My most recent Saturday tournament (Varsity CX at Paris North Lamar in East Texas) consisted of three debates in which neither competitors nor judges knew exactly what was going on.
Because every team I competed against read a complicated advocacy of which they could not explain paired with a RoB (Roll of the Ballot) framed specifically around their advocacy. The case debate was non-existent. My case was freaking drones.
Now what is the problem with this? Its bad debate! If you can even call it debate.
After one such round, I talked with my opponents. They told me they had been doing debate for three years (both were juniors) and that they did not understand what they had read- a psychoanalysis K. Confused, I asked why they had decided to run thee K, to which one replied "My coach said it would win, he talks about this type of stuff all the time but it goes a bit over our heads".
And here we find the fault.
Psychoanalysis is a complicated critical theory that is hard to grasp for even the most educated political scientists, philosophers, and physicians. So why, may I ask, do we put it in to the hands of high school students to discuss, debate, and overall butcher? My thesis is that winning has overshadowed education in what is supposed to be its one last stronghold.
We write blocks and put them in to student's hands so that they win.
Why? Why can we not prepare debaters to think? Teach students to respond to arguments in their way, in a logical way that makes sense to them? We must remember that it is our students who are supposed to be learning to form argumentation, not us. It seems that with the "Golden generation" of high school debaters growing up and coaching, they can't let go of the fact that its not about them anymore. This appears to be the case with judges as well. The fad of "doing work" has appeared. Filling gaps in argumentation with a judge's own knowledge or opinions is not the point of debate (YOU WILL ALWAYS BEAT THE CHILD YOU ARE JUDGING, don't worry-we know that. You don't have to prove it), a good educator should judge on whats given to them, no more and no less.
Why do we tell our students they can't do something or that they must do something?
"You must put uniqueness first in your disadvantage."
"You can't run new arguments in the 2NC"
"You must spread." "You can't spread"
No, your regional biases and trends do not dictate what you MUST do in a debate round. The whole point of debate is to provide a structured round (speech length and order) while not limiting the student's creativity and argumentation i.e. if I can persuade the judge of it then I can do it. There are no rules in debate other than these (provided a few in certain circuits that dictate evidence rules and the like) and that is a good thing. It keeps debate what it is.
Coaches and judges alike need to realize, debate is about the students and their education. Winning is a side-effect of good debates.