This is an idea that's been slowly developing in my head for a while now, and I'm not sure if it's "fully baked" yet, but I think it's worth taking it out and poking a toothpick in it, so to speak.

Anyway, I'm beginning to see more of what I do as a debate coach and judge as a matter of triage. To become a better debater, or in my case to coach people to become better debaters, you've got a lot of different things you can do, and it's pretty tough to choose which one to do at any given moment. Should I run a practice round? Should I cut more cards? Should I practice reading? Should I go to the small tournament or spend the weekend getting ready for the big tournament?

Imagine that you are in a field hospital surrounded by patients with various injuries. You've got severe head traumas, you've got scrapes and bruises, you've got everything in between. Time is of the esscence. Who do you treat first? Triage is the act of classifying patients according to their injuries and prioritizing people you can help the most.

I'm not a doctor, but according to Wikipedia, here are the categories used to classify patients:

Those who are beyond help: These are the patients who, sadly, cannot be helped. Their injuries are too severe. Basically all we can do for them is give them some pain medication and a comfortable bed. In debate these are the mistakes that, for lack of a better term, I will classify as "major f*** ups." You dropped an RVI in the block, you lost your flow before the 2NR, you set your timer for 8:00 and dropped a disad in the 1AR. No point in dwelling on these. You've gotta learn your lesson (don't drop RVIs, flow on colored paper, both partners should be timing) and move on. Any time you spend here is wasted time that you could be treating the patients who can still be saved.

The injured who need immediate attention: Here we have patients whose injuries are urgent, but treatable. If we get to them soon enough they can be saved. For a given team this might be lack of 2AC blocks, lack of basic topic knowledge, understanding the necessity of offense, etc. Obviously this level will be different team to team and division to division. Some of the less urgent issues become important when making the jump from JV to Varsity, for instnace.

The injured whose treatment can be delayed: These patients need to be treated, but they are not facing imminent death/dismemberment. This might be revising your 2NC Counterplan overview, learning a new kritik, working on that annoying verbal tick you get during your rebuttals. Classifying between this and the "immediate attention" category is (in my experience) the hardest part of being a debate coach. During this week's practice you want to do the things that will help your team win on Saturday, and it's no simple task knowing what patient to treat, especially if you have a large group of debaters to think about.

Those with minor injuries, who need help less urgently: These are the patients who you can send home for now, or have them wait around for a while until they get treated. If a novice's only answer to a "hege bad" disad is to read the Khalilzad card, you could inform her that Khalilzad is getting pretty old now and there are better hege good impact cards out there, but a more responsible move as a judge/coach is to set that aside for now, because the fact that she only has one 2AC answer on a disad is much more severe.

We've got lots of constraints on the amount of coaching we can do: our time, our money, our kids' time, energy, and ability to focus. I think that the best debate coaches have done so much triage that it comes naturally. They usually find themselves working on the things that will best help their students succeed. Coincidentally, I think that this is the primary utility of debate camp. By removing some of those constraints and allowing kids/coaches to focus on debate, you finally have a chance to work on those wounds that are not severe, but still ought be treated.

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