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Nationals is just like any other tournament.

Grab some coffee and read that again.

I know what you’re thinking: “Just like any other tournament? Yeah, right. Just like any other tournament where I get pounded to a pulp!”

Receiving an invitation to the national championship is something that most debaters dream of achieving. However, once I actually qualified to nationals this year, for the first time, panic set in. This panic stems from a key erroneous assumption- every team at nationals is as scary as That One Team.

Every region has That One Team. You can’t miss them. That One Team wins almost every tournament, always gets speaker awards, and is routinely 6-0. They’re the team that makes novices stand in awe. Since this team always qualifies to nationals, more average debaters assume that the average competition at nationals is like that.

This is not true. There are maybe 7 or 8 teams like that at nationals any given year. The others are good, but I was pleased to find that, just like me, they had qualified to nationals and had fought pretty hard to do it and weren’t even sure if they would. Turns out, nationals is just a lot like regionals.

The primary characteristic that distinguishes nationals from any other tournament is the size. In my region, we average around 40 policy teams per tournament. NCFCA’s 2012 nationals had 72 teams. The only real impact this has is that you don’t know everyone at nationals. However, this is not such a negative phenomenon.

If you don’t know how everyone else has done, then you don’t get as distracted by “feared names” in debate. It’s easier to go into a round focused on what you need to do, rather than getting caught up in thoughts about how so-and-so just won X tournament and how you’re guaranteed to get creamed.

The basic principles of debate continue to apply nationals, just as they do at qualifiers and regionals. Clarity is still crucial. Squirrels still appear. Breaks still induce adrenaline. If you’ve made it to nationals, then you’ve dealt with these things before and thrived. You can do it again.

Go debate.

~Laura McKinney

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