It’s hard to believe that I’m about to wrap up my fourth year of coaching debate, matching the length and breadth of my APDA career when I actually debated the rounds myself. I have spent as many years teaching, supporting, cajoling, and cheering on Rutgers as I did speaking for Brandeis. It’s hard to put in perspective.
Of course, because of the ever-present reality of the sensation that time is speeding up, a universal for temporal beings that I once explained in depth on this blog, it’s felt like less time. And that first year was shorter, as was my first year of debating for Brandeis, the product of the rule that novices could only go to certain tournaments due to limited funding at the latter at the time. But the first year at Brandeis may have been the longest as I was establishing myself in a new field, a new arena despite my debate experience from earlier schooling, while the last four years have been ensconced in a community with which I could not be much more familiar.
I went to 73 tournaments as a debater. Plus two trips to Worlds to make 75. Plus, if you want to get technical, four Brandeis-hosted tourneys at which I judged, making 79 total. And I guess the one comeback tournament at BU makes a nice round 80. This weekend, I will return to Brandeis for the third time in my coaching career, to attend my 87th tournament as a coach. Plus four Rutgers-hosted tournaments, to make 91 in total. While I competed in 444 rounds as a debater, I have probably judged somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 rounds as a coach. And I’m not done yet. While you only get four years on APDA to make your mark in competition, there’s no upper limit on how much you can coach or judge.
Of course, the season is longer than it used to be. I had a 50-tournament streak that took me from late sophomore year through graduation; now the schedule routinely schedules 28 weekends a year of competition, or 54% of the available weekends in an annual calendar. The league is larger, there are more tournaments on average in a weekend, and the overall weight of APDA is heavier. The competition has probably never been deeper and the breadth of impact of the league overall is at or near its peak, despite whatever other experienced debaters would tell you about how the quality of competition has always been declining since they personally got good at the activity.
But as I’m about to head up to what I used to affectionately call The Beans and its “mining town” suburb to again traverse the hills and brick halls of alma mater, it’s impossible not to get philosophical about an event that has brought me one-thousand rounds of competitive two-on-two debate, and probably close to half that many practice rounds. It may not strictly meet the ten-thousand hour rule of mastery in terms of actual time in an official match, but with weekends being 36-hour minimum commitments counting travel time, we’re in the neighborhood of 6,000 hours of tournaments and another 2,000 of practice.
One of my debaters asked me yesterday if I could do this job for twenty years. I told him it was hard for me to picture doing anything for twenty years without getting bored, without feeling like life was somehow falling away into repetition and drudgery when other opportunities were waiting to be explored and teach me things. In contemplation of what eight years of college debate on one end or the other of the round has looked like, twenty years seems even less possible to fathom. How anyone can return to a job for decades on end totally defies my sense of imagination. I can picture people crossing the Sahara with no water and only the will to live, but a fifth of a century at the same workplace utterly boggles me.
But preparing to drive up the well-worn path from central Jersey to eastern Massachusetts, I still feel inspired, excited, alive with the possibility of a new day of debate. 171 APDA tournaments in, I’m not done yet.