How To Prepare For A Debate Tournament: From Registration to Results

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
How To Prepare For A Debate Tournament: From Registration to Results

What to expect at a debate tournament?

A question that students often ask when new to debating is, “what should I expect at a debate tournament?”. Like any other activity, debating can seem confusing to outsiders, and this is especially true of debate competitions, which have their own rules, norms and quirks.

So read on for an insight into what to expect at debate tournaments, and how you can get the most out of participating in them. We’ll look at preparation for tournaments, tips for getting started, getting the most out of each round of debate, and what happens once the break is announced.

Before the Debate Tournament

Before you can debate, you need to register and prepare! Ensure that you are fully registered and paid, and that you are on the contact list for the tournament. Some competitions will send updates to all registered debaters, while others will ask for one contact per team or per contingent, or will deal directly with a teacher or coach.

Some debate tournaments have pages on Facebook or Instagram, or other social media, which are very useful to subscribe to as they will often be updated with important information in the weeks leading up to the competition. If they will email updates, make sure that you are receiving those emails – competition emails sometimes go into spam folders, so check those as well, and mark communications from the organisers as “Safe” or “Trusted” emails so that you will receive them.

Check if the tournament has any prepared motions – generally speaking, BP tournaments do not, but some WSDC competitions will publish prep topics ahead of the competition. You will probably need to prepare both sides of these motions – don’t neglect them, as preparing well may represent your best chances of getting some wins on the board in the preliminary rounds!

This is particularly true in tournaments where you know in advance that you will be asked to debate both sides of the motion in different rounds – each hour of preparation that you do is potentially uplifting your performance in two preliminary rounds, so it is well worth preparing yourself thoroughly for these motions.

Finally, make sure that you have the schedule for the tournament, that you have suitable accommodation (or transport) arranged for an in-person competition, or that you have checked the correct time zones for an online competition!

When it comes to tech, update your video messaging app to the latest version, which you can do by selecting “Check for Updates” in the menu bar. Most tournaments use Zoom, but not all; in other countries you may use Teams, Discord, Tencent Meeting or other platforms. If the tournament will take place on an online platform that you are unfamiliar with, do not wait until half an hour before the first round to set it up on your device!

Ideally, you will be in the same room as your teammates to debate in online tournaments, as this makes communication and preparation easier and more efficient. However, it’s not necessary for you to do so; if you’re spread around different places, that’s fine. Just ensure that you have a good means of communicating with each other outside of Zoom.

Starting the Debate Tournament

Debate competitions always have a check-in / roll call time published on the schedule for the first day (for example, on Saturday morning). Know when it is, show up on time, and confirm your attendance when asked – you’d be amazed how much tournament organizers love teams that do this simple thing!

Most tournaments will have a briefing document of some kind that will supply you with crucial information like which room to go to on campus, what you need to bring with you, and so on. These often go unread by debaters, but this is a mistake – the more you know about what to expect, the less nervous or confused you will be by the proceedings of the competition!

You may be asked to confirm your team details as well – check that your team name is correct, as well as dates of birth and your team’s Open / Junior / Novice / language status. It is usually easier to correct these at the start of the debate competition rather than halfway through. If you don’t know what any of these are, don’t be shy to ask.

Once the check-ins are complete, there will usually be a debaters’ briefing of some kind. Depending on the debate tournament this may be short or quite detailed. Either way, pay attention as there will be important information covered, even for more experienced speakers.

There may also be a tournament briefing which can cover everything from the schedule to the location of lunch, and much besides – in Japan you even get instructions for what to do in the event of an earthquake! Tournament briefings contain critical information about the competition and if you miss this, you may find yourself getting on the wrong bus back to the hotel, not getting anything to eat, or losing out on other aspects of the debate competition.

Preliminary Rounds

Once everyone is in place and ready, the matchups for the first round will be displayed and you’ll be ready to get under way. You will be shown your debate room, opponents and judge(s), followed by the motion – take a photo or screenshot to save the need for asking the organisers about it afterwards.

If there is anything you don’t understand about the motion, the time to ask is immediately after it has been released. The Chief Adjudicator and their team will be on hand to clarify anything that you don’t get – but be aware that they won’t supply facts or arguments to you, only clarify what certain terms in the topic mean!

