Stop Forgetting About the Judges

Lizi Bakradze | 6/5/24

 “The way you gave your speech was great, but the speech itself was boring, you should try adding in more humor.” This is a real comment I got after giving my Declamation  speech, a speech where the whole purpose is to not change anything about the original.

A common disappointment that almost every person participating in Speech and Debate goes through is having a bad judge. Whether they didn't understand how ranking systems work, giving you completely wrong time signals or sometimes no time signals at all, or not even knowing what event they were judging, almost everyone at some point in their career has to deal with incompetent judges.

Seeing how judges are the ones determining the outcome of the effort and time competitors have spent practicing their skills, judges are often neglected and forgotten about. 90% of the time the reason a judge makes costly mistakes that can completely change the course of a tournament for a competitor is because they have no idea what they are doing. Judges are human and humans make mistakes, however, most of these mistakes are completely avoidable had these judges been given 10 minutes of education on what they are judging.

New judges often have absolutely no idea what they're doing. Sometimes this simply means they need a bit of assistance in how much time a speech should last but more often than not their ignorance often leads to completely outrageous situations. One PF competitor turned to Reddit to share their experience, saying “The judge said we beat them the entire debate, but voted us down because he wanted "a story" in the final focus. worst part: he turns to the other team and says he has no idea why he voted for them.” These judges have no idea what to look for in competitions, and this judge even pointed out that he had no idea what he based his decisions on. Understandably, most people would get angry at the judge for making such a rash mistake but the truth is their not exactly the ones to blame. You wouldn't blame a kid for not being a pro athlete when they have absolutely no experience playing sports, so why are we blaming these judges who were haphazardly thrown into a completely unfamiliar situation judging a speech or debate competition? Although it's incredibly annoying when an entire tournament gets completely skewed because of a judge who had no idea what they were doing, the real people to blame are the ones who threw these unsuspecting people into situations they were not trained for. And those people are, well, us.

Sure there are some hired judges who are being paid to know what they are doing, but most of the time judges are just parents who want to support their kids’ hobbies. But that is the problem, it's their kids’ hobbies, not theirs, they have absolutely no idea what is expected of them most of the time. So, what can we do about it?

To make things clear, I’m not exactly saying that judges play no factor in why they make bad calls, or saying that the people hosting tournaments or the competitors are the entire reason that judges have no idea what they are doing, what I'm trying to get at is that both of these factors play a role in the general judging experience. Ultimately, it was the judges who made the bad calls, whether they had 10 years of experience or 2 minutes, that doesn't change the fact that they hurt a competitor. But also, had these judges been given even just a small bit of guidance, they would have understood what they were judging and properly judged someone.

So how exactly would we educate these judges? Well NSDA actually already has multiple judging supplementals including the NSDA judge accreditation. This is a self-paced online certification course allowing judges to get access to resources like videos that teach you how to judge both speech and debate respectively. The certification module also has two levels so once a judge completes level one, they can move on to more advanced topics in whatever they are judging. This is an incredible resource that would be able to help introduce judges into the world of judging in competitions rather than going in completely blind.

But the problem is that most judges have no idea these resources even exist, so it is our job as a community to make it more widespread. Seeing how having to get the judge accreditation certificate isn't officially mandated, it's important that we do our part to make sure that judges actually use these resources and are aware of their existence. Before tournaments schools should host some sort of meeting, whether virtual or in person, going over these resources to their judges. Students, coaches, and advisors can also use their experience to help teach the judges things themselves or clear up any questions that judges may have before judging. Schools can even make it a requirement to watch at least one of the videos on judging before someone is allowed to judge. This not only ensures that the judge actually went through these resources and knows what to do but can also prevent schools from racking up fines for providing bad judges to schools. Seeing how these videos are no longer than 15 minutes, it ensures that judges can actually get the opportunity to watch and dedicate their time to these videos. Judges have busy lives and it's understandable that they can’t always dedicate hours of their time studying to be better judges, but these videos ensure that judges don't need to dedicate an insane amount of time to make sure they are in the loop.

It is important to make sure that the people who determine whether you go home absolutely ecstatic or totally disappointed fully understand what position they are in and what exactly they have to do. We need to not leave training judges off as a side thought or it will completely diminish the experience of competing for everyone participating. By acting as a community and making the resources that already exist more common knowledge, we can make sure that having a bad judge who doesn't know what they are doing becomes a much less common experience. So how about we stop forgetting about the judges, and instead build a stronger and more informed community, one judge at a time.