Competitive debating is about defending or attacking a motion as persuasively as possible. A panel of judges decides who won the debate on the basis of the persuasiveness of the debaters. As such, a judge’s opinion does not matter when deciding upon the ranking; what does matter is argumentation, strategy, and presentation.

Competitive debating is a good method to work on crucial soft skills (AKA 21st century skills) like delivering a message powerfully and to quickly analyse someone else’s arguments. Moreover, it forces the debater to consider socially important questions with healthy criticism.

Different from an election debate

Most people know debating from politics or VARA’s Onderweg Naar Het Lagerhuis. However, there are very important differences between such debates and competitive debating:

  • Participants can rarely choose whether they have to propose or oppose the motion. Debaters are randomly allocated by the organisation. As such, debaters may need to support an opinion that is different from their own.
  • Participants receive only limited time to prepare. At most tournaments, a preparatory time of 15 minutes is used in which debaters are not allowed to use the internet. This makes sure that the competition is not about who is best at looking up information or who is most passionate about the motion but about who can bring the best arguments on the basis of their own knowledge and insight.
  • The adjudication generally takes place according to some technical criteria. The judging panel usually consists of people who are debaters themselves or who have debated in the past; they know the rules of the game well.

Where is debating practised?

Competitive debating is mainly practised at high schools, universities of applied sciences, and research universities. There are debating societies throughout the Netherlands that you can join to get better at competitive debating.