Generally speaking, the Government Team – or OG team in British Parliamentary tournaments - have the right to prep in the debate room assigned for the round. Other teams should prepare elsewhere, whether that’s in the corridor or sitting on the grass in an in-person tournament, or on a different chat platform if online.

Make sure you know the start time for your debate. It is your responsibility to make sure you are in the debate room at the appointed time, ready to debate. If you are online it’s easy to miss this start time if you are not in the main Zoom hall, so keep an eye on the clock. A timer on your phone, set to go off at the end of prep time, is a great way to concentrate your mind on the tasks you need to complete during prep!

After each round of debate, you will usually get the result of the debate as well as some reasons and feedback from the judge. You may be asked to leave the room if you are at an in-person tournament; online, you would probably stay in the debate room and wait for the judges to return with their verdict. Either way, don’t go far.

Learning From A Debate Competition

Aside from the actual experience of debating against opponents, feedback is the most important element of a debate tournament. It is important to ensure that you get the most out of the debate tournament by maximizing your opportunities for feedback, as this represents the single best way for you to learn from rounds and improve at the activity.

After each round, the adjudicator will take some time to consider their decision. They will then let you know the result, explain the reasons for their decision, and will normally make themselves available for some team or individual feedback. Take the opportunity. There is always something you can learn from talking to the judge, and always something that you could have done to improve your chances of winning the round. Find out what it is, and try to improve on it in future debates.

When asking for individual feedback, or clarification of the reasoning for the result, always be respectful. Even if you disagreed with the decision, or even are upset at the judge for giving you a loss, your judge is likely more experienced in debate than you are. That is not to say that adjudicators are perfect, or always make the “right” call, but they are approaching the debate with a degree of objectivity that you are not.

It’s easy to think in retrospect that you explained something that an independent observer found unclear, or made an effective rebuttal that somebody else thought didn’t really take down an opponent’s argument. Learn to see yourself in debates as others see you, and you will find that your results improve.

Many tournaments will have a so-called “silent round” towards the end of the preliminary rounds. This is a round where you will not get the result and feedback afterwards, as it is withheld to allow for more suspense when the breaking teams are announced.

After the break announcement, you are allowed to approach the judge for feedback on the round – admittedly, the longer this happens after the debate took place, the harder it will be to get a very detailed feedback on the round, but it is still worth trying. Try not to approach them late at night during a social event – judges don’t love this!

Break Announcements

After the preliminary rounds are complete, the list of breaking teams will be announced. This is determined by adding up all the wins or points from the prelims, and many teams will have breaks for Junior or Novice teams, teams for whom English is a second language, and so on.

Different competitions have different breaks, and different metrics for calculating who is eligible for each one. Categories like Novice, ESL and so on can vary from tournament to tournament. As noted earlier, the best time to clarify this is in the days and weeks before the competition, the second best time is before the first round, and if all else fails, you can clarify your break eligibility during the preliminary rounds. Once the preliminary rounds are over, it is too late to discover that you actually should have been classified as a Novice team, for example – so check early and clarify the rules if you are not sure!

If you’ve broken, congratulations – it’s knockout time! The winners of each round (or top two teams, in BP debate) will go through to the next round; the other teams will be eliminated from the tournament. You may also find that audiences start forming for your debaters the longer you stay in the competition. Don’t get nervous – speaking in front of people is, after all, what debating is all about! Many debaters find that debating in knockout rounds, in front of ten or twenty or even two hundred people, is the most exciting experience that you can have in a debate competition.

If you haven’t broken, then don’t leave – you can learn a lot by watching the top teams in action, sometimes your only opportunity to see such debaters up close. Watch the round, discuss with your teammates or coach afterwards – and see how your call matches up to the ultimate decision in the round!

After the Debate Competition

At the end of the debate competition there will be an awards ceremony, with prizes for the top teams and speakers. If you miss this, it will normally be possible to see the results or watch a recording of the event, but it’s better to be present if you can.

The tournament tab will typically be released very shortly after the closing ceremony, and you will be able to check your scores and results from all the rounds, and see how close you came (or didn’t come!) to breaking. You will probably also get some certificates from the tournament, although this might take a bit longer after the debate competition has finished. You might even get a trophy!

In summary, these are some of the key elements of what to expect in a debate competition. If you haven’t taken part in one, we highly recommend doing so. You can find more competition info on our WSDL website, here:

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Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy