“You play like you practice.”
No wiser words have been spoken. As we’ve been discussing in the Building a Winning Program series, there are no short cuts to creating a winning culture in your Model UN organization. In fact, there is a lot of hard work that goes into any winning program before you can even begin to discuss conference preparation.
Assuming you’ve read the previous installments of the series, you know what has to be done.
Now it’s time to go over conference preparation, RE: Practice.
There is no winning program in the world, whether football, debate, basketball, or Model UN, that does not play like it practices. Sports teams have practice every day after school and on many weekends. This varsity approach to practice should be mimicked by your Model UN team.
If you want to be competitive at conferences, your Model UN team should be training for at least 2 hours every week.
Developing a Training Schedule
I’ll draw the analogy again to your high school football team. Not every practice they have is a scrimmage. Practicing is about much more than the whole game. It’s centered on developing individual skills to enhance your overall game play.
In this vein, your Model UN training sessions should focus on specific skills: moderated caucus debate, procedure, crisis note writing, resolution drafting, researching, question and answer strategies, and so on.
At the start of your semester, assemble your leadership team and advisor and map out your training schedule. Each week, focus on developing one or two skills applicable to the conferences that your team will attend. Perhaps even more importantly, post the training schedule and mandate that members who want to travel attend all of the sessions.
I’m a proponent of scheduling full length simulations at least every month, particularly on a weekend or for an extended period of time after school. Full length simulations should run for at least 3 hours.
We all know that Model UN is a marathon and not a sprint. Developing debate endurance is critically important to performing well at Mid-Major and Major conferences in the United States. You cannot expect to maintain the same level of debate for 18 hours of committee time if the simulation in school only lasts an hour.
Take Simulations Seriously
Teams can develop a nasty habit of making practice simulations silly. Veterans tend to slack off and set terrible examples for the rest of the team. My advice: rotate the chair person for your simulations and name awards for each simulation. Then track the results of each of your practice simulations to create a leader board. This will help keep everyone accountable and could heavily influence elections for your club.
Another great way to emphasize serious simulations is to invite neighboring schools to participate. Drawing from the football comparison, squads will often have inter-team scrimmages in the preseason to test their game plans against new opponents.
Nobody should ever be safe. For each conference, I encourage organizations to choose new teams. This strategy has two benefits. First, it encourages everyone to be trying their hardest and discourages a lackadaisical attitude. And second, it allows new members to gain experience by rotating out team veterans.
My advice is simple. At the beginning of the year, create a roster of everyone who wants to travel to conferences. Mandate attendance at training sessions and simulations. From that roster, choose a new team for each conference you attend. I strongly encourage teams take a smaller number of qualified candidates over a large team with a small percentage of serious delegates.
Winning is a lot of Fun but Takes a lot of Work.
For anyone who has ever been part of a delegation award winning team, you know the thrills of hearing your name called at closing ceremonies and hoisting a trophy. That single moment of elation justifies all of the work that you and your teammates put into preparing for a conference. But there are no shortcuts.
Image credit: Steven Lilly via Flickr under the Creative Commons License.