FAQ: Coaching and Strategy

Who are the coaches?

The Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum has an excellent coaching staff. Dr. Jake Thompson is the director of debate and also is a full-time faculty member in the Department of Communication Studies. Thompson is supported by an assistant director of debate and several assistant coaches. The assistant coaches are graduate students earning their master’s degrees in communication studies. For more in-depth information on the coaching staff, please visit our meet the coaching staff page.

What role does the coaching staff play in preparing students for competition?

The coaching staff plays an extensive role in preparing students for competition. Generally speaking, there are five key ways that coaches assist debaters in preparing for competition.

First, the coaching staff enables students to compete by dealing with administrative issues, making travel arrangements, recruiting new debaters, raising funds for scholarships and travel, and running the high school camp and preseason college workshop.

Second, the coaching staff plays an oversight and directorial role. Using our many years of combined debate experience, we develop a holistic view of the topic, strategize, and direct research assignments.

Third, we help students with tournament preparation. Not only do coaches teach students how to research effectively and how to turn out high-quality files, but they also cut cards and prepare files and strategies for the team. Another aspect of this role that coaches play involves helping debaters refine and perfect their assignments and files. Coaches will check, edit, and offer suggestions for improvement on all assignments that are turned in by beginning debaters. Students also are encouraged to develop, research, and design their own strategies. But these strategies and research assignments (especially early in a debater’s career) need to be checked by a member of the coaching staff.

Fourth, coaches constantly seek to help debaters improve their argumentation and debating skills. The coaching staff watches practice debates and then offers constructive criticism following those debates. At the end of each practice debate, coaches also will assign debaters a redo speech with specific improvements that should be implemented.

Fifth, vigorous coaching at tournaments also is an integral role that the coaching staff plays at UNLV. Before tournament rounds, a coach will spend every available minute with a team strategizing, preparing that team for their coming debate, and aiding them in adapting to the judge (or panel of judges). In addition, when they are not busy judging other debates, UNLV coaches will frequently watch their teams compete, observing carefully so that they can offer constructive criticism for improvement after the debate as well as help debaters come up with additional answers to arguments with which they may have struggled in the debate. If a coach is not available to observe your debate, there is a good chance that we may set up a digital video camera in your round so that the coaching staff and the team that was recorded can review the debate, make necessary changes and even prepare redo speeches from a tournament. This allows debaters to constantly improve, practice against "virtual" opponents, and hopefully never to lose to the same argument twice.

Do students have access to the entire coaching staff, or are specific coaches assigned to specific teams?

Members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum almost always have access to the entire coaching staff. With regard to pre-tournament preparation, judging practice debates, and at-tournament coaching, debaters are encouraged to seek out advice and instruction from as many members of the coaching staff as possible.

That being said, the areas of expertise vary for each individual coach, and consequently, it may be more beneficial for a debater to discuss a topic with one coach instead of another. For instance, one coach may be an expert at the nuances of plan-inclusive counter plans, while another coach may be an expert at answering performance affirmatives. In addition, the areas of knowledge on critical arguments among the coaching staff will vary. One coach may have read the entire corpus of Žižek’s writings, and another may have read a great deal of writing by the philosophical school of American pragmatism. Finally, areas of topic knowledge and research on a given resolution will vary between coaches. In the end, all UNLV coaches have a great deal of experience and knowledge, but it’s best to seek out an expert if one is available.

Do coaches "cut cards" that debaters use in competition?

Yes, one of the greatest benefits to debating at UNLV is that the entire coaching staff cuts cards that debaters use in competition. We will work hard to consistently turn out a large quantity of high-quality evidence. We expect every member of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum to do the same.

Some college debate teams are strictly "policy" teams, and some are "kritik" or "performance" teams. Do UNLV teams rely primarily or exclusively on one type of strategy?

The Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum prides itself on being a team that fully embraces strategic flexibility on both the affirmative and negative. The arguments that we refuse to run are those that we find morally reprehensible and those that can’t win debates. The coaching staff is dedicated to coaching debaters to win any type of argument that is intelligent, defensible, and most importantly wins debate rounds.