Top 5 Debate Skills

*this post was adapted from an Instagram post of the same name! You can find us on Instagram at @debattettrack


It might sounds hackneyed and sales to list off a bunch of “skills” you “learn” from debate.

But ask any debater why it’s worth doing debate, and that’s exactly what they’ll do. Likewise, any former debater how the sport helped them, and they’re quite likely to add some of the academic skills to the conversation, along with "great memories with my friends" or something equally sappy and heartwarming.

Or, think about it this way: what skills do you learn from chess? Well…chess. And…focus? The list isn’t too long. What do you learn from playing rugby? Rugby skills, I hope. Teamwork. Athleticism. And 100 ways to ice an injury.

And how about debate? What can this activity teach you?


1. Reading

First, reading. When a new topic is out, it’s time to learn, and it’s time to cut evidence, and it’s time to reread the article because it’s 3am and you’ve been studying too long and you’re way to tired to understand college-level evidence. Yes: it’s not uncommon for my elementary- and middle-school students to wrestle with academic journal articles (well, excerpts at least). By the time you get to college, speed-reading, skimming, and reading even dense articles should be a breeze.


2. Writing

But of course, you’re reading for a purpose. Next, writing skills are developed when you put your evidence together. You learn a specific type of writing— academic, persuasive, and depending on your event, informal writing. In other words, a wide gambit of writing for a goal— to convince a broad audience to believe you.

3. Research

Along the way, you’ll gather skills in research, or the correct way to sort, filter and comb through the 235 million Google results under ’nuclear conflict’ in an efficient way that will get you those Ws without sacrificing those Zs. No, kidding, haha, of course you're not going to sleep if you do debate.

4. Public Speaking

This research isn’t for nothing. The essence of a debate round is all about public speaking. You’ll develop your voice, your stage presence, your charm and your confidence as you get more practice rounds and tournaments down, accumulating hundreds of times more speaking hours than your non-debate counterparts. I don’t have two tell you the value of being able to persuade a room that you’re right.

5. Argumentation

And this is what debate means, in essence: argumentation. The nuances of logic, the parts of arguments, LINKS— you’ll never look at arguments in the same way again, whether it’s about the best console or the best beer. You’ll have to nerf yourself when arguing with your friends, cause otherwise you’ll always win.


6. Emotional Control

Debates can get heated, so this one might not be so obvious. But, without emotional control, you’ll end up losing a lot of rounds. Debaters are forced to learn social maturity (yes, I know you can think of an exception, trust me, so can I!) by letting logic and ideas play out on the debate stage, rather than letting ideas hit you like a personal attack.

7. Teamwork

Debate isn’t a team sport (even for LDers (kinda)). Teams that work together win rounds; teams that fight or don’t sync up, don’t. One of the highest compliments I can give my students isn’t about there technique— that can be taught quickly enough— but their teamwork, which predictably smooths over many imperfections in a round and gives the debate pair an enormous boost is confidence, ethos, speed and ideation.


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