After some discussion, my team made the decision to compete at the 2020 eTOC (Electronic Tournament of Champions) in Gold Public Forum Debate. In retrospect, that decision was both wise and beneficial. Like many coaches, I was a bit skeptical when it comes to online tournaments. I’ve been a coach for nearly twenty years, so it is safe to say that there are few activities I love more than attending an in-person speech and debate tournament. I was worried that something would go wrong with the technology at the eTOC. I was worried that the experience would seem tedious, and it would not be worth the time we spent in preparation for it. In the end, I was persuaded by my students that we needed to compete. I am very lucky to teach students who not only love speech and debate, but are flexible and not intimidated by new situations involving technology. As usual, my students were right. The online format provided extremely educational rounds that the competitors and judges enjoyed from the safety of their own homes. One of my students, in particular, noted that he felt more rested, and in general, healthier throughout his tournament experience, as he was able to eat healthy food (at tournaments we are often limited to the “junk” food that is sold by the tournament concessions stand), wake up at a reasonable hour because we didn’t have to travel to the tournament, and get emotional support not only from his teammates and coach in between rounds, but also his family members.
As many states have already made the decision to transition to online tournaments, and as the Texas Forensic Association is currently making the decision as to whether its Fall season will be completely online, competing in the eTOC definitely benefited my students, as they became accustomed to the online format for a competitive debate tournament. The more exposure students can get to this format, the more comfortable and prepared they will be if the TFA season starts online in August. The students who have had more opportunities to practice online will have a leg up on their competition.
So, consider me a convert. I enjoyed my experience at the eTOC and I look forward to working at UTNIF online, and if the competitive speech and debate season goes online this Fall, I know that I will be prepared to help my students transition to this format. Thankfully, for many of my students (those who competed at the eTOC and those that attend UTNIF this Summer), their first online tournament in August (if that is their only way to compete) will not be their first time competing online. Debate camp has always been important for the growth and development of students as they progress in their debate careers. However, now more than ever debaters will need the skills, knowledge and experience they get at the UTNIF Online to feel confident and prepared for competitions in the regular season as we navigate this new normal.