Preparing for national qualifiers

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In all four years that I competed in high school, nothing to me was quite as daunting as the national qualifier each spring. (Depending on your state, this can range anywhere from february to april.) After a long year of competing and revising both your piece and performance, you finally reach the breaking point. Win or go home. It's that simple and this brings staggering pressure to the say the least. I have seen a couple big victories, but have also fallen just short as well. Either way, there are some things that you must keep in mind as you approach this pivotal tournament.

There are a few rules that any competitor must be