I’d like to start this with a disclaimer: “right” is in quotations for a reason. As someone who’s debated with six different people in the past two years, I recognize that my definition of an ideal partner might be different than yours. These are just some suggestions to help those of you who are new to PF contextualize why having a partner who works well with you is important.
Here are a few reasons why finding a partner who is right for you is important.
- A partner is someone who you spend a lot of time with. From FaceTiming for hours in the evening to prep, to spending free periods cutting blocks, to enduring sometimes three days straight of nonstop rounds, you become a big part of each others’ lives. Thus, picking someone who you get along with well and has the same attitude towards debate as you is the first thing to consider.
- Debate is so much fun. You get to travel and meet people from around the country and see some old friends and make new ones. However, it can also be quite hellish if you’re on a losing streak or the tournament you’re at is badly run or the day that you’re supposed to get up and convince a bunch of judges to vote for you is also one where you feel tired or stressed or insecure. That’s why having someone who hypes you up and keeps you focused during the highs, but also lets you lean on them (metaphorically or physically, I’m not judging) during the lows is so critical.
With that in mind, here are some more specific factors to keep in mind:
- Commitment to prep. Like I mentioned before, debate takes a ton of work! Cases, blocks, weighing mechanisms, and overviews sure as heck don’t write themselves! That’s why you should pick a partner who will do as much work as you and is just as committed to the activity as you are. Unless you have some sort of agreed-upon arrangement where one person preps and the other just shows up for tournaments (which I would strongly not recommend), failure to do so can lead to a lot of resentment and unwarranted feelings of superiority. Additionally, it’s just not fair to you.
- Complementary personalities. Another thing that I would advise accounting for is if your personality matches up with your partner’s. Pair up with someone you enjoy being around and someone you trust! And even if you don’t know them well enough to trust them yet, think about whether it’s a relationship where trust has the potential to develop. Believe me, disliking and not trusting your partner is really terrible and exhausting!
- Attitude towards others (womxn in particular). NEVER EVER partner with someone who you’ve heard badmouthing other debaters, especially femxle debaters, with derogatory comments about their intelligence, skill, appearance, or sex life. Fist of all, it’s nasty and mean. Second of all, it’s hella sexist. Third of all, if they have such an easy time putting others down, chances are that if your relationship falters they will turn right back around and do it to you. Just don’t.
- Attitude towards winning and losing. Debate’s competitiveness, especially at the Varsity and JV levels, can faze some novices; having a winning obsessed-partner often makes that feeling so much more intensified. That’s why if you are less focused on winning and just want to learn, consider avoiding someone who has more experience than you, a big ego, and unreasonably high expectations of you all in one. Partnering with an individual like that can turn sour quickly and can make you feel inadequate, especially if they are not patient to explain to you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.
- Commitment to improving as a team. Assuming you’re entering debate with the intention of getting better, it’s important that you have a partner that is honest with you about your performance and feels comfortable giving you constructive criticism. This will build trust in your partnership, as well as help you improve throughout the season.
Edits: Sara Catherine Cook and Anna Kate Lembke