Approaching Nationals in a Manner that Glorifies God

Post-season play is always exciting on a whole different level, isn’t it? There is the thrill of just being part of that playoff season, and there is much more at stake every time you take the field. If your sport is speech and debate, the same is true as you approach regionals and especially a National Championship… and there is a proper way to approach your post-season if our mission is truly to glorify God.

First of all, be glad. Wear the thrill of being there all over your face, and enjoy – really enjoy – the fact that you are there. Your National Championship – you’ve had to earn your way there. Don’t lose the weight of that! Don’t forget that you’ve competed well just to be there! While I never advocate gloating, I do think it’s important to recognize that attending a championship IS an accomplishment in itself. Many seasoned competitors forget that. Approaching Nationals in a manner that glorifies God means starting with “it is good” to be here! THIS is GOOD. Hold that thought. Dwell there.

Nationals can be the end of your season with your friends. For some, the graduating seniors, this is their final stop. Once the tournament is over, you may not see many of your speech or debate friends for months! So, recognize the closure that this tournament brings to the season. Soak up the time you have with these friends at this stage in your life. Make happy memories that you will look back to years from now. I promise, the funny moments from the student hangout will glow longer in your mind than any walk across the stage. The people you share this tournament with have helped you be there. They’ve sharpened and challenged and judged you to make you better. Be in it WITH them. Fellowship deeply and rejoice in the relationships you’ve built.

A National Championship Tournament is also a tournament designed to reduce the competitive field. You can think of it as the ultimate semi-finals! Every round matters so much. One mistake I think many people make – both competitors AND parent judges – is to look beyond those rounds to the larger chess game of moving pieces – especially, I fear, on the debate side of the house. At this stage, I think the big-picture perspective can be harmful. All of us, parents and students alike, think we know who our “best” people are. But at National Championships, every round is its own battle. Every round must be approached, competed, and judged on its own merits. It must! If an underdog has worked and worked and arrived much improved, I want that weighed in. If a seasoned veteran is cavalier enough to think s/he can win on ethos alone, I beg to differ. Because the stakes are higher at nationals, there always seems to be a good bit of “clutching” on the part of BOTH students and parents at what are perceived to be “my” slots. We cannot approach this tournament this way if we are indeed trying to glorify God. If you are looking at the whole chess board and who has to get where so this or that can happen over here, you lose sight of your mission in your own round. Speakers, you have to get all the small things together for every single presentation. Parents, you have to judge small things happening right here, today, in this round. We all have to shut out yesterday as well as tomorrow and be present in the NOW to compete with excellence at Nationals.

So, do we forget the big picture? No. AFTER the rounds are over, then we all must step back and take that larger perspective. Every year unexpected and wonderful things happen at Nationals. They do! Every year there is that one surprise person who moves on- the one nobody saw coming. There is both cheering and sneering in the wake of this: cheering on the part of a family who may be seeing real success for the first time, and sneering on the part of those who were “clutching” that slot earlier, claiming it as their own and feeling that they deserved it and it’s been unfairly snatched away from them. Approaching Nationals in a manner that glorifies God means being ready to be one of those who is cheering no matter who wins the slot. It means admitting that God knows what He purposes to do with all of your hard work from the season and all of the hard work of those other students too. It means – now that we know who has won slots – trusting that God knows what He is doing, even if judges don’t! Glorifying God here means really letting Him, not us, have the glory of this moment. THAT is exceedingly hard and our response will be impossible to camouflage or justify away with any amount of rhetoric. It will be painfully obvious whether you fall into the cheering or sneering camp!

And, every year at nationals, there are disappointments. There is an end of the road for the speech you DID work hard on. There is bitter regret over the one mistake or the one thing you should have remembered. Those disappointments are going to sting for a while. If you are not feeling them, then I guarantee some of your friends are. And they hurt. They do. Be honest about that, but don’t be self-indulgent. Don’t wallow. Wait to see what your ballots said. Expect that God is doing something in your world that is bigger than this. It is very easy to see Speech and Debate as your whole world when you are staring at a loss. It’s easy for me as a grown up to say, “let it go…buck up…see past this.” I am years beyond high school speech and debate! Some of my own children are years beyond high school speech and debate! There IS life, lots of it, beyond high school speech and debate! But I know too, that such words don’t soften or appease those disappointments. They actually hurt.

What I DO know is that being self-focused is not the way in which we glorify God. Not ever. As parents and as students we have a lot of our own persons at stake when it comes to Nationals. If we are truly going to approach it in a manner that glorifies God, let us relish the joy of being there, let us run with excellence every round we face, let us respect the providential results in a way that proves we are truly HIS and not our own.

This article was adapted from Kristi Eskelund from her article published April 25, 2017.