First of all, apologies for no updates on the debate part of my life for a considerably long time. I do have an acceptable accuse; not to mention being very busy due to my STEM-related activities, I was in a debate "slump," if you would say. After my failure to be on the top 12 WSDC team last year, I analyzed world top debaters' speeches and tried to make their rhetoric mine. My main reason for failure was a speaker who spoke right before me, and even was on my side, spoke nearly every point I was preparing to raise. This was an experience I never had in middle school or high school debate tournaments, where communication within my team is very active and debaters know what their teammates would say at the podium. I instantly lost my cool, and lost my strongest merits as whip--which is my organizational skills. After this experience, I analyzed, prepared (in particular, how to react when something like last year happens), and studied to make my way to the top 5 this year.
However, this year, I felt as if I crashed into an insurmountable wall. First failures are easy to overcome, but when one fails again, even after preparing so hard to overcome the obstacle he or she encountered in the previous failure, one becomes quite dejected and self-doubting of one's abilities. Even more, I failed because of the exact same reason!
At the same time, I reached a point where my skills began to develop very slowly. In most instances, when a person learns a new skill or expertise, the amount of effort required against development in skill forms a very steep curve at first, but plateaus more and more. Think of learning a sport: after a few months of practice, you can physically feel your skills developing every day, you feel capable of anything, and this immediate return makes the sport enjoyable than any. However, after a year--or maybe a couple of years--you begin to feel like your skills have suddenly met this glass ceiling that prevents you from moving to the next level, and your development feels stagnant.
I myself have an enormous passion for debate, one that I can confidently say that I am almost "addicted" to debating. But failing the WSDC even after more effort, combined with this plateauing of my skills, was quite a fatal blow to my morale. Frankly, I had been largely engulfed in a sort of "mannerism," where I soullessly reiterated similar speeches, again and again, not giving much thought to what I am saying.
But much changed this winter; a series of tournaments helped me to redeem my passion, as I unconsciously improved and received recognition for the hard work I had put in before the WSDC trials. In the Winter Holidays Open, (which is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world) our team did not perform excellently, but I received 10th best speaker! 10th best speaker may seem like an unimportant title, but bear in mind that more than 6 national level teams were in my division, and I scored even higher than a debater from Singapore. (Okay, I'll stop bragging about it) But scoring higher than Singapore meant so much to me, since they are my heroes, whose speeches I downloaded in my iPhone and listened to whenever and wherever I could. In the following tournament, the South African National Schools' Debating Tournament, I earned quite a large number of awards and medals: (1) quarterfinalist, (2) 2nd best international speaker, (3) 2nd best new speaker, (4) certificate of recognition senior gold, and most importantly--(5) 14th best speaker, which would mean that I am in the national training pool if I was born in SA.
(If there is anyone interested: these are the website links:
SA- https://sadebating.org/category/sansdc/ )
Okay, I've digressed a lot. But what I wish to emphasize is to continue trying even when you feel that you've reached this point where your skill no longer improves. It may be the tipping point where your skills are just about to boost.
Because this post, until this point, is just a pep-talk of an inexperienced high school debater, so I wish to offer some advice that I newly learnt during these previous set of tournaments, and probably skills that elevated me to the many awards I recently received.
1. Reorganize points into categories and lay out the flow of the debate.
During the previous two tournaments, my note-taking style largely changed. Whereas I used to fold my paper into six strips, each for each speaker, I now just begin with a sheet of paper, where I make a network of color-coded arguments based on which argument engages with which.
As I often say, a good whip must be able to disprove the other case even without using new rebuttals. Only by reorganizing the order of the points, and augmenting your side by explicating the impact of each of those points, you will develop a speech that is much more powerful.
2. Prepare "cookie-cutter rebuttals."
Experienced debaters would agree that there are some arguments that apply for a very wide range of motions, such as chances of abuse by authoritarian regimes in tech debates. The fact that these arguments are used so widely already shows how powerful these arguments, and preparing cookie-cutter rebuttals for cookie-cutter arguments would help you to engage with these points that might be hard to respond during the debate.
3. Remember to Constantly burden-push
At the end of the day, debating is a team sport, where a less skillful but consistent team can beat an artful yet inconsistent team. A big mistake that many debaters make is that they prepare their speeches during their teammates' speeches. However, regardless of how excellent the teamwork is, it is inevitable that you do not have full knowledge of what your previous speakers will say. Therefore, it is crucial that you listen to even your side's debaters and pick up any points you believe are strategically advantageous.
Before I finish this post, I just want to post this online signature from team Singapore, whom we met at round 5 in Winter Holidays Open. I knew that our team would be crushed by team SG, but I was so happy that they were writing a speech just to crush our team! Immediately after the round, I told them that I am their fan, and I asked for their signature, and we all laughed together. I had lost motivation for a pretty long time, but these experiences this winter really helped me to redeem my love for debate.