Tips for New Competitors at a Speech and Debate Tournament by: Gloria Heiss

“I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!)
I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!)
I’m walking on sunshine (Wow!)
And don’t it feel good”

Why, you ask, did I start this blog post out with the chorus to, “Walking on Sunshine”, by Katrina and the Waves. Well, besides the fact that it is a great song, we sometimes have to be reminded to walk like we are on sunshine.

Have you ever felt “meh”, “ugh”, or even “ew” while at a speech and debate tournament? I’m here to tell you that we have all been there; from the seniors who are pros, to the beginner twelve year olds. Don’t forget sleep deprived moms, grumpy siblings, and coffee-needing judges. Sometimes, just once in a while, someone might say, “I wish I wasn’t at this speech and debate tournament!” I know, blasphemous. But true!

Despite all the fun that goes on at a speech and debate tournament we have to remember that a tournament is going to drain us. No matter how much coffee we drink, or monsters we chug, or mini power naps we take we are going to feel that “meh” slipping into our system. And judges can pick up on those less than chipper vibes. So, I’m going to challenge you to do the seemingly impossible….do not let it affect your performance. Just being aware that you are in a “meh” mood can help you prevent it from deterring from your experience.

Here are some suggestions of things you can do to relieve stress while at a tournament:

1. Put in some headphones and listen to music. Tune out to get you tuned into doing your speech. But be careful not to tune others around you out.

2. Make conversation with fellow competitors in the hallway, but remember to do it quietly. Getting to know others can maybe calm your nerves. Maybe you will meet someone who is just as nervous or someone willing to pray with you.

3. Go to the bathroom, look yourself in the mirror, and strike a power pose. I know it sounds weird but scientifically it should make you feel like you are ready to roll!

4. Don’t be afraid to inform others about your mood. Maybe some mom will have an essential oil on hand. (Hehe) No, but really, there are often new competitors that may feel “a little nervous” or “blah” too. If you had a bad round, talking about it, and then moving on is the best approach. One bad round will just make you stronger.

5. If nothing else, find small things to make yourself smile through the day. Play cards with friends, do a spontaneous photo shoot, or go watch speech and debate rounds (just be sure you don’t have somewhere to be).

Another competitor had this advice-

1. The first thing you can do that really helps, is to set aside 10 or more minutes to run through your speech before you go into your room. Find an empty room, hallway, or wall, and run through your speech like you are going to in the room. Might I suggest that you do this by yourself, because friends can be distracting and you should be doing your speech like you are going to in competition.

2. The second really helpful thing that you can do, especially if you are really nervous, is to talk to people. Find someone that you don’t know very well, and just engage them in a conversation. Talk about something that you both enjoy! Talk about sports, movies, anything that will get your mind off of speech! I find this really helpful, especially right before I go into the room to give my speech.

3. The last and most important thing that you can do before you go into your room is to pray.  Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Paul is saying that when you are nervous, anxious, or excited about something, anything, pray to God about it. Pray by yourself, pray with friends, pray with your family, communications staff, which you will find to be extremely friendly, and anyone who you can find before the round. Trust me when I say that praying before each round and even before every tournament is extremely helpful. Now, don’t go in thinking, “I’m gonna pray that I will win the tournament”. Go in thinking, “I’m going to pray that whatever happens in the tournament, God will be glorified.” Try to pray for people as well. I have found that when I pray with and for other people, it helps me to calm down before I go do my speeches.

I have personally found all three of these things to be helpful while I’m at a tournament. I try to run through my speech before every single round to keep it fresh in my head, I am usually pretty social, so for me, talking to people is no problem, and I always make it a goal to pray by myself and with as many people as possible before every single round.

Now with this advice I hope you don’t think I’m telling you to act like everything is rainbows and unicorns and leprechauns at a tournament. It’s the fact that things do get exhausting and dramatic that we need ways to relieve stress in order to function properly before going into competition. I have used these techniques in the past to get myself through a round. I hope they prove to be successful for you too so you can go into your room like you’re walking on sunshine. 😉