From novice to varsity debate, one of the most useful skills a debater can have is an outlined debate routine to help them guide their own steady improvement. At some point, in all debate events and debate leagues, you will have to do your own work outside of debate class/team practice. Creating a schedule is especially difficult for younger debaters, as they are less familiar with what debate entails, and much less familiar with how to improve at it. This guide is written in three sections. First, I will outline general advice for thinking about your debate schedule. Next, I will list questions that you should ask yourself when thinking about how much time you should devote to debate each week. Finally, I’ll take about some genres of activities that you should be doing during the times you’ve allotted for debate.
Ask your coach, captain, or another guide
To understand how to create a debate schedule, you should first ask your coach or captain for advice on how to proceed. They have a better understanding of debate, and will be able to guide you on what you should do and how long you should spend on debate each week. Maybe, your schedule is too intense, and they want to help you shave it down to make it sustainable. Or, maybe they have extra assignments they want you to do. Either way, they can help you figure out how much time you should be spending on debate each week. Additionally, different debate circuits have different norms of competition, so they can help guide you to the correct drills to prepare you for competition in your area. If you do not have a guide, don’t worry! This article is meant to help you better figure out what you can do for your debate schedule, even if you don’t have a person who can guide you.
Time directly translates to debate improvement
In the coming questions, a lot of people might answer that they want to be the best at debate, but don’t want to spend that much time on it. That is not going to work. The amount of time you put into debate directly translates to the amount you will improve at debate, because you will be actively working to improve. This is not meant to say that students with obligations and activities outside of debate cannot be good at debate. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is meant to say that you cannot have the dual expectation of doing well in debate and not spending time improving your skills.
It is perfectly fine and normal for your priorities to change throughout the season.
Throughout the season, things about your schedule are going to change. Maybe you do a spring sport but not a fall sport, or maybe there are weeks where you are working more than normal. Whatever the case, your debate schedule should not be set in stone. At the beginning of each week, or as you get to know your schedule more, you should evaluate if you should increase or decrease the amount of time you spent on debate. This is also true if your goals in debate change. If you are not sure if you like debate during the first fall you participate, you are probably not going to spend as much time on debate as you would if you fell absolutely in love with debate at first sight. Maybe, come spring, you really love debate and know you will participate next season, so you increase how much time you spend on debate. Whether you have other activities or you want to reduce or increase your involvement in debate, changing the amount of time you spend each week on debate is normal.
Questions to ask yourself :
In this next section, I will break down some questions you should ask yourself to deduce how much time you may want to spend on debate in any given week.
What are your debate goals?
This question is very broad, but I want to start with outlining two types of goals: competitive goals and preparation goals. Competitive goals are records, speaking awards, and placements at tournaments. Preparation goals are goals that are focused solely on the pre-tournament process, such as researching a complete file, creating a full blocksheet, or doing a certain amount of speaking drills each week.
My personal recommendation for each debater is to focus on preparation goals because they are more in your control. The results of a single competition can be very random since you can’t predict what the other debaters will do or what the judging at the tournament looks like. Preparation goals can boost debaters’ confidence because they can feel in control of their own improvement through tangible achievements.
However, we do all like trophies. This is just a reminder to you that not getting a trophy does not mean that you are bad or should not do debate. Competition can have many results that cannot be predicted.
So, now that we know a little bit about competition and preparation goals, how should this influence the creation of a debate schedule? Well, the higher your goals are, the more time you should spend on debate. If you want to do drills and a practice speech every day, you will need to set a lot more time aside for that than if you just want to review files or evidence a little bit each day. Even though it is somewhat based on luck, the people who do well at tournaments tend to be the people who put in more work. You should keep these considerations in mind when deciding what your goals are and how to apply them to your debate schedule.
Do you have team assignments or large-group practices?
Another important consideration is if you have team assignments. Sometimes, teams will require you to produce your cases by a certain time before a tournament, or they will have debaters cut and highlight cards for the team. Teams will also have full team practices or classes that you are required to attend. Even though this is required debate work for the team, you should include these activities in your debate schedule because you don’t want to overwork yourself. Sometimes, students will only judge how much they work on debate based on their outside work alone. However, this can lead to burnout, as the required debate work and the optional debate work combined is more than they can handle. You should think about how much work is guided by your team and what you can do to supplement that work, not to overwork yourself
What other activities do you do/want to do?
