournament
  • Who will judge for you, serve as your chaperone, and help you with tournament travel?
  • What are the registration deadlines? Always register early, especially for the first few tournaments of the year.
  • What major life events or academic obligations do you have? Is someone getting married on the same weekend as season opener? Do you have to take the SAT in December? These are events that you should try to plan around so that you aren’t forced to cancel a tournament trip or reschedule an important academic commitment at the last minute.

Creating a tournament schedule and ensuring that it will be logistically, financially, and practically feasible is not easy! Don’t be afraid to ask an adult (coach, parent, teacher) for help if you feel like you’ve gotten stuck somewhere or need help figuring out things like hotels or travel.

It is also worth noting that many travel websites and hotel booking websites will offer deals for booking in advance or for booking package deals. Make sure you look for those before making arrangements – they can often save you a lot of money!

2.) Coaching and Responsibilities Within Your Team:

Many small school debaters find themselves in charge of their team’s novice recruitment and coaching, many travel logistics, and other things that are usually at least partially handled by a head coach or an assistant coach at larger programs. If you fall into the category of a small school debater, it is important that you find out what your obligations to your team are well in advance. You don’t want to plan to attend a tournament and then be informed that the weekend you had chosen is also the weekend of the novice tournament at your local league, and you’re needed to fulfill a judging obligation.

Over the summer, you should try to find out what your responsibilities are to your team, as well as what your team needs to succeed throughout the season. You should consider making a team Dropbox and splitting up prep so that the workload is more manageable for everyone. Additionally, you should assess what skill level your team (generally) is at, and give out prep assignments based on everyone’s strengths and areas of interest.

Finally, make sure that less experienced members of your team are being given the information that they need to succeed. While it is often difficult to balance your own debate career and managing a team, it is very helpful for younger debaters to be provided some amount of help with accessing things like national circuit debate, summer camps, and the wiki. Providing your teammates with a few resources can go a long way!

3.) General Knowledge & Learning:

The summer can be a great time to expand the set of arguments you are familiar with! When trying to read new literature, many debaters will select the most popular book or article from the literature base, and then try to read it. Sometimes, this strategy can be effective, while other times, it will leave you feeling lost and confused. Younger students will typically struggle more to pick up a set of arguments and understand them immediately, so other learning strategies can be more effective.

When you are trying to expand your general knowledge, you should be willing to commit some amount of time to learn the arguments. You should not expect to read an article once and then perfectly understand the arguments that the author is making.

Here are some things that we would recommend doing in order to maximize your knowledge retention and productivity when learning new literature:

  • Watch YouTube videos and recorded lectures on the subject – these will often explain the key concepts in a way that is more understandable than the actual article or book.
  • Read criticisms of the theory that you’re learning – this will help you to see where it is flawed and what arguments you can make against it. When you are preparing answers to an argument, this can be a source of ideas for what positions or arguments will be good to read.
    • These criticisms can also be cut into a set of cards that you can read whenever you debate against this argument
  • Cut cards as you go (on both sides). It’s much easier to cut cards as you are doing the reading than it is to come back to a pile of articles at the end of the summer and attempt to cut them all. Cutting cards as you go will make sure that you have a set of backfiles that you can use during the season.
  • Write analytics/extensions for the cards that you cut, and keep in mind how often you intend to read or use these cards. For example, it’s probably a good idea to have a 1ar strategy against Baudrillard prewritten, because Baudrillard is a common argument on the circuit. However, whether you also prepare a 2nr going for Baudrillard is largely dependent on how much you want to go for Baudrillard and how often you predict you will end up reading the position.

The summer is a great time to learn arguments that have confused you in the past, cut backfiles that you often don’t have time to work on during the season, or just gain a better understanding of certain arguments! You don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to understand every argument that is read in debate, but you shouldn’t pass up the chance to improve your understanding of a few areas that interest you. In order to ensure that you don’t overwhelm yourself, make a manageable list of arguments that you want to learn and make yourself a plan for how you’ll learn them. Older debaters who have read these arguments in the past can be great resources! People who have already graduated will usually be happy to share any tips they have and answer a few questions that you have. Past debaters and coaches can be good resources to look to for arguments or positions that you need some extra help with.

