Debate burnouts happen. I consistently had a lot during my sophomore and junior year, because not only was I not “succeeding” at the level that I wanted to (side note: I’ve learned that success in this activity does NOT always have to be defined by the number of wins and losses), I was in an unsupportive team environment that would constantly break me down.
Reading other people articulate their stories about debate, especially their stories about their identity in this space was a large component of what helped me adopt a more positive mindset regarding my relationship with this activity.
So: here are 5 brilliantly written articles that personally helped me get through my debate burnouts (not in a particular order) that I hope that y’all will enjoy too.
Note: this compilation isn’t meant to only be for women and gender minorities in the community. While these individual authors do address the aspects of their identity in debate at some point in their articles, they mainly address how to love this activity for what it is.
1. Why Not You? By Sara Catherine Cook.
Believing in your potential is important.
“ There is nothing separating you from the debaters you idolize, or want to be like. They started somewhere too. At one point they lived the life I used to live: dropping turns, losing rounds, being underprepped, and feeling like the streak of losses would never end… This is the question I think everyone should ask themself: Why not you? Why couldn’t it be you on the stage debating finals at a local, national, or national championship tournament? Why couldn’t you be the team to finally beat that team who people consider “unstoppable”?…” (Read more…)
2. Why I didn’t Quit Debate Again— By Sara Catherine Cook (again, sorry, but also she rocks so not sorry).
While the blogpost by Sara Catherine above (“Why Not You?”) addresses the potential of every debater and encourages believing in yourself to be who you want to be, this one addresses the idea that your happiness in this activity doesn’t have to be reliant on the wins and losses.
“Stop basing your happiness in this activity on the wins and losses. For most of last year, even at tournaments where we did well, I always felt a little bit sad afterwards. I was so focused on becoming what I said was “the best I could be” that I could never appreciate how far I had come. Every time we won, I took a deep breath, and every time we lost, I crumbled. It was a constant cycle of pushing myself to an impossible standard, instead of being happy just debating.”
However, Sara Catherine also acknowledges that it’s also okay to care about and want success and that “Caring about the activity and choosing to enjoy it regardless of success are just not mutually exclusive. You can be happy regardless of winning or losing and still get better and want to do well. It’s just about perspective.” (Read more…)
3. New Year New Contentions, by Esme Longley!
One of my favorite blogposts! Esme reflects on her debate-related good things from 2018 from things like her clothing choices in round to her awesome partner and leaves off with some advice on how to make this activity more fun and inclusive.
“… it’s always a good idea to try and look for the positivity in rounds. Maybe your flow looks neater than usual! If you came up with a good response too late in the round, you have a great one to whip out later! There’s always something to celebrate after every round. A little positivity goes a long way for not only your own personal growth, but also for encouraging other people around you. Especially at tournaments, around younger debaters who face a lot of challenges that can make them feel less confident, this is really important!!” (Read more…)
4. Looking Back, by Emma Smith
This blogpost is amazingly written, and is a reflection of Emma’s career in debate along with her advice to the readers.
“ … don’t let a bad round, a weird judge, or a rude opponent ruin your day/tournament/career. Getting upset, stressed, or down about unfortunate events that happened in the past will not change the fact that they happened. At the end of the day, you don’t want to look back on your career and remember the time you sat in the corner of a loud, crowded high school cafeteria and sulked because your judge made a bad decision or your partner dropped a turn.”
Finding the people that you love in this activity is also important:
“… in all seriousness, I would trade every stupid little paperweight, medal, trophy, and bid that I’ve ever gotten for the friends that debate has brought me to any day of the week… Making friends in debate takes the edge off the incredibly stressful environment that tournaments often become. Make friends that will be there in the back of your outrounds to cheer you on and be your #1 fans. Make friends that will be there for the times when you need to vent about your partner or coach. Make friends that will be your shoulder to cry on when the pressure becomes too much. Make friends to go on adventures with in between rounds. Make friends that will make all of the late nights, early mornings, and stressful times worth it for you.”
“Do what makes you happy. One of the biggest regrets I now have as I look back on my debate career is always being a people pleaser. For the first four years of my time in debate, I always did what i I thought everyone wanted me to. I wore button up shirts and pantyhoes in the South Florida heat and skirt suits and heels in snowstorms in Boston because I thought it would win me rounds. I let opponents, teammates, and even judges walk all over me and speak down to me because I was afraid of upsetting them. I debated to fit the mold I was taught that all successful debaters fit into. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized that debate entirely is what you make of it and you should do what makes you happy. Wear what you feel comfortable and confident in. Stand up for yourself in and out of rounds and don’t be afraid of what others may have to say about it. Debate how you want to and in a way that showcases your own unique talents and abilities. Do what makes you happy, not what you think will make everyone else happy. At the end of the day, its your debate career, not anyone else’s.”
Really, this article makes me seriously very happy. (Read the rest of the article here…)
5. Debate is what you make of it, by Dori Schurr
This one’s a rather new one — but still an incredibly meaningful one.
“For the past 3 years, I have taken an attitude towards debate that is, frankly, unhealthy. I cared way too much about competitive success and it made me feel worthless when I didn’t reach whatever unattainable goal I had set for myself that weekend… It was only when I began the lengthy and tiring college application process that I realized just how little debate tournament successes matter in the grand scheme of things. There is no section of the Common Application that asks how many pieces of plastic you have collected over 4 years. The essays I ended up writing about debate almost always discussed my experiences with gender biases, the skills I learned that changed my life, and the people I met along the way. When I look back… I won’t think about how I placed 4th at Cypress or got a gold TOC bid at Blue Key. I’ll remember how I joined an impactful, strong organization that builds up those who need it the most, and that I developed skills I will use for the rest of my life…
It took me 3 whole years to come to this conclusion, so if you’re not a senior and you’re enjoying the competition now, live it up… I just hope I can give those who feel like they are struggling to qualify to TOC or truly stand out at a tournament a reminder that even if they don’t win Bronx, they could go on to win the White House, or a Senate seat. They could end up like Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former member of the NSDA, and become a US Supreme Court Justice. Simply put, debate is what you make of it. “
Overall, my favorite part of Beyond Resolved will forever be the stories that I get to read from so many different people in this community and activity.
There are so many other brilliantly written articles written by amazing women and gender minorities and male allies (fun fact — our first article written by a male-identifying debater, David Kinane, can be found here) on our website. These are just a snippet of it all, and the articles that I happened to find when I needed to find them during my breaking points. Thus, a special thank you to the brilliant people that took their time to write about their experiences in this activity– regardless of whether or not I mentioned them in this rant. And here’s a reminder to share the articles that meant a lot to you too, because it could also mean a lot to someone else.
It’s really admiring and inspiring, knowing that people are willing to share vulnerable experiences online. I’ve been only able to share snippets of my experience in debate that I’m comfortable with sharing — and I’ll write about my story one day too, when I’m ready. But that’s for another day.