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We all enjoy getting trophies. We all enjoy the recognition. We all enjoy a job well done. Does speech and debate have more to offer? 

All it takes is one quick internet search to find that speech and debate offers infinite value to all ages. Additionally, you do not have to “succeed” or win tournaments for the ever-lasting benefits of forensics.

If we have not had the privilege of meeting, my name is Zachary Kos. As I am writing this post, I am a freshman at Dallas Baptist University. Everyday, I am thankful for the countless ways in which speech and debate in high school prepared me for “the real world” and college academia. “The more you put in, the more you get out” is definitely an appropriate proverb. Live like it’s true! 

Here are valuable lessons I have learned in college that affect the way I view life. I wish I truly believed and lived these truths in high school and while competing.

Improvement only comes from failure

There are two sides to learning, knowledge, and wisdom: learning from experience and learning from the experience of others. Let’s first explore the former.

When starting out in speech and debate, it is typical to think you know everything. Allow me to break the truth: there will always be someone better than you. Do not let that discourage you. Let it drive you to be the best. Recognize when starting out that you are most likely not going to win all the events you compete in (let alone one) your first few tournaments. Understanding that learning takes time, trial, and determination helps us stay humble in all circumstances. If we never fail, we never have the joy of learning from those failures. Learn to embrace failure as a stepping stone to success.

What is even better than learning from your own failure is learning from the failures of others. If you ask any experienced competitor, I am certain they will be able to list numerous tips and suggestions they have learned from their own mistakes. The good news is that, by knowing what they had to learn, you do not have to fail in the same way they did! Any and all advice from the failures of others is valuable. By knowing what to avoid, you can focus on improving where it matters most. But how can you know when you need to improve? (Hint: You can always improve.)

Improvement only comes from constructive criticism

Have you ever had a round you thought you “won” but then you get your ballot back and see the judge voted for your opponent? Allow me to change your mindset about this circumstance. Losing a round will teach you more than winning! 

Hold up! How can that be? Think about it. When you lose a round, (hopefully) you are receiving feedback from the judge on why you lost the round. Any and all feedback is an opportunity for improvement. 

Do not just glance at the positive comments on your ballot. Really, truly, pour into what the judge noted about the round. I stand by my belief that ballots are the most valuable papers in a speech and debate community.

The more you lean into your parents, coaches, judges, friends, and audience members, the more you will hear tips, suggestions, and feedback on how to improve. 

Take Charge of Change

Let’s face it, we cannot change the judge, we cannot change our opponent, we cannot change tournament results. You can only change yourself. Why is this significant? 

Whenever you have a round that does not go your way, reflect over what you specifically did in the round. Do not focus on what your opponent argued or how the judge made their decision, focus purely on what you did and how you can improve. 

Once you find something to improve on, get active! Create a strategy regarding how to improve and take initiative!


Great job! You have made it this far. Now what?

Allow me to challenge you to think of, write out, and live on three action steps. These can be as simple as “fail more” and as big as “fail often.” “Whatever floats your boat” as long as you actually “float” and live out your steps. 

God bless you as you learn to fail successfully and become who God is shaping you to be! 

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