It is very common for debaters to do additional extracurricular activities along with debate. These activities can also require a lot of time and invested resources. You should consider the activities you do and how they affect debate. For example, if you have a consistent student government meeting on Tuesday afternoons, then you can easily get rid of Tuesday afternoons as a time to do debate work. However, if you are in a sport, drama club, or any organization that gets busier as the season ends, this may be a time that the amount of hours and the time you spend on debate fluctuates. Consider listing all your potential and current activities and using a large calendar or a planner to list everything you have to do each week to make it easier on yourself to remember what is happening. You can also talk with the coaches or instructors of both debate and your other activity to negotiate a compromise if practices conflict with each other.
Do you have other obligations that you need to be mindful of?
Along with extracurriculars, some students have necessary obligations that are unavoidable, such as babysitting or cooking obligations for their family. Some students are even providing necessary streams of household income to their families. If this conflicts with your regular practices, chat with your coach about an adaptable solution. Similar to above, keeping a planner can also help you stay more organized and know when you have time to spare and when you have to complete your obligations.
How much do you enjoy debate/how dedicated are you?
There are many people in debate who participate with all levels of devotion. Some people want to qualify to their state or national tournaments. Others want debate to look good on resumes or college applications but could care less about competitive success. Whatever the case for you, you should adjust the time you spend on debate accordingly. The more dedication and enjoyment you get out of debate, the more time you may want to spend on it during the week.
What debate event do you do?
There are many debate events that require a lot more investment than others. Policy Debate and Progressive Lincoln-Douglas debate are events with a higher initial learning curve, so a novice debate may need to invest a bit more time learning the event initially to get a hang of it. Congressional Debate, World Schools, Public Forum, and Traditional Lincoln-Douglas are all events that have less of a learning curve than Policy Debate or Progressive Lincoln-Douglas, so a novice debater may need to invest less initial time in these events comparatively. Talk with your coach to discuss your event placement or to ask about the fundamentals you need to learn in each event.
Do you have to work with a partner, captain, or coach?
Along with team assignments and team practices, some programs may have you schedule meetings with your partner or team (in Public Forum, Policy Debate, and World Schools) to discuss tournament strategies. You may also have to meet with a captain or coach for more individualized practices. Talk with your team about these scenarios, as they not only affect how you can create your schedule, but how others have to change theirs
What Should I Put On My Debate Schedule?
Now that you have an idea of how much time you should spend on debate each week, you should maximize the utility of this time by allocating it to the things that will help you improve the most. Here are some events and activities that you should write on your schedule.
As mentioned before, if your team has large-group practices, you should record that on your schedule. If you have allocated time to work with your partner, coach, or captain, you should also put that on your schedule to make sure you don’t forget.
If your team allocates any required assignments, you should make sure you do them in a timely fashion. You should try to get these done first before you start working on other activities that are more self-focused rather than team-focused. Even if they aren’t required, these could also be the things you need to compete, such as complete cases or strategies that are formatted in a usable way, ready to be deployed in debate rounds.
The best way to improve at debate is to understand your arguments. This is done through a lot of ways, but research is the one-two-punch. Not only are you reading background knowledge on a topic, but you are processing that evidence into a usable form that you can weaponize in debate rounds. You should try to focus your research on improving your own cases and arguments for the year/topic, but also focus on updating backfiles that will be used time and time again.
Drills are a great way to keep yourself fresh and ready to debate, as well as improve the presentation aspect of debate. There are tons of examples of drills you can do online, and your coach or captain definitely knows many. You should find drills that target your speech concerns, such as clarity, speed, or enunciation, and repeat those drills for best results.
Reading/Watching for Background Knowledge
Research is a great way to read about the topic, but sometimes, an article is not the best in card format. That’s ok! Instead of cutting that article as a card, read it to gain helpful insight on the topic. You can also watch documentaries or videos that deal with your topic to make yourself an expert and ready to debate whatever’s thrown your way
Watching Debate Lectures/Reading Debate Articles
The internet is an amazing thing. Many years ago, you had to go to exclusive camps to get access to the debate information that you now have at your fingertips. Reading debate blogs (like this one) and watching instructional debate videos on youtube can be a great way to learn new skills and concepts from exceptional instructors that have shared their knowledge on public platforms. Check out Triumph’s list of debate resources for some ideas of where to get started!
In conclusion, your debate schedule should be completely personalized. Everyone’s experience with debate is different, and your debate schedule should reflect your own individual wants and needs as well as your personal goals.