4.) General Debate Concepts:

The summer is also a great time to familiarize yourself with some general debate concepts that you might be unfamiliar with, or things that you’ve struggled with this past season. Many debaters often forget basics, such as judge adaptation and weighing. During the summer, you should spend some time practicing the basics. As part of this practice, you should re-read ballots from this season and see what mistakes you were consistently making and what types of judges you consistently mis-adapted to. These comments can serve as a guide for your summer prep.

Here are some things that you can do in order to improve your general debate skills:

  • Practice giving the same speech in front of different types of judges – this will show you how to adapt the same position multiple different ways
  • Give practice speeches where you weigh between different impacts. You should especially focus on debates that come up often on your circuit, such as extinction vs K impacts or util vs deontology debates.
  • Do rebuttal redoes that focus on concepts that are generally applicable. It’s probably not worth your time to redo speeches from a round that was lost on lack of specific topic knowledge. However, if you consistently find yourself messing up the util vs Kant debate or giving bad 2nrs against 1ar theory, these might be things that you can spend time focusing on over the summer.
  • Practice debating in a style that you don’t normally engage in. If you are a traditional debater, try giving some speeches against more circuit-oriented arguments. If you primarily compete on the national circuit, practice giving some traditional speeches. This will help you to become more flexible and adapt to panels that contain a variety of judges.

It is also worth noting that the summer is a great chance to learn or remind yourself of the basics of argumentation, such as how to respond to a disadvantage, or how to write a theory shell. If you feel that you’re missing these skills, there are many helpful camp lectures and YouTube videos that can help you to recall these things. It is always easier to learn foundational skills over the summer when you have time, as opposed to during the season when you have to juggle school, other extracurriculars, topic prep, and other responsibilities.

5.) File construction:

Having organized files that are up to date is something that gives you a huge advantage, especially in early-season debates. However, file production and organization are things that many teams and debaters will often neglect or leave until the end of the summer. We strongly encourage you to not be one of those people. If you revise and reorganize your files at the beginning of the summer, you will have organized, high-quality material that you can use for drills and practice rounds, and you can start to prewrite some analytics for the upcoming season!

Here are some things that we recommend doing to ensure that your files are ready for next season:

  • Put together files for generics that you’ll need during the season (util, generic answers to Ks, cap K cards, framework cards, impact defense, etc.)
  • Make sure that past years’ files and old backfiles are properly organized into the appropriate Dropbox folders and that the links on the citations still work, and that the cards are still accurate and make sense
  • Look through the Wiki to supplement your backfiles. If there is a team that has already opensourced a high-quality version of an argument that you need, there is no need for you to spend time doing work that has already been done. You should always make sure that you are quality-checking prep that you take from the wiki and supplementing it if necessary.
  • Establish a standardized and consistent way of naming and organizing documents on Dropbox/Google Drive. Make sure that you communicate this organization to anyone on your team who is also contributing to the Dropbox.
    • It’s helpful to have a “how-to-use” or “read this first” document on your team’s Dropbox/Google Drive. This will allow everyone to be on the same page regarding file organization expectations.
  • Cut answers to unique or obscure arguments that come up a few times each season. It’s often not worth the time during the season to cut answers to these arguments, but it can be a good thing to do during the offseason.
  • Check wikis from other events to see what useful evidence has been published by other people and teams. The High School LD and Policy wikis as well as the College Policy wiki generally have useful materials.
  • If you’re doing Policy, most camps publish evidence packets prior to the season starting. These can be good places to start your research and learn the core generics on the topic.

File organization can be very individualized and tailored to your needs. If you are a traditional debater, there will likely be less of a necessity for you to create extensive backfiles. However, it is still worth refreshing your files of things like basic framework answers and ensuring that your prewritten analytics are the best that you can make them.

Additionally, file production can feel very daunting if you are a small school or lone-wolf debater. If you find yourself in this situation, consider finding a few trusted friends to prep with over the summer. You should make sure that you choose people who won’t share your prep without your consent and will contribute their fair share of work. This will ensure that prep can actually be done efficiently, and you don’t spend all of your time arguing about prep responsibilities and misplaced files.

You should also aim to have a good set of generic files at the end of the summer. Every year, there are certain debates that will occur, such as disclosure theory vs new affirmatives, Ks vs policy affirmatives, structural violence vs utilitarianism, large impacts vs small impacts, and the capitalism K vs non-topical affirmatives. Obviously, these debates will vary by circuit; you’re less likely to see a non-topical affirmative in front of a parent judge and more likely to see a value-criterion of minimizing structural violence.  Knowing that many common debates repeat themselves, you should create a set of generic files that will prepare you for these scenarios. Progressive or circuit debaters should aim their preparation in the direction of what trends the national circuit has been exhibiting, and traditional debaters should focus on creating generic prep that will be popular with the judges in their area.

