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As I’ve mentioned, I came to debate later in life (twenty, as opposed to the typical twelve). I found fulfillment in things like surfing and skiing. I didn’t need to win at debate in order to prove my worth. I wanted to win, but I was mature enough to manage that desire. Thus, for me, the most uncomfortable thing in the debate world is when people don’t know how to manage their competitive urge. The signs of this are many: bickering at the end of a round, being catty and rude during a round, freaking out before tournaments, ululating at losses, etc. Productive debaters know how to control themselves in competition.

Of the three points in this little series, I had the hardest time writing the constructive steps to getting this right. Most people either get this, or don’t. Some of my good friends made peace with their basest need to win while I competed with them, but I can’t find many common points they progressed through to find this. So I’ll settle for some warning signs and potential causes.

Warning signs (the above and):

  • Carrying unrealistic goals;
  • Traumatic meltdowns over minor events;
  • Loathing people (including self).

Potential causes:

  • Overbearing debate partners, coaches, and parents;
  • Lack of guidance and practice;
  • Unclear goals and purposes;
  • Unresolved personal or spiritual issues;

Much like sales and public speaking (in general), competitive debate can bring a lot from your gut to the surface. If you fervently believe your case, it shows. If you can’t stand the people that urged you to debate in the first place, it shows. If you have confidence issues stemming from psychological damage in your past, it shows. There isn’t one solution to ‘gut’ issues (man-speak for emotions), but identification works as a first step.

Productive debaters develop the emotional maturity to win and lose respectfully. This takes time and humility. It also takes colleagues willing to be honest and constructive. Thankfully, for many NCFCA competitors, your families, colleagues, and friends are mature and helpful. The rewards of maturity are numerous, potentially including a spouse.


Take Action: Take note of the things you do that are ‘out of character’ or ‘only at debate tournaments.’ Ask a more mature person (read: adult) about which are signs of immaturity. Work with this person to develop a new standard of self-control for your debate experiences. Ask your partner, coach, and others to hold you accountable to your goal.

Real World Debate Part 1: Overcoming Nerdly

Real World Debate Part 2: Build Your Knowledge

Real World Debate Part 3: Communicate Clearly

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