This is an adapted version of a lecture Isaiah McPeak gave in 2012 at debate camps nationwide.
As Team Policy debaters prepare for the new debate season this coming fall, the time and thrill of researching new cases will also come full swing.
With this time, intermediate and advanced debaters take great pride in preparing a case that might do well or even win nationals. It takes intense time and energy to prep a good 1AC. With this feeling, there can come an additional urge to keep the case idea a secret. After all, if it is a winning case, you don’t want everyone running it. That is a completely normal feeling. Every world-class competitor in every sport has a few trade secrets that they utilize to do what they do best. However, debate is different.
Winning a debate round because your opponent was under-prepared, and under-aware of your aff topic does not make you a better debater. In fact, it makes the league worse as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong, below at the close, I include a contextual disclaimer, where I recognize that teams can learn a lot from hitting cases they have no material on, it can stimulate intense critical thinking and teach some different skills. However, all in all, it loses in totality to the #2 point I list here in this article.
Here are four definitive reasons why case sharing gives you a better shot at winning nationals!
- Debate ethics:
Debate was and is a chance to practice respectful dialogue with intense analytical disagreement. This means that debaters can intellectually dominate their opponents, and yet still treat them with due deference and esteem. This ethical standard travels across most sports. People tend to falsely equivocate this sentiment with a picture of two British men with handlebar mustaches playing a “gentleman’s sport.” Rather, think of it as two trained fighters, shaking hands, and congratulating each other on a good fight after they have completed a tense battle of physical strength and will.
It would be wrong for a competitor to seek out a tactic that makes the playing field uneven. Even if it were legal. Because then, one competitor would win, not based on equal footing, but based on the sheer inequality of environment. Keeping an Aff case a secret is not being tactically smart, or technically more strategic.
When two teams debate, usually, both can learn something from the round. Things went right, things went wrong, and the judge decided who won. Each team can learn more from a hard, educational, equal round than they can from winning (or losing) to a case which one side had no material on. When one team is unprepared, it makes the debate as a whole worse. Why? Because rather than discuss warranted analysis with impacts and real-world implications, the negative team is forced to run whatever generic arguments are in their binder, and whatever comes into their head on the fly.
The quality of the debate round is inexorably worse.
The debaters learn less, the Aff team hits easy arguments etc.
The Affirmative team should want to have hard rounds, with lots of good negative arguments! Why? Because after the first or second tournament, the team will be prepped against most (if not all) of the good arguments against their case. The harder the rounds, the better the case becomes. Every Aff round is a chance to see whats wrong and tweak it before the next round, or the next tournament.
During more intense rounds, the teams grow more, learn more, and both Aff and Neg get better.
- By Nationals, it won’t matter.
If indeed the case in question is really good, then by the end of the season, it won’t matter. If it makes it to Nats, everyone will know, and the good teams will have prepped the case extensively. Why not speed that process up, and be ready for all the run-of-the-mill arguments way earlier in the season? Eventually, it won’t matter that your case is secret, if it’s really that good.
But, some may object, if it doesn’t matter, why all this fuss? Well for the aforementioned reasons above, it devalues numerous rounds during the season, and the debater’ skills aren’t visibly grown in any quantifiable way. Also, the aff team suffers hugely, because they win based on surprise, not skill. Giving them a false sense of security.
- Do Parli
Some league veterans would respond, saying it is important to foster and grow the critical thinking skills required for debaters to hit a case with no-prep and win. Valuable skills are cultivated when you are forced to stew up an 8 minute speech with only 8-11 minutes of prep. My response to this – Parliamentary debate is a style literally built off that argument. Do Parli, if those are the skills you want to foster. Policy debate is supposed to be supported, warranted, impacted debate. Policy is supposed to have sources, structure, evidence, and analysis. If Policy debate doesn’t have these, it suffers, and the round suffers too.
So what’s next?
Let me proffer an alternative that won’t be easy. In fact, it will be rather hard.
Share your case as much as possible. Share it with your club, share it with your debate friends, and as soon as you see posting/pairings, find the other team, and hand them a copy of the 1AC before the round (if possible). Trade your case for others, submit it to your coach and ask for critique etc.
- It allows the case to go through a crucible of fire, burning away the parts that are weak
- It allows the debater to honestly assess if the case is good! This process can take a long time, with the debater sometimes switching cases mid-season. Instead, with this method, it would take mere weeks.
- All the negative teams a debater faces, are more prepared, making the rounds better, and growing both teams.
Lastly, some will argue, that Negative had (theoretically) infinite amount of time to prepare their own negative research, and thusly should have been prepared for every eventuality and every case possible. This is not only naive to say, but also a failure to recognize that the negative is also an Affirmative team half of the time. Time is limited.
All affirmative can do, is control their end. If their case is well known, and the negative team still isn’t prepared, then that was not Affirmative fault. Providing a 1AC beforehand, however, will mitigate that, and allow for a few more precious minutes of prep.
Case sharing is a way to make the league better and to make the debaters in it WAY better. Debate builds skills that help debaters become persuasive communicators, and case-secrecy only hampers that goal.
So try it out! Next season, give case-sharing a try. The first tournament will be a little rough because everyone will be ready for the case. However, after the tournament, you will be able to fix it, make it better, and prepare responses for every argument you faced.