Insights into Sydney’s competitive debating scene

Mark Slaven, of coaching firm Speaking Schools Australasia, said some private schools took debating as seriously as rugby and invested thousands of dollars in educating students.

“The coaching market in Sydney is very competitive, so coaches at the highest level are paid exceptionally well […] Most of them are college students, and many of the top private school coaches make over $100 an hour,” he said.

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Jade Di Girolamo of debate coaching firm Sydney Debating League named Sydney Grammar as Team Outstanding. It has won eight of the last 15 GPS debating competitions. “Most schools would be very afraid of grammar and would accept defeat before entering the debate. They’ve been coached very, very well, they’re honed, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable,” she said.

Liam Donohoe, co-founder of debate-coaching firm Speakers Corner, said while for decades speakers have been judged on the so-called “three Ms” of debating – the 40-40-20 split between matter, method and manner they no longer held me to it.

“What is certain is that university competitions and the vast majority of school competitions have concluded that matter is the most important aspect,” he said.

Melissa Liu, 17, who is part of the Sydney Girls’ winning team, said debate is more than just the techniques used to win a competition, it has changed the way she approaches problems.

For Sofia Malik, it was forced to question many of her pre-existing beliefs.

“A lot of times we say, ‘Yes, freedom of choice is important,’ but then we actually have to explain why it’s important, and that’s often the hardest part,” she said.

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Justin Scaccy

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