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“In it to win it” is not a sufficient goal.

And most debaters can’t differentiate between preparing to win and making winning the priority.  Of course, competition is good. It’s a refiner, a strainer, a purifier. It sharpens your skills, weeds out bad habits, and gives you an arena for practice. Tournaments are great. Competition is great. But the bitter hunger to win is not. Winning is a glorious feeling, and it’s an honor. Not necessarily because it means you’re the best, but because it signifies dedication and perseverance. First place is a pleasant reward for worthwhile work. But every debater at your tournament wants to win. What will separate you from the crowd?

Stop itching to win. Get over the insatiable need to walk across that stage. Instead, pour your time into developing a winning mindset. Choose to prepare instead of just wanting it. Winning, as your only goal, is counterproductive for four reasons.

Doesn’t develop skill

Wanting to win doesn’t make you any better. You need to improve if you want to win, but wanting it doesn’t do the work for you. You’ll end up frustrated with yourself, your partner, and the system. Your goal doesn’t just happen. Put your focus on developing skill, not winning. Interestingly enough, skill is developed through learning experiences, not determination to bulldoze and win. So if you want to win, put yourself in every experience-filled-situation fathomable. Burning to win distracts you from preparing for it.

No relatability

You need a human element to win over your audience. If you sprint into the room, eye on the prize, and kick your opponent’s dead bodies aside as you sink your teeth into the trophy: it won’t go well for you. I promise. Ruthlessly crushing your opponents alienates you from your peers and judges. Not only will you lose your reputation, you’ll lose your rapport, which leads to fewer ballots. Focus on connecting with your audience. Don’t estrange them by chasing your trophy more than their esteem.

Entitlement mentality

If winning is your goal, you want it bad enough to think you deserve it. If it doesn’t happen, you’re bitter. You’re disappointed in yourself, frustrated with your partner, jealous of your successful peers, and indignant towards the judges. The indignance instills an entitlement mentality, which wrings your experience dry. You won’t do what it takes to practice and educate yourself if you think you simply “deserve” to win.

Stress is a distraction

Telling yourself “It’s First Place or exile” mounts enormous stress in you. You might not even notice it. Not only is stress physically tolling, it clogs your brain from productivity. Stressing over winning is an obstacle to debating well, since it impairs you from being able to focus or make clear decisions. If you make it your goal, you’ll invariably crumble and disintegrate under the pressure. Don’t go there. Resolve to grow and develop as a human being, not as the First Place Monster.

Don’t make winning the tournament your goal. Prepare to win over your audience.


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