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soccer-768482_1920I am a competitive person.
We’ll just get that out of way here and now. Ever since I learned how to play Go Fish and Old Maid when I was three years old, I have tried to win practically every competition I have been involved in. I thought I was one of the most competitive people I knew. And then, after four years of debate competition, I met my final-year debate partner, Kara.
Kara surpasses me in competitiveness. Playing “Settlers of Catan” with Kara makes me feel like my life is hanging in the balance: intensity is an understatement. Beating her in Catan is a feat I have yet to achieve. Not that I have kept count or really care about things like that. Right.
At the first practice tournament Kara and I attended together, we were trying our best to win every round. The last round of the day we were negative against a team who were debating their first tournament ever. As they were presenting the 1AC, one of us came up with a great idea for a counterplan that we thought would pretty much demolish the aff case. I urged we should run it—it would be great counterplan practice and an easy win against such an inexperienced team.
Kara thought about it for a second and then told me we shouldn’t run a counterplan. She thought it would upset and confuse the other team who were very new. Despite my opinion that counterplans are fair game and it is all debaters’ responsibility to understand debate theory, she maintained we shouldn’t dishearten them and should instead go with a straightforward approach they could understand. I reluctantly assented to her opinion, and we executed our typical shell-and-extend approach.
I remember being perplexed for a while afterwards about Kara’s conviction of not scaring novice teams. It seemed to me anti-competitive to deliberately choose to take a negative approach different from the one you thought was best, simply out of pity for the other team. I am all for being polite and ethical in a debate round, but this seemed one step too far. But in a partnership each partner has to give and take, and in this area I was willing to give in. It was just a practice tournament anyhow.
Then regionals rolled around.
And it was an outround. The team that had broken were personal friends and rapidly improving debaters (now they are very good), but they were also young and one of the least-experienced teams at the tournament. They were thrilled to have upset everyone’s expectations and broken at regionals!
Kara and I had already qualified at a national open and had written a new case to try out in hopes of running it at nationals. The case was somewhat obscure and quite technical and we had successfully run it in our three pre-lims. Our new case had become the talk of the tournament, and I was looking forward to running it again.
The team we were hitting, however, were sitting over at their table before the round, openly talking about how terrified they were of our new case. They did not understand it, had no evidence relating to it, and were nervous enough just to be debating in their first regionals outround. They actually came over and begged us to run our old case so they would have something to say.
At the time, I thought it was somewhat ridiculous. We were favored to win the round, and in my eyes, if the other team had nothing to argue, that was their fault and not my concern. But I could tell Kara was having an inner battle. Finally, she asked me if we could please run our old case, a case the other team was very familiar with. I resisted, but after much discussion I gave in. Inside, I couldn’t believe we were catering to the other team in a regionals outround.
But as I began to read the 1AC, the other team immediately relaxed. They actually looked like they were having fun. The CX was challenging and energetic. And when I returned to CX the 1N, I found a sticky note from the other team stuck on my side of the music stand that simply read, “Thank you!” and my heart melted a little. As the round proved itself to be a rigourous, competitive round, my heart melted even more. There was clash and good argumentation, and although we won, the negative did take a ballot.
And I was a convert.
My debate partner taught me that part of being a competitive person is valuing good competition over easy wins. We could have almost certainly won both of those rounds by taking an approach too complicated or unexpected for the other team to compete with. But the round would have been confusing, uncomfortable, and stressful for the other team. Instead, we chose a style that created a competitive round. The educational value was higher, and we were more challenged as debaters. Plus, those teams that were somewhat new to debate were encouraged instead of discouraged.
Debate is about winning, but it is about something more.
Debate is about finding truth, encouraging others, and challenging yourself.
So don’t “play easy,” but consider playing simpler when the occasion calls. There are many different ways to win a given debate round. I advise you to pick a strategy that is effective, but that also fosters good competition.
Go debate. I’m off to practice my Catan skills.

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