Here are some generic files that are helpful to start out with:

  • 1-2 Ks to be read against non-topical affirmatives. You should cut links and impacts against the most common non-T affs/theories of power.
  • A good T-framework file that has prewritten analytics, cards, and prewritten 2nrs against the most common 1ar and 2ar strategies.
  • Util/policymaking cards with answers to the most common counter-framing mechanisms. This should also include analytics for the most common framework-clash debates.
  • Impact defense files that answer the latest warrants for the most common impacts. Impact defense cards against nuclear war that were popular 10 years ago are likely not the best for right now – you should cut new evidence that’s responsive to the most recent trends on the opposing side.
  • Advantage counterplans that solve the most common impacts and advantage scenarios.

These will be especially useful when teams break new affirmatives that have common impact scenarios, but new or niche internal-link scenarios. A good advantage counterplan can help with this!

  • Backfiles for arguments that you want to read/go for. These files should include prewritten analytics and answers to common objections to the position. You want to do as much of the work as you can now, so that work during the season can be more focused on responding to competitive trends.

Like most things in debate, generics are dependent on who is reading them and who is evaluating the round. While the list that we have provided is a good starting point, don’t be afraid to adapt the list to your needs. The most important thing to do is to make sure that you’re preparing yourself for common debates that you are likely to have.

6.) Drills:

A huge part of improving over the summer is redoing speeches, having practice rounds, and drilling both sides of arguments. If you spend all of your time cutting cards and not drilling, your execution of those cards in round isn’t going to be where you want it to be. As such, it’s important to balance card cutting with drilling.

Note that it is important to drill with the cards that you cut over the summer. We have suggested multiple card cutting projects in this article – as you complete those projects, make sure that you are practicing giving speeches with the cards that you have cut. Evidence is much more helpful when you understand the warrants and you’ve practiced utilizing those warrants in the most advantageous way.

Here are some drills that can serve as starting points. We recommend doing specific drills outside of these suggestions (depending on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals). This is meant to be a preliminary and informative list.

  • Speed drills – this should include speed drills for both reading cards from a document and making arguments that aren’t prewritten
  • Efficiency drills
  • Going for generics (T-framework, cap, heg good, deontology vs utilitarianism, impact weighing, etc.)
  • Going for/debating against uncommon positions
  • Going for and debating against theory (especially 1ar theory)
    • This suggestion is more specific to national-circuit debate, but all debaters should practice debating both sides of positions that are new or unfamiliar to them.

Setting up practice debates throughout the summer can be another great way to ensure that you’re continuing to practice giving speeches. If possible, have a coach or an older debater observe some of your practice rounds and give you feedback. You can use this feedback to redo speeches and correct your mistakes. In a world where it’s not possible to get feedback on practice rounds, try to see what you could have done better and what other possible routes to the ballot there were. You can redo speeches and test out going for new arguments or trying to win the round in a different way. Spending the summer becoming more flexible in terms of what arguments you are able to read and understand will allow you to have better chances in front of multiple types of judges and opponents.

If you don’t have a team or a group of friends to practice debate, there are multiple social media platforms (Facebook, Reddit, Discord) that allow debaters to connect with each other. I would strongly recommend using platforms such as Facebook that allow you to interact with debaters in non-anonymous settings; this helps to ensure safety and accountability. You can also reach out to coaches of teams in your area or teams that you’re friendly with and see if they’re willing to set up practice rounds between you and their students. Most teams have a few kids who are looking for extra practice!


While reading this list, remember that doing any one of these things will put you ahead of the game when the season starts in the fall. We do not think that you need to do all of these things in order to be successful in debate. These are just a list of the things that we have found helpful that we wanted to share with you. You should never feel like you have to sacrifice having fun or relaxing over the summer in order to only focus on debate. Debate should be fun!

If you choose to spend time on debate over the summer, we hope that these tips and reminders will help you to make the most of your summer and prepare for next season! Congratulations on making it through a (very weird) season of virtual debate and enjoy your summer! We look forward to seeing you compete next season! Until then – happy prepping!

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