The Sport of Debate — Volatility & Opportunity


The legendary investor Peter Lynch famously said ‘I love volatility’.

And damn, do we have some volatility going around these days.

volatility = disruption = opportunity

I’m a debate coach, in the world of American debate — it’s a small world of about 5000 coaches and some thousands of schools.

The sport depends on schools, which aren’t open or are only kinda-open, and tournaments, which have moved online but have lost participants. The industry makes money from debate camps, which have also moved online and, though nobody’s saying it, have surely lost numbers. Where’s the debate community going to go from here? Here’s some thoughts.

Take this analysis as a case study of how your world, your hobbies, your industry, could similarly change.

  1. Debate disappears

On the assumption that social distancing becomes the new norm, tournaments will move online permanently, attendance for camps and meetings will drop, and the sense of community that once held the sport together will wither.

Numbers will drop slowly, with people really into the sport staying on for another year or (for the real debate nerds) two. Coaches and teachers will press to keep their programs open, but it’ll be a losing battle. You can’t keep up the charade for long.

2. Debate Transforms — community adopts The big draw of debate for students is the community. It’s tight for a few reasons.

First, successful debate teams require a lot of time working together, often on arduous tasks like research and case-writing that breed some sort of trial-by-fire camaraderie. Second, the whole thing is about talking. Obviously you’re gonna talk a lot in ‘s

peech & debate club’. That makes it intrinsically social in a way Robotics Club or Orchestra just isn’t. The third way I’ll keep to myself (*cough* they’renerdsandneedfriends *cough*).

In short, the social glue of the community — in schools, across districts, and may I dare say that despite the dearth of excellent debate-centric social media content, even the globe — may just be enough to keep this ship afloat, coasting by with online tournaments and Zoom camps. But I doubt it. 3. Debate Transforms — style adopts That’s why debate needs to develop. And while it’s at it, using the digital tools we have available, move to the year 2020. Or, hell, let’s move to 2030 while we’re at it.

Why can’t students use Powerpoints during their presentations? Why don’t they make video presentations instead? Why isn’t ‘video editing’ a key debate skill cause clearly a judge would be more likely to vote for it.

Students don’t have these skills, you say? Best learn ‘em.

Students don’t have time to learn them all, eh? Let’s double-down on this teamwork, shall we? yOu WaNt To ChAnGe An InStItUtIoN…that’s literally what debate is all about: critiquing (kritiking) institution. Debate may just move to a more practical, realistic, useful and digital-first world. It doesn’t mean we’d have to cancel banquets and tournaments forever, but it does mean we wouldn’t lose the inertia of the community.




Of course, the best hope for debate and for all of us is a vaccine or an act of God and a swift return to normalcy. Even in the best-case scenario, we can look to capitalize on this volatility to change the world for the better.



This article was first published on Medium. It'd mean a lot to me if you threw me a comment over there :)



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