The Most Common Mistakes People Make at Nationals (Part 2)

Last time, we covered three mistakes people make at Nationals. Here are three more.

4. Ignoring Stamina

At Nationals, the best debaters will often look like they have unlimited stamina. They don't: they just have a great strategy for protecting it. Recognize that your energy is a limited resource, and follow a morning/evening routine that conserves it.

In the morning of competition days, walk through verbal delivery drills to warm up. The easiest debate rounds to lose are the first and the last ones of the day: the first because most debaters haven't warmed up, and the last because everyone is exhausted. In the evenings of tournaments, give yourself a break from the pressure of competition. You don't need to stay up until 2am writing a master brief on a new case. Set a specific hour that you are finished working on anything debate, and allow yourself that time to safeguard your stamina. 

I know your head is spinning. Accept what the judges have decided. Accept your performances, exactly as they are. Today is done. And the only thing that matters is tomorrow.

5. Making Style Changes for Outrounds

Nationals can really get in your head. You’re up against the best speakers in the league, and as outrounds go on, the risk of psyching yourself into a mistake goes up. For example, you might read something scary on a case list and make a last minute change to your own case to compensate. Nine times out of ten, this is a mistake (see part 1). You might also change your style because you want to come across as a national champion. You might try to force humor into the round to win over the audience, but because of your lack of experience with humor (jokes in speeches are hard!), it falls flat.

If you’ve gotten to outrounds at nationals, it’s because the judges are buying what you are selling. Don’t change it. Keep doing what works. Advanced debaters, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adjust your persona to counter your opponent’s, or counterpick if you’re advanced enough and have the cases to pull that off – but you shouldn’t do anything in outrounds that you wouldn’t do in a prelim. The only real differences are that your overall presence becomes more important and you have more judges that need eye contact.

6. Taking Advice from All Comers

As you progress deeper into the tournament, you’ll accumulate a lot of fair-weather fans. Maybe you’re the last debater left from Virginia; suddenly, long-time Virginian rivals want you to win. Graciously accept their support, but be wary. Picture this:

Quarterfinal postings go up. As you walk to your round, a guy from your region runs up to you with a flow. “I lost to that guy in octafinals,” he says. He then gives you a bunch of advice on how to beat him. Now of course, he means well. He genuinely wants to help, and he really wants to feel useful. But remember: he lost for a reason. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that your new friend doesn’t know how to beat your opponent. If you take his advice, you’ll just repeat the disastrous octafinal.

Don’t reject advice – that’ll just make your fan feel bad. Instead, focus on getting valuable intel. A flow of your opponent’s case is useful; the arguments your fan ran against them are not. Ignore them.

The most common mistake a national competitor makes is to stop: stop running a working case, run out of energy, quit explaining things, abandon his unique style. So I’ll give you the two words I say most often to my students as they’re advancing through national outrounds. They’re powerful, they’re deep, and they’re easy to remember. If you need to, repeat this to yourself as a mantra whenever you need to. The words are:

Don’t Stop.