Character: Being Competitive

Character is the most important thing we teach. As we walk towards the end of the season, you’ll hear me talk about it in more explicit terms. Here’s our first installment: why you should care about competition. -Coach Joseph

Every human being is born with the natural urge to succeed. This translates into a number of instincts: survival, competition, excellence, etc. These God-given instincts are powerful motivators that drive us to be better. In academic forensics, the urge to succeed gives you strength when you’ve been speaking for days; it makes you take every round seriously; it drives you to study every ballot to learn as much as you can from it; it keeps your eyes open when you’re scrolling through court decisions and census data and scientific reports.

Without the urge to be the best you can be, academic forensics would die overnight. Read that one again:

Without the urge to be the best you can be, academic forensics would die overnight.

But caring about competition hurts, because you don’t always succeed. Sometimes you lose a round you just know you should have won. Sometimes your goal of quarterfinals is met with a failure to break at all. Sometimes a speech you sank your heart and soul into performs terribly at a tournament. It’s easier and less painful to just relax and let the chips fall where they may.

When you’re in the student lounge and you ask your friend how his round went, there’s a good chance he’ll give you an answer something like this: “I’m hoping I won, but I’m assuming I lost so I’m not disappointed.” Do not be this person.

Depending on the league, region, and leadership at your tournament, you may face official efforts that discourage competitive spirit (such as a ban on cheering when someone gets an award).

Do not let this get into your head.

Just as you’ll face a constant barrage of negative energy in the “real world” pulling you away from your full potential, you’ll have to deal with plenty of people who don’t think you should care about doing well. Some are your close friends. Others are the “cool kids” who concern themselves with more important things like dressing well, gossiping, and making fun of you. And, most tragically, there are many adults who have fallen victim to the lie that kids will be better off if they don’t try their hardest to win.

It pains me to have to write this post, because it should be obvious. But it isn’t, so I’m telling you now: it’s not cool to not care.

You should invest emotionally in everything you do.

Part of this means having proportional emotion: having the right-sized response to an outcome. If you fail, I want you to be disappointed. If you succeed, I want you to be filled with satisfaction. It would be dishonest to invest as much of your time and money (and your parents’ time and money) and feel nothing when it made (or missed) the mark.

I know this is hard. This means that your time in speech and debate will live through peaks and valleys. Moments where you feel on top of the world. Moments where you want to sink to the floor in sadness. I’m going to tell you now: these feelings are not merely legitimate, they are honorable.

In the thousands of years of human existence, not a single human being has succeeded in life without experiencing heart-breaking disappointment. It’s a rite of passage. If you never experience disappointment, it means you never tried hard or aimed high enough. That’s what true failure is.

So be disappointed, but not discouraged.

Everything you feel matters. So use it to become a better person. Push yourself forward on pain if nothing else. Let every frustration drive you to look for progress.

That’s what it means to be an excellent person.