Debate is tough. You do hours of prep. You stay up late doing redos. You sacrifice precious weekends of rest to get up at 6:30 to go and spend your entire day convincing someone (who does not know you or the hard work you put in to the activity) that you are more right than your opponents. But it doesn’t only drain you. Your parents sacrifice their time with you, shelling money out so that you can travel to tournaments and have the chance to be great.
Debate rounds are a chance to show that all of the work and sacrifice you, your partner, your team, and your parents have put in for one weekend was not in vain. But things don’t always go well. Sometimes you panic before your speech because you feel the pressure you have put upon yourself. Sometimes you are so focused on doing well that you drop a turn or some terminal defense on your case.
Other times, you hit a team with “clout” and panic, or have a judge who doesn’t flow the round and drops you based on the tone of your voice or because they perceive you to be aggressive.
In those moments, it absolutely sucks not only to be a debater, but to also be a girl. I believe that we as womxn in debate put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We want to prove that we are good at debate, that we know what we are talking about, that we earn our places in outrounds and on top speaker lists. While ambition is always good and healthy and motivates us to work hard and take risks in the first place, sometimes it turns us into people who are self-critical to an unhealthy degree.
I personally have struggled with this. A month ago, I was constantly upset and stressed because I was putting so much pressure on myself to win. The message that I kept conveying to myself was “You’re a junior. Your partner is a senior. This is the year to bid!” Those words were spinning around my head at one specific tournament. Needless to say, I disappointed myself. We ended up going 3-4, the worst record I have ever had at a tournament to date.
But since then, I’ve been thinking. My partner and I have had discussions in the past about our respective philosophies on winning in debate. While I always felt pressure to win, Max never really did. Maybe this is because I as a womxn continually felt that my worth as a debater was exclusively determined by my record. Maybe it was because I am personally very self-critical.
Anyways, leading up to a more recent tournament, I decided that I was just going to debate. Max and I were going to prep our hardest the week before the tournament. We were going to take each round as it came. And I promised myself that if I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, I would stay positive, be proud of what we had done, and wouldn’t let it put a damper on the fact that I would be doing an activity that I love in a really cool place for an entire weekend, with people who I really care about and enjoy spending time with.
It worked. Kind of. While we did do well in prelims, we dropped our first outround. At first I was hard on myself because I felt that I, as the only femxle debater in the outround, had made a stupid strategic decision that had cost us the round. I was ashamed because I thought that I was letting not only myself and my team down, but also all of the femxle debaters who not only want, but desperately need to see more girls advancing to late outrounds.
It shouldn’t have to be that way though. Yes, ambition and the drive to work hard are good. But don’t let them turn on you and make you insecure.
Some things you can control in debate, and some you can’t. But even when you end up losing rounds despite all of the work you’ve put in and how much you want the win, please don’t blame yourself. You, as a womxn, deserve to take credit for and enjoy your successes, but you also deserve to know that you shouldn’t beat yourself up for losses, and that there is a community of incredibly awesome and supportive womxn who care about you and who first and foremost want you to love what you are doing.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that when the going gets tough, you can make it through. You’re one tough cookie, and we all have your back and believe in you.