A Note from David about CDL Judging

I wanted to touch upon a couple of points about judging coming out of Tournament Three:

First, with the exciting growth in our league, we will soon be in a position where we will not have enough judges to cover all the student debaters who are joining our league. This is particularly true in Conference “AA” and Conference “A,” where we have fewer regular judges who are alumni of those schools.

The CDC will be working on some outreach to area universities in order to recruit and train more students who can contribute to our tournaments as judges. Please contact David at davidsong@chicagodebateleague.org if you know of some alumni of your school, not necessarily even former debaters, at area colleges who have interest in being trained to judge at our tournaments – Education, Pre-Law/Political Science, and Communications majors in particular would be good prospects. We’re also interested in reaching out to Professors in order to help get college students class credit or identify interested potential judges.

We also welcome parents, teachers, and other community members who would take interest in judging as well and can come out to your school to do a judge training if there are 3 or more adult judges available. Contact David at davidsong@chicagodebateleague.org if you have a number of judges you’d like to train on-site.

Experienced coaches in particular who have built their team should look to meet their expected judging commitment as often as possible – having 1 judge for every 4 debaters is something that is possible to do and your alums and supporters of the team can add a lot of value to tournaments while getting paid $40 to help multiple other students have the chance to learn. Schools like Schurz, Marshall, and Mather, to single out a few, have done a great job of involving their recent alums to the benefit of their teams and our league overall.

Second, we had a few complaints about judges at the DePaul Mid-Season Classic. We want to remind coaches that inattentive, inappropriate, or unhelpful judges do not meet our standards for adult contributions to student development and we want to know which judges we need to be concerned about in this regard. The proper, and only, formal channel for pursuing a complaint about a judge is by filling out a Notice of Concern. We have these at the Judge Table at every tournament.

Coaches don’t need to and shouldn’t handle poor judge conduct by confronting a judge, nor should they accept judges not taking their job seriously as something to be expected – whether coaches or paid judges, we entrust adults with facilitating student knowledge and confidence and take that seriously. We need to know if judges are not making the debate about the debaters but instead about themselves through distraction, interruption, rudeness, or indifference. Filling out a Notice of Concern for a legitimate reason doesn’t make you a whiner or sore loser – it helps us to identify which judges we need to work with to remedy a problem that affects multiple other schools and students.

I follow up and investigate every Notice of Concern – we’ve suspended a judge for a tournament this year already for poor conduct and gave warnings to judges that have led to better and more attentive judging behavior. Repeat offenses can lead to longer suspensions or being banned from judging in the Chicago Debate League altogether.

The Notice of Concern is for judges who don’t present an opportunity for students to enjoy a fair debate and don’t conduct themselves in a way that allows students to learn and improve. Judges who text, don’t flow, say unhelpfully critical things in the oral critique, and make students feel less confident about their improvement should be noted through a Notice of Concern.

Finally, as a constructive reminder that you should please share with your alums, college judges, and any others you think would benefit, good judges do the following:

  • Flow to the best of their ability
  • Offer positive but substantive praise to debaters (particularly in JV debates)
  • Offer usable constructive criticism for how debaters can improve
  • Leave their personal politics, social views, debate philosophies, and biases out of the debate – save it for your blog and leave it off the ballot and out of your oral critique
  • Allow the debaters to prove what is “true” about the arguments in a debate
  • Allow the debate to be about the debaters and their ideas
  • Use the oral critique to increase students’ knowledge about a subject area or to lead them to further exploration
  • Have humility and a sense of humor about themselves, no matter how vast their debate legend or importance otherwise
  • Refrain from insulting students or criticizing them about things they can’t control (stuttering, accents, appearance) that are beyond their academic performance
  • Offer balanced comments to both teams rather than praising one team and tearing the other team down
  • Offer balanced comments to both partners on each team rather than simply blaming one debater for everything that went wrong in a debate
  • Offer specific suggestions for how to improve upon the execution and strategy in the debate, no matter how lopsided it might be for either side
  • Refrain from using silly, extreme language like “dumb,” “stupid,” “awful,” “hate,” “terrible,” etc. You’re not Charles Barkley, Gordon Ramsay or Simon Cowell and this isn’t your chance to be like them – making yourself big by making others feel small never works out for the petty cartoon villains of the world (especially the British)
  • Are honest about their expectations and abilities – don’t tell debaters to “talk as fast as you want, run whatever you want” if you’re a relatively inexperienced judge who would prefer that debaters speak slowly and clearly.
  • Know when they’ve been helpful enough and information overload is imminent – you can’t teach students everything about debate in a 5-minute oral critique. You win if you give them 1-2 things they can use going forward
  • Encourage students to use more effective teamwork and give ideas for things students can work on with their coaches
  • Offer encouragement for students who are doing things most students their age could never do
  • Help teachers to make students want to come back the next tournament and do it again, but even better

Please contact us with any questions or thoughts.