I’m going to put this out front before I even begin. I’m a novice debater. I just completed my first year in TP. I don’t have loads of experience or a great deal of deep advice when it comes to debate. What I do have is some encouragement for novice debaters, like myself.
I know several people who were practically born to debate. They’ve grown up surrounded by older siblings who were actively involved and successful in competition. They’ve timed rounds since they could walk. They’ve spent years flowing rounds for their siblings. Some people were just meant to debate. Then there are the normal kids, like myself. I’ve had friends in NCFCA for years. I’ve visited one or two tournaments in previous years. But, because I’m stubborn, I had always said I would never ever debate. [I think those who don’t love debate, hate it.] Then came my ultimate doom: this past august I was forced into attending a debate camp with Ethos. As much as I hate to admit it, at that camp my determination to hate debate melted away and I fell in love with the competition. Even then, I was reluctant to actually compete in debate, so I joined Vector [my local club] to do a few speech events instead. I didn’t actually choose to ditch speech [except impromptu] and focus on debate until November, so I got a late start. But once I made that decision, I was totally bitten by what my mom calls “the debate bug.”
I should say that in the months following, research, strategy, and theory ate away my life. Blissfully oblivious to just how much I needed to improve, and how much I lacked by way of skills, I met an abrupt awakening at my first tournament. My partner and I went 2-4. Our record didn’t really bother me much though. We were two novices, we weren’t expecting much.
We only had two weeks to prepare for our next tournament, so my partner and I prepped with more experienced debaters as much as we could during that time. Excited, and full of anticipation, at our second tournament… We went 1-5. Now, you have to understand something about how my brain works. I can handle doing poorly at something once or twice, but after that I become a perfectionist. I will do pretty much everything I possibly can to prove to myself I can do well at something if I try hard enough.
In the two months that followed, everything else fell to the side as I spent hours every day working on prepping my case and prepping arguments for neg. I planned practice rounds with some friends. I had multiple research “parties” with my partner. Every argument I constructed, I sent to friends with more experience to get tips and comments. Honestly, I thought I had it locked up for my next tournament, to at least go 3-3. Maybe even break. I felt entirely prepared and ready to go.
When I got to the tournament, I felt confident in every single one of my rounds except one or two. Then I read my ballots and found out my partner and I had gone 1-5, for the second tournament in a row. It was slightly depressing. I felt like I had spent so much time and energy prepping for something I couldn’t reach. It’s frustrating being a novice. You’re surrounded by people who have had years of experience, and you’re totally new to the whole thing. People tell you “you’re doing awesome!” and you want to tell them to shut up because you know you’re not.
Looking back at my first season of debate however, I didn’t fail at all. After reading my ballots from my last tournament, I wanted to quit debate and stop wasting my time. But to all the novices out there lacking the motivation to continue trying, take a minute to look at things from a different perspective. If you didn’t do so great, it’s not a big deal, it’s your first year. Time can only make you improve. If you didn’t win your debate rounds, I can guarantee you learned something from debate. I notice things I do differently/better because of debate all the time.
For instance, I’m far better at generating and articulating a clear argument in avenues beyond debate. My ability to organize my thoughts and opinions, meld them into something that is logical and makes sense, has greatly improved. My reading comprehension skills increased. I now have the ability to find the pertinent facts of a topic buried in reams of insignificant rhetoric. When I started debating, I would literally have to write out every word I was going to say in a speech [wasting a lot of prep time.] But thanks to a great deal of practice, I can now give a speech from just a few quickly jotted notes. I’m more persuasive. That is something that was evidenced in my rounds. I went from getting speaks averaging around 18-19 my first tournament, to speaks far higher. [Even receiving a 29 at my last tournament.] And I know a whole bunch of cool new lingo. [Though my friends don’t like it when I say “your statement is empirically denied.” In normal conversation. ;)] Even if my results didn’t improve, my analysis and speaking definitely did. Those things count for a great deal.
So to the novice debaters who are discouraged from not attaining the success they had hoped for, don’t give up on it yet. Look back at your first year and be willing to look at it from a different perspective. Be willing to try again and again until you understand something. Don’t be afraid to be humble. If you’re struggling with debate, ask someone with more experience. As a general rule, more experienced debaters are perfectly willing to explain things and help you out. Don’t make winning rounds your goal. Make personal improvement your goal. If you’re losing your rounds but improving your speaks, that’s still improvement. If you’re losing rounds, but getting more of the flow, that’s still improvement. If you’re losing rounds but you’re having fun, that’s still worth it. Don’t let the initial discouragement keep you from trying something that, given 1-2 more years, you could be incredible at.