9 Reasons Not to Panic When You See Postings

You go to postings for your tenth round ever and see that you’re up against one of last year’s national semifinalists. “I’m about to get pounded,” you think. You feel panic begin to rise up. But wait! Don’t be anxious and don’t give up. Here’s why:

1. Best case, you get bragging rights.

If you win this round, you’re going to feel incredible. You can tell the rest of your club: “Yeah, I beat Sarah Semifinalist.” And when you pass her in the hall, she’s going to look at you differently because you beat her. That happens to novices all the time, and it’s a lot of fun.

2. Your odds of winning are 20%.

A professional-level winrate is 80%. That means that if you’re up against someone who speaks for a living or has breathed debate for years – or both, like me – that person still can’t expect to consistently do better than 80%. While that winrate is enough to carry people to national championships, it isn’t enough to completely shut out your chances of victory. Every five times you’re certain you’ve lost, you’ll win one of them. Maybe it’ll be this one!

3. You’re going to learn a lot.

The reason you came to this tournament was, hopefully, to become a better person. Win or lose, debating someone who’s way better than you is one the absolute fastest ways to improve. Pay close attention to what your opponent is doing and ask yourself: “What is he doing that I can do at the next tournament?”

4. You have nothing to lose.

If the odds are stacked against you, you can embrace the possibility and defeat and let it liberate you. This is a technique that samurai used before going into battle: they would assume that they were going to die. Rather than survival, they would seek the most honorable and glorious death in the service of their lord. While this isn’t the strongest mindset for advanced debaters, it can be helpful if you’re convinced in your head that you’re going to lose. If you must lose, don’t do it cowering in the corner. Do it in a blaze of glory.

5. You get to practice your mental game.

As a novice, being certain of defeat is natural. But as you advance, you need to be able to overcome that. If you’ve been debating for a few years and you still feel a sense of panic when you look at postings, something is wrong. Take this opportunity to improve as a debater and a person by honing your confidence. Don’t fake it ’till you make it, fake it ’till you become it.

6. Anyone can win.

Sarah Semifinal has been places and you haven’t. But your pasts have no bearing on this round. This is one round in front of one judge or one panel, and the result hasn’t been decided yet. Anyone can win. No one told the judge who to vote for. I’ve lost track of how many novices I’ve seen win rounds simply because they forgot they were supposed to lose.

7. You are unique.

Yes, you’re a special snowflake. You have something to offer the judge that no one else on the planet does. Your opponent may have better generic skill, and he may have honed his ability to offer his unique advantages to the judge, but the judge may like you better. Don’t let your fear hide what makes you special. Just give the judge the best possible version of you and see if he likes it. Give the judge a chance to vote for you.

8. He may be scared of you.

Up-and-coming debaters frighten and defeat advanced people all the time! Don’t assume the worst. Just go in there and debate.

9. Life goes on.

So what if you lose, and it’s embarrassing, and you get 12 speaker points? You’ll learn from the experience and move on and someday you won’t even remember this round. Advanced debaters don’t use violence. You won’t come away with any physical, emotional, or spiritual scars. The full extent of the bad news is that you’re probably going to lose, and that’s okay. Literally everybody loses rounds. Save your angst for something serious, like overanalyzing someone’s recent Facebook post.

If you see an intimidating name on the postings, keep breathing. You’re going to survive. You might even win. Give the judge your best performance and leave the rest to God.