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Standards:Debate Tournaments

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Education, not competition, defines IDEA's goal. However, structured and friendly debate tournaments offer a unique means to achieve excellence in education. Debate tournaments allow students to test their skills and provide an incentive for students to prepare and practice. For this reason, IDEA helps its members to organize debate tournaments.

Tournaments can range from small, local tournaments (which might take place after school) to large, international tournaments that can attract hundreds of debaters and coaches. Tournaments can be brief, afternoon long competitions that involve only a few rounds, or may be longer events that span several days and include debates, seminars, and social events.

As feasible, IDEA member associations should hold annual national tournaments (involving schools from across an entire country), regular regional tournaments, and frequent, small local tournaments within local communities. If appropriate, the community that hosts a regional or national tournament should arrange for coaches and debaters to stay with local families to keep costs to a minimum and in order to accommodate participants who may have come from far away. IDEA works with members associations in orchestrating international tournaments; such events are normally held at campsites or inexpensive conference centers.

Debate Tournament Topics

Within the guidelines appropriate to the specific formats of debate that occurring at a given tournament, tournament organizers are responsible for choosing the resolutions. For many formats, participants receive the topics at least one month in advance in order to allow sufficient preparation time. However, in parliamentary debate formats topics and motions may be announced prior to the tournament, but specific motions will not be chosen until shortly before each debate round. Periodically, the same topic may be debated at various tournaments; teams thus have a chance to improve their performance with practice and to strengthen their understanding of the topic.

Debate Tournament Structure

Debate tournaments consist of a set of preliminary debates, or �rounds," in which all teams participate. Within the guidelines appropriate to the specific formats of debate occurring at a given tournament teams should debate each side of the topic in alternating preliminary rounds. Thus, a team that takes the affirmative position in the first round is the negative in the second.

The sides in the first round of a debate tournament should normally be assigned, or �paired�. After the first round, teams should be paired based on their performance up to that point. Teams are said to be �power-paired� when they each have the same or similar records. In a power-pairing situation, a team that has won the first debate should encounter, in their second debate, another team that won its first debate. By pairing teams in this way, tournament administrators are able to ensure that teams have a chance to debate teams appropriate to their skill level.

Following the preliminary rounds, teams with the best records proceed to elimination rounds. Successive elimination round pairings culminate in a final round in which the top two debaters or teams debate one another. To reach this point, pre-final round "high-low" elimination pairings are established � higher-seeded debaters or teams (i.e., teams with relatively better records) debate lower-seeded debaters or teams (i.e., teams with comparatively more losses or fewer awarded speaker points).

As a way of recognizing excellence, most tournaments award small prizes to successful teams and individuals. However, in order to prevent students from becoming overly competitive, IDEA members do not permit large prizes at tournaments. Rather than increasing the value of the prizes offered, tournament organizers are encouraged to offer prizes to a broader range of participating students.

Trainings at a Tournament

At most IDEA tournaments, time should be set aside to offer training sessions for students, teachers, judges and those who are simply interested in learning more about debate. This type of training emphasizes education, both in terms of increasing student's knowledge and in enhancing the skills of the debaters and their coaches.

Training sessions should be interactive and geared toward involving participants in topic discussions. Tournaments may also offer sessions that focus on specific debate skills. Training sessions should be run by the most experienced educators available and should provide opportunities for students to ask questions. Moreover, students from different teams and schools should be encouraged to work together on different assignments, allowing students to share their knowledge and experience, and diminishing an overly competitive atmosphere.

For general guidelines on conducting a training, please refer to IDEA Trainings.

Judges at Debate Tournaments

Tournaments should involve a certain number of volunteers who act as judges. Judges are recruited from the local community, and may include the teachers or coaches of teams in competition, as well as parents, university students, or other volunteers. Tournament organizers should provide the judges with all the training they need to judge a debate, since these individuals are not assumed to be experts either in debate or in the topic being debated.

Judges are obligated to follow the code of ethics adopted by all IDEA members associations. Apart from issuing a verdict, judges are required to offer students written or oral justification for their decisions, and to provide students with feedback on individual and team performances. While judges are asked to base their decision solely on the interplay of the round, those judges with specific knowledge of a given topic should also offer the teams the benefit of that knowledge when giving comments on the debate.

For general guidelines of judging, see Judge Accreditation Process and Standards.

Community Involvement

Whenever possible, debate tournaments should be community events. Members of the local community should always be invited to participate, in capacities ranging from judging to simply providing an audience for students.

Parents and other community members can also participate by shuttling debaters to and from the tournament, by helping to prepare food for the students, or by hosting students who have traveled long distances to attend the tournament. In all circumstances, the contribution of parents and other community members should be encouraged and gratefully acknowledged.

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