The Art of Adaptation

Rishit Pradhan | 5/6/22

Following the California State Tournament this weekend, I found the opportunity to relax and rewatch the Pixar classic “Inside Out.” For those who have not watched the movie, it shows the life of a young girl who moves to San Francisco away from her friends and hockey team in Minnesota whilst illustrating her emotions as individuals that affect her actions. All in all, it is a movie about adaptation and adjusting to change, which is something debaters and speakers have yet to fully learn.

Imagine this, it is the bubble round of the prestigious Glenbrooks Invitational, and you are a debater that primarily focuses on philosophy-based argumentation. Throughout the tournament, you have been getting highly preferred judges, and everything seems to be going well. Suddenly, tab pairings for Round 7 come in, and to your dismay, it is the dreaded “LARP” only judge. In many cases, it is game over, and after losing, you will say that it was a judge screw. This is why adaptation is key; it allows debaters to be successful regardless of the judges that judge them.

I am not arguing that judge screws are not real; many times, you wholeheartedly think you won a debate, and the end result comes out as an L. Many times you think that you gave the best speech in the round, and you are ‘blessed’ with a 6. But in debate and in life, it is important to recognize that nothing is truly fair, and it is not about certainly winning the round but maximizing your chances of winning the round. Every action within the debate space has connections to the ballot; most people try in a debate round because they want the ballot, be it because they want to win the tournament or because they want to spur out of round change; the ballot is critical to every action within the debate space. The ballot is in the hands of the judges, and you must be willing to conform to said judges if you want the ballot. In many cases, debaters shove down Ks and other forms of difficult-to-understand arguments down the throats of lay judges at circuit tournaments and end up being surprised when they receive an L 26.

As someone who has competed in more than ten events and has been successful in multiple, I know what it is like to adapt based on your situation. There are three crucial steps that go into any form of adaptation, identifying the judge, adjusting your style, and executing it in a way that maximizes your opportunity to win the ballot. But there is a thin line between adaptation and completely shifting your debate style. According to California State Octafinalist and National Qualifier in Lincoln-Douglas debate, Andrew Shenouda, “I adjust my approach without altering it too much to the point where it is not natural.” This approach is critical because whilst competing; you must not lose what defines you as a speaker or a debater.

The lack of adaptation in the debate space is something that must be overcome. After a round, saying that your loss was a ‘judge screw’ will be a coping mechanism because you will still end up with a loss at the end of the day. Therefore, it is important to adjust your debate style and also look towards more options as a debater that can improve your skills on a holistic level. As a speaker, it is important to understand the audience and convey the message in a way that they can understand as well. Just like in the movie Inside Out, it is time that debaters adapt to adaptation.