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For the love of Redbull, don’t go into your novice tournament season with “we’ll see what happens” as your only preparation. The mystery, pressure, dread, and simultaneous excitement of first-tournaments gets confusing. Don’t let the sea of conflicting emotions hog your mind, preventing you from focusing on valuable prep. If you’re not sure what to expect during your novice tournament season, relax. This post deals with three of the biggest potholes in your novice journey: what to focus on, how to handle experienced teams, and how to take on your own inexperience. Don’t feel like you need to get everything right at your first tournament, but start with these few key things.

Where to Direct your Focus

Debate is not about performing for your judge, or trying to look better than your opponents. It’s about communicating. Relate to your audience; don’t try to impress everyone in the room. It’s about your partner, learning about yourself, and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. Focus on learning, not performing. Debate is about thinking and then communicating – not talking and hoping it sounds okay. Thinking is the crux of debate. A clear mind is worth more than the best brief. Even if that means you get sleep rather than last-second research, oil your mind well. Also, watch and flow every outround you’re not in. More opportunity to learn.

How to Beat Experienced Teams

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask questions. If the answer is unclear, ask for clarification. Asking questions forces the debate to a higher level: it holds the communication accountable to truth and clarity. Also, remember that less is more. You don’t need to have 50 arguments. Novice debaters beat advanced teams by finding the one or two flaws and latching on like a pitbull. At Isaiah’s first tournament as a novice, he went 5-1 and beat the team that got to Nationals finals that year – and won on topicality. Don’t be a brief reader. YOU do the thinking, trust your debate theory, but also trust your common sense knowledge. Use those printed pages to support your own thinking. Don’t just stand up there and read stuff and hope it applies. It doesn’t. Hope is not a strategy.

How to Deal with Your Own Inexperience

Having less experience can lead to an inferiority complex. Don’t get caught up in that, because it distracts you from the purpose of debating. There will be people more experienced than you, but you aren’t less of a communicator than they are. And debate is about communication, learning, and refutation. You can develop and use those skills as well as a seasoned debater. You might not sound like seasoned debaters, but there’s no sense in stressing yourself out over sounding like them. In fact, just don’t listen to the sophomores. They’re full of bad advice and will get you in a rut if you copy them. If you see someone doing something a certain way, don’t just copy them. Doing so traps you. Be confident in the things you’re learning. Don’t feel like you should conform to the styles and nuances of people around you. It’ll make you less relatable.

Experienced debaters could benefit from wiping the slate clean and starting over with these mindset changes.


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