How Matt's Views on Partnerships Led to a World Championship

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Matt's Story


Captained the 2018 World Championship Team

Yale University

"Debate partners are two people and the bond that connects them, not just two individuals trying to win the contest independently."

- Matt Song, 2018 World Debating Champion 


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Matt Song, former captain of WSDC Team China, shares three common misunderstandings about choosing a debate partner based on his own experience. He and his teammates won several debate championships with LearningLeaders and Team China, including the 2018 WSDC World Championship. He is currently studying at Yale University.


How do you create a great partnership?

Debating can be a very intimidating activity. Many times you feel like you are fighting alone. Thats when you need your partner to come to your rescue; to give you more arguments, to laugh out loud with you, and to enjoy every debate with you. Because of this, choosing the right partner is one of the most important things in a debate career.
Division of labor and cooperation with partners is good, and it is powerful to argue. An example comes to mind from when I was less experienced: In a practice session, I was debating with Coach Josh. As soon as the topic of debate was announced, I started to get a bit anxious. My speech needs to be 7 minutes. How can I fill up that time?
Coach Josh immediately calmed me down and analyzed what our strategy should be. Now I was a bit more organized and didn't panic. Josh promised to help me take notes during the debate if I needed to pay attention. In this way, as a third speaker, I was able to focus on how to present my argument in my speech. He took the pressure off me so that I could concentrate on maximizing the impact of my own performance. It was a great lesson.


Is it possible to have a perfect match?

Many people believe that the perfect debate partner exists. But Matt believes that you and your partner will always be different in one way or another - for example, the types of debate topics you are good at, your favorite debate position, or just your personality traits.

So the person you speak with is a teammate, yes, but also a partner. Although everyone is different, sometimes you feel that you can't compete with some people, and you should try your best to learn from them. Because you will learn different things from different debate partners. Whether you think you are better than him, or weaker than her, or are forced to take a speaking position you don't like, don't blame your partner for it. Try to work with them.

Because there is no real "perfect partner" in this world.




Should I only work with the same partner?

The second common misconception is that you should always work with the same partner. It can indeed be beneficial to build a relationship with the same partner over time, which is conducive to enhancing the tacit understanding between you and efficiency of cooperation. However, there are also many instances where people clearly do not mesh well with their teammates, but still persist in debating with them. So, we need to come out and say it's: it's okay to try a different partner.
In fact, this can often a good thing. This is where opportunities like the LearningLeaders internal competitions can be very instructive. Even if you have a regular partner that you are comfortable with, working with others will give you a new perspective, learning their skills and priorities in a debate; or simply learning how to get along with different types of people. Trying something new, even if it isn't ultimately successful in terms of results, will nonetheless enhance your overall ability as a debater.


So it's always about finding the best debater to partner with, right?

The third misunderstanding is that you should always try to partner up with the absolute best debater you can find. Matt also noted that when he first started competing, he usually tried to partner with the most powerful person in his class. Over time, he found that suitability is more important than just ability. So rather than just finding the people with the best debate scores and trying to persuade them to speak with you, it's normally better in the long term to team up with people who you can get along with, who motivate each other, who can support each other in victory or defeat.
Debating is a team sport. So partnerships, like any other relationship in your life, are not perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect match. But if you can find people who work well with you and also learn to cooperate with different types of people, then you will not only become a stronger debater, but arguably more important, will have a number of skills that you can apply to your future work life. 💪

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