In the past four years as a member of W.in Debate, first as a freshman and sophomore mentee, and then mentor, I’ve been able to experience both sides of this topic. From each of the techniques outlined below, I was able to foster a supportive environment with my own mentees as they reached their goals. As a mentee, I found these steps to make an undeniable difference in the course of my debate career. Beyond the incredible value of the education and resources passed on, mentor-mentee bonds can become long-lasting friendships.
How to Connect
As a mentor, explaining the history behind your own debate career and the path that led you to the success and style of argumentation you currently have is crucial to familiarizing yourself with your mentee. It also helps to establish a certain dynamic, showing you care about where they currently are in their debate career, understand their position, and help them to achieve their goals. This is fundamental to every mentor-mentee relationship, as providing examples of your personal experiences and your past helps to emphasize mentors are friends, not authority figures.
2. Consistency and Reliability
Though this is something we all struggle with as the season and school gets busy,
setting a specific meeting time a week and keeping to it can help both mentees and mentors. As a mentee, I would save topic prep until the two days before a tournament. Having weekly meetings helped space out that prep and hold me accountable. As a mentor, those weekly meetings gave me a simple and organized schedule. If you cannot make a meeting for whatever reason, I recommend helping each other create accountability by communicating these conflicts early.
How to Support
1. Admit Your Weaknesses
Part of being a mentor is understanding that the connections in the debate community, especially within W.in Debate, may be more helpful to your mentee than yourself in certain topics. For example, my junior year mentee loved philosophy, and it was my greatest weakness as a debater because I’ve never had much interest in the topic. I reached out to other mentors I knew to give her the resources she needed at the time. Additionally, direct your mentee to online resources or tutorials - W.in has many free lectures on their website, as well as plenty on Youtube. Finally, play to your strengths and help expand your mentee’s debate IQ by exposing them to new arguments. Many don’t know how interesting other styles of debate can be before learning about them, and a little inspiration can go a long way.
2. Understand Your Mentee’s Needs
Each mentee will have different expectations for what they want from their mentor. From basic drills, topic research, prep, tournament help, case edits, and judge prefs, there are a vast amount of topics to cover. W.in debate mentors are instructed to ask their mentees questions in their introductory meeting, but it is important to follow up on their expectations as the season progresses. Asking what your mentee would like to cover before your meetings (each week, bi-weekly, or monthly), is a simple step that can be extremely beneficial.
3. Emotional Support
Each mentor has their own limits and boundaries, but for me, emotional support is a critical part of the mentee-mentor process. Especially working with gender minority debaters in Lincoln-Douglas, who often are new to the activity or lack resources like coaches and large teams, emotional support can be more beneficial than added blocks. I have learned that sharing my own experiences and memories - from losing a round on a similar argument, or having a frustrating judge - can make a mentee feel less alone. As a past mentee from a small school, this kind of camaraderie might have been the difference between staying in the activity and giving up. However, remember during these conversations, it is more important to listen than to interject. Many of these students struggle with finding people willing to listen to their problems and support them through their troubles because of a lack of institution support, teammates, or even just friends in the activity.