During my years in the league, I’ve heard a LOT of complaining, and been a part of more than I’d care to admit. It’s easy to see a problem when the tournament runs behind, when there are kids all over the hallways, or when your judge simply refuses to see things from your point of view. If you think about it though, this strategy doesn’t accomplish any real change. It simply makes us more ungrateful. Complaining about judges is never worth your while. Appreciate the judge in front of you.
First- Reexamine why you are speaking: To become a better communicator. To have fun. To sharpen one another’s skills. You are the one standing in front of your judge, asking for their attention. The judge is the one who will help you in your journey of becoming an accomplished speaker. It is easy to forget about the importance of judges. I, too, forgot. Looking back, the feedback from judges is what I remember the most. The awards collect dust and fade into the background of your memories. The friends are your friends because you shared experiences, not simply because you were debating at a tournament. Your speaking stays with you if you work at it, but overall the things that stuck in my mind were the judges who told me they could not for the life of them understand the ending of my Open. The judges who told me my reasoning was unclear, who suggested ways to improve my speaking or introductions. Those are the judges we’re looking for. They will help us in our goal of becoming more eloquent speakers.
Second- Compliments don’t actually help. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a huge reward to get 30 speaker points, a perfect 5 in a category, or be ranked first speaker. The thing to note though is that when you go back through, you might stop for a minute to appreciate your success, but it really doesn’t help you going forward. One tournament you’re the top- getting 5s every round. The next tournament- you’re 3rd or 4th speaker in every round. What happened? Well, either you got lazy, or the competition got the feedback they needed to and they’re soaring above you. Everyone loves a good underdog story because what makes the comeback kid so great is that he has the motivation to do better. Not every judge is helpful. Believe me, I know. That still doesn’t give us the right to complain. With the risk of sounding like your great-aunt with her turtleneck frilled collar and tight bun- remember that your judges are really there to help you.
Third- Debate relies on judges. Feedback doesn’t just make you stronger (Iron sharpens iron and all that,) but debate tournaments could not function unless we had parents, alums, and volunteers with a ready ear and a steady pencil. They are there specifically to watch super long-winded, super boring, super prideful 14-year-olds stumble over their words discussing drone strikes in the middle east about which they know next to nothing. We would do well to remember that we are the ones being served in this exchange. Judges dedicate two hours of their time to our round, for what? They’re not the ones coming away with rankings, feedback, and the adrenaline rush that comes from slaying your round. They go off to judge some other round, drag themselves back to work, or drive home to their rambunctious children. Never forget what judges make possible at tournaments.
Fourth- Your character shrinks every time you relish in ingratitude. Just like the Grinch’s heart is two sizes too small, your pride is far too enlarged for your small debater body. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an excellent example of receiving everything in his life with gratitude. He wrote, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that our life becomes rich.” When you spend time in gratitude you will realize how much you receive.
Maybe one day you too will join me in the crotchety old years and look back on your complaints about judges, wishing you had turned them into thankfulness. My goal is to stop you in your tracks. Remind you of what you likely already know, and set you on your path to gratitude. Just in time for Thanksgiving, am I right? Your mother will be proud! So stop your grumbling and complaining. Instead, remember you are in the round to learn and grow, that feedback is what helps you to do that, and that these judges are serving you. It is time to reevaluate your thoughts about judges, and move forward in appreciation.
About the Author
Amanda is currently a Dean’s List student at New Saint Andrews College in Idaho. She completed 4 years in NCFCA, in the 2021 season, she advanced to Nationals in all her events, ranking 10th in Open Interp and 14th in Team Policy Debate. During that same season, she received 1st place Biblical Thematic at all 4 Regional Qualifiers plus Regionals, also prequalifying to Nationals at National Open 1. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys hosting her friends for dinner, eating garlic bread, and fiddling with her ukulele.
“[D]ebate tournaments could not function unless we had parents, alums, and volunteers with a ready ear and a steady pencil. They are there specifically to watch super long-winded, super boring, super prideful 14-year-olds stumble over their words discussing drone strikes in the middle east about which they know next to nothing. We would do well to remember that we are the ones being served in this exchange.” My addendum to this salient comment would be that a lot of parent judges (and community judges in NCFCA) are even more insecure about their activity-related skills than you are as competitors, so it’s always a good idea to try to smooth their way. Most of the time this is not a problem. However, when you decide, inter alia, to dump dense normative debate theory on a panel comprising Stacey’s mom, some random faculty member from the New Testament department, and the building’s custodian (and I’ve been around long enough to have seen panels like this…I volunteer as often as I can), you’re really going to be coming across poorly. My pro tip (after over 21 seasons on the other side of the lectern) is that it’s never a bad bet, no matter who you’re debating in front of, to try to keep it to clean-cut resolutional substance and emphasize positional clash 100% of the time, because you want to find a happy medium and not potentially alienate all of your judges at once. My two cents, and Happy New Year to all.