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The biggest tournaments of the season are quickly approaching. NITOC 2018 will take place in a little over three months, while NCFCA and NSDA Nationals are set to begin in four months.

This may make some of you uneasy. Perhaps you’ve already qualified to NITOC, but are still inconsistent and scraping along here and there. Perhaps you’re looking to qualify to regionals, but you’re stuck with 2-4s and 3-3s at qualifiers.

I hate to be cliché, but I’m going to say this anyway: it doesn’t matter how you’re doing now. What truly matters is how you progress and how you finish. Of course, you could plateau and be performing as well in three months as you are now. But it doesn’t have to be that way—it’s up to you.

There will always be the favorites and the top competitors who consistently make it to deep outrounds and win prestigious tournaments. You may think you can never catch them, after finishing after them every single tournament, and losing head-to-head every time you’ve faced them, but you can.

I had never done well at the first state qualifying tournament of the year, held at a neighbor island school. I was always relegated to watching the final rounds, after having losing records my sophomore and junior years, and sub-par speaker points my senior year. During my sophomore year, I had lost to the prior year’s state champion team three times in a row.

I was disappointed with my outcome, and it motivated me to work harder. I lost after switching to a new affirmative, so I prepped layers and layers of responses and refined and memorized my 1AC. I worked more efficiently and more diligently on my speaking, my rebuttals, and casing. I peaked at the right time. After struggling at some of the non-qualifying tournaments and the first qualifier, I almost always did well at the second state qualifying tournament, and by God’s grace, took the state championship three out of the four years I competed.

A few words of advice for those who are floating around mediocrity, but are looking to peak when it matters.

Have the Right Mindset

Always have an understanding of the deeper reason why you debate. Not just to win trophies, as that will always leave you empty and unsatisfied. Knowing that the road forward is a perpetual march towards improvement in speaking, analysis, and research means that losses don’t signal failure. Rather, they present opportunities to grow and motivation to improve.  

Stay Motivated

Know that it is possible for you to catch the frontrunners. It may be this year, or it may be next year, or it may be in 2020. It will not be something that will come in an instant, but only through a tough, grueling process of constant critique and correction. Always use your failures and desires (they have to be pure and beneficial though) to drive you forward in the process.

Work, Work, Work

The only way you are going to get better is by working harder and thinking smarter than your opponent. Perhaps this means developing better blocks for your 1AC, or improving your impact calculus or fluency. Know what you need to work on–often it’s what you are worst at, and consequently, what is most uncomfortable to practice. Develop a daily routine or schedule, and carry it out. Know that as an underdog, the expectations for you to do well are gone, leading you to perform better and to meet others with surprise. Take advantage of the time you have–you’ll be glad you did.

Debate is not all about winning, but rather about pursuing excellence in skills that will last a lifetime. Even in the competitive world of debate, don’t get down after disappointing results: use them as motivation to grow. While your top competitor may be coasting along, you’re intently preparing, knowing that it ultimately doesn’t matter how you’re doing now, but how you decide to progress towards the finish.

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