I Never Debated in High School

Sometimes the most successful aren't "the experts"

I’ve been coaching debate since 1995. I’ve had literally thousands go through my programs and study my materials. I’m very proud of the champions who have succeeded under my coaching watch. But I have a secret to tell you: I never debated in high school.

I’m pictured in the center with Dr. Chris Leland (champion coach of CCU debate team) and Scott York (founding president of Stoa Debate League).

Do you think that disqualifies me? The fact that I never debated in high school sometimes brings people to question my ability to run things. Some think that camps are better run by champions, that tournaments and even leagues should be run by “the experts.” I’m not convinced that this is the case. In fact, sometimes “the experts” are the worst people to run things.

When I entered debate teaching in 1995 (I was an English teacher) I fell in love with the sport of debate and devoured every resource I could get my hands on. Needless to say, I was disappointed at the quality of resources (well, lack of it) because they were typically written by champions or champion coaches who didn’t write to the basics. They had plenty to share about strategy and winning, but not much to say at the bare basics. I was brand new and needed to start at square one.

That’s how Blue Book for Policy Debate was written. It dials all the way back to the basics of debate, explains the structure of the debate round and then merges into the strategy of competition. It offers real models of debates and weaves the learning into the new year of the topic. I co-wrote Blue Book for Policy Debate with the new debater in mind.

Sometimes “the experts” aren’t able to see past their own expertise. They talk over the heads of the novice debater, making things more difficult than is needed. I have witnessed some of the best debaters in the nation to turn out as the worst coaches. To steal a football example, the first two Super Bowls were coached by Vince Lombardi, but his lead quarterback turned out to be one of the worst coaches in NFL history.

Looking back at the national tournaments of the last several years, every year has my alumni in the final rounds, several even taking the top award (the current #1 in the nation is an alumni and one of my authors). I have 37 authors working for me, many of them champion debaters, who pump out weekly content for competitors nationwide. I could go on and on of the accolades my students have accomplished. I’m so very proud of them.

To think that I didn’t do debate is kind of numbing. But it’s true.

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