The format

The first or at least one of the first tasks your organising committee will need to take on is to decide what format your selection process is going to take. Your decision may be based on such factors as how big your nation is, how much money the committee has, the cost of travel and how long it takes, whether debaters can be accommodated and so on. There are many ways to structure your team selection and it is important to find a format which works best for you and allows you to accommodate the most students and tap into the greatest potential.

If your debating community is large enough, you may be able to run regional trials and then invite only top five or so debaters from each region for a final selection process. Alternatively, you may find it more reasonable for a small selection team to travel to each region to see the top debaters’ debate and make a selection based on that.

The trials themselves may include a day of competitive debating either in the WSDC style or something similar, ideally where the students are each seen by multiple judges who can then get together at the end and evaluate their collective marks. However, don’t forget that watching students debate is not the only way to judge their overall ability. Many nations also run a series of other activities, in the final stages of their selection process, to enable them to get to know more about the skills and character of each student. Such activities might include small discussion groups, one on one interviews, general knowledge tests or even team building games.

Depending on how popular your trials are, you might like to invite every interested candidate to a special one off event where you can test their skills or you could attempt to stream line the pool in advance by placing specific eligibility criteria on their application such as their record of achievement in other debating competitions.

Alternatively, you could take the focus away from the trials themselves and arrange a national debating tournament from which you can identify strong debating talent and then invite them along to a separate selection weekend afterwards. Occasionally schools and debaters are discouraged by competing in direct team trials because they know that there are so few places available and the goal can seem very unattainable. By involving them in a competition under a different name, there might be interest from a broader group of schools and from students who, after progressing through the competition, could have a lot of potential but may normally be overlooked. The tournament can be run in schools around the nation and culminate in a grand final at a central location. The advantage of this system is that it not only generates good debating talent but it allows more students to get directly involved in a competitive debating environment and perhaps build on their skills so that they may be strong team contenders in future years. It also provides a platform to promote the debating activity within your nation and expand on it which may also help to generate sponsorship and media interest.

One problem with this system is that if a team performs poorly within the competition, they may be overlooked when it comes to being considered for the selection process even though, as individuals, the debaters may show merit. This is why it can be useful to combine these activities and have a tournament which allows for more long term, sustainable debating activity within your nation to partner a selection event which gives every student the chance to shine.