10 Ways to Win an End-of-Year Championship, Part 2.
Yesterday, we discussed the post-season and how to handle the unique challenges that occur when limited time meets maximum pressure. Today, we inch closer to tournament time with five more tips to help you add “champion” to your list of accomplishments.
6. Look at your judging pool and do preferences accordingly. Most national tournaments publish judge lists and philosophies. You should look at these with more care than you usually do. Even at the highest level, every region of the country has a “style.” If you’ve been debating mostly West Coast, East Coast, or Midwest, you probably have some elements to your style and argument choice that are very “regional” in nature. You also have favorite judges that see you debate often and are accustomed to your style. It’s important to remember that a national judge pool is much larger. You can’t count on getting the people you’re familiar with at a national championship, so take a look at philosophies and note those that seem closest to the way you want to debate. Prefer those critics. DO NOT prefer critics based on name recognition alone, on the institution they’re affiliated with, or other extraneous factors. Just because someone was a good debater doesn’t mean they will be a good judge or that they will think you are a good debater. Additionally, assuming that institutional affiliation tells you something about someone that they aren’t telling you themselves is equally silly. The easiest way to size up a judge is to see read their philosophy and see how closely it mimics your thoughts about debate. If you agree with a lot of what they’ve said, you will probably be able to persuade them. If you don’t, you might not. Pref, in order:
Keep in mind, you do have a really good chance of getting someone from the 5th category. If you do, keep your judge adaptation strategies in mind and a smile on your face.
7. Prioritize teams at your level. In a perfect world, you would prepare for every single team at the tournament. This is not a perfect world; far from it. You will want to prepare for the teams you can realistically debate. That’s harder at a national tournament with teams you haven’t seen before, but go through the team list. Rank teams 1-4 and “question mark,” (you can add more or different numbers depending on how close you are to the top or bottom).
Teams ranked 1: Based on their history, you suspect they are a serious candidate to win the entire tournament.
Teams ranked 2: Based on their history, you believe that they will clear to elimination rounds at this tournament.
Teams ranked 3: Based on their history, you think they have a relative chance of making it to elimination rounds at this tournament.
Teams ranked 4: Based on their history, you think they have little to no chance of competing in elimination rounds of this tournament.
Place a “question mark” next to teams that you know nothing about. Resist the temptation to assume that they’d rank low just because you’ve never heard of them. The opposite it just as often true.
If you have more question marks than anything else, you may want to scan the results from major national tournaments to add to your knowledge and re-rank.
Once you’ve done the best you can, realistically rank yourself 1-4. Try to be as un-invested as possible in the results (rank yourself as you are, not as you want to be), and if necessary, consult a coach or neutral party. If you’re too optimistic or pessimistic, this won’t work. Your goal is to focus your preparation on the teams within your level first and the teams 1-2 levels above you second.
Note that this doesn’t mean that there are never upsets or that your past success will always dictate your future. It simply means that in the later rounds of the tournament, the ones that matter the most, you’re likely to be debating at or just above your level. This approach helps ensure you’re prepared to win the rounds that you should win (against teams with whom you’re evenly matched) and those that you need to win to do better than before (against teams you think are better than you are so far).
It may seem defeatist, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you spend a day preparing for three teams at your level than wasting a day on a super-specific strategy against a team that will probably be out of your bracket for most of the tournament. The point is: you have a limited amount of time for hyper-specific work before nationals. It’s a “bad investment” for a large tournament because you’re unlikely to use it. Save your specifics for the teams you’re more likely to see.
8. Talk to your teammates. National travel is not a one-person show. Once you’ve put in your pre-tournament preparation, you need to focus and, if you’re fortunate enough to have teammates, leave the small things up to them. Winning a championship can take a lot of behind-the-scenes effort by people on your team, many who may not have qualified themselves or who may be younger and look up to you. Part of being on a team is being a good team player and, if you’ve gotten this far, we have no doubt that you’ve tried to be. If your teammates are offering to help you with scouting, evidence production, practice debates, anything at all for nationals or at nationals, you need to do a few things:
a. Accept all of their help graciously, and be humble. This doesn’t mean you can never be too busy to talk, but if people are working on assignments for you, you need to be appreciative and respectful. Approach them with humility and kindness, knowing that it’s easy to do work for yourself but can be difficult to do work for someone else. You want them to be invested in your success enough to push past their end-of-season apathy to help you, and they won’t do that unless your gratitude is genuine.
b. Tell them how they can best help you. No one on your team can read minds. Before the tournament and between rounds, ask for specifics. Use your coach as an intermediary if necessary, but if you need someone to scout the round in room 11, say that. If you need someone to do politics updates on immigration, say that. People work best with specific directions and when they feel their work is being used.
c. Try to make 90% of it substantive, say highlighting a file rather than getting you a water bottle. By helping you, they’re trying to learn, so give them something teachable. You can still ask for the water, of course, but not every single time. Emphasizing these kinds of tasks highlights the fundamental give and take of a team and the ways in which your successes are interconnected.
Whatever they give you, no matter how in-depth, no matter how much better you could have done it yourself, is definitively more than you would have had without them. Accept that and focus.
9. Bring your A-Game. Yesterday we began by stating a simple truth: It’s been a long season. By now, you’ve fought burnout all the way to the big game. Try not to collapse at the starting line. Approach this tournament like you would any tournament, times ten: well-rested, well-researched, well-dressed, and confident. Remind yourself continuously throughout the day to stay focused on the process and not the results. If you’ve done everything on this list, you have done all you can do and you need to focus forward. Banish all thoughts of what you should have done last month, last week, and even last round.
Whenever a tournament is large, you’re likely to be thrown off by something. At nationals in particular, it’s possible that you’ll run into something you really didn’t see coming. Champions are not defined by the challenges they face but rather by how they deal with them.
There may be some moments when a debate is really not going your way, you’re afraid of losing, or your anxiety over how close you are to your last debate of the season seems overwhelming. Power through and resist the urge to give up or start focusing on the next debate.
Once it’s over for better or worse, trust us, you’ll want to tell yourself that you did everything you could.
10. Congratulate yourself. Whether this is your last tournament ever as a senior or just your last tournament of the season, nationals is a really awesome experience if you let it be. The debate community is large and filled with people that are passionate about the same activity as you are. The fact that you have earned opportunity to celebrate the debate season with them is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Whether you’re happy or sad at the end, it’s worth reminding yourself that many people never get to the championship of any activity. Simply by participating, you’re demonstrating that you have learned and mastered one of the most difficult activities available to high school students. In the process, hopefully you’ve met great new friends and learned exciting new things. Additionally, we hope you stopped to enjoy debating at nationals. If the stress of your final competition has overshadowed that, refocus on it now. You should be proud of yourself. We at Debate Central are proud of you!