It was my first year in Team Policy Debate. I was young and inexperienced, my partner even more so, and I was terrified. I thought we were going to die. And we would have, if not for our club. It was an online club, full of experienced debaters, many of whom were seniors. I had nothing to offer them. I could barely research, so I wasn’t useful in the evidence sharing department. My strategy was sub-par. It was not useful to practice debate us; In fact, I’m sure it felt more like pulling teeth.
But they didn’t mind.
My experienced teammates made a point of calling us before each tournament and talking through the complicated cases. They freely shared their briefs with us and offered to practice debate on many occasions. At tournaments, they never failed to make sure we were well equipped before the rounds, and afterward, they would check back in to hear how it went, offering support and advice for how to handle situations. It’s safe to say that if it hadn’t been for them and my absolutely phenomenal debate coach, we never would have grown so much or made it to regionals that season. At times, I felt bad for them – I knew it must be exhausting to help out someone so new to the debate world.
The years wore on, my club all graduated, and soon, I found myself being the one people were asking advice from. And once again, I was terrified. I was used to being the one with an “army” supporting me in debate, not the other way around. Now, I felt alone, and for a long time, carried around a sad spirit, despite the fact that we as a team were now fully capable of standing on our own.
What I soon discovered, though, was that pouring back into fellow debaters was far from being draining. It actually became one of the most fulfilling things that I did in Speech and Debate. Sharing briefs, evidence, and strategies both in preparation for and during tournaments facilitated friendships and deep discussions. I discovered that I really love working on case structure and discussing the semantics of argumentation. I was no longer fighting against my competition, I was fighting with them. Honestly, seeing the confidence they had going into rounds, and the excitement with which they recounted the rounds to me afterward was probably more rewarding than my own successes. I was finally feeling the significance of the second part of Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In the end, it’s about community. Competition is fun. Success feels great. Being persuasive is an absolutely amazing skill to have. But you know what? My highest rankings are not what I’m going to remember in the years down the road. I’m going to remember how blessed and loved I felt when people rallied around me in support. How thankful I was that a complete stranger heard me asking someone for a brief, and lent me one. I’m going to remember seeing the joy and thankfulness in the novice’s face when I handed them a brief, and how complete it made me feel to be able to serve them. I’m going to remember the relationships. The late-night conversations about sanctions and tariffs that would slowly devolve into arguments about whether or not a hot-dog was a sandwich.
As we go into a new season, I would encourage all of you to find your community. Granted, it’s going to look a little different this year in the midst of chaos. It’s going to take a lot more intentionality. Reach out to the new names and faces. Call your fellow competitors (both in and out of your club) and talk about strategy. Set up a time to have a video chat and collaborate on brief writing. Practice debating online together. (That’s actually how we did almost all of our practice debates my first year). If you’re one of the experienced kids, look for ways you can help assuage the panic in the eyes of others. Share a brief, a train of thought, or even just an encouraging comment. For novices, please, PLEASE do not hesitate to ask your fellow competitors for help. It is out there, and who knows, you may just find that you too can have an army supporting you.
Emalyn is right! We all need support! Not just the new kids (or parents) on the block! Lasting Impact! aims to support you in your journey… wherever that might be! Coaching sessions have started, as well as clubs and classes, but your journey is unique. Give us a call or pop us an email if you need support! And if you have been doing this for a while… remember where you started. And of course, don’t forget to lean on the One who wants to support you the most!! You Got This- Cuz He’s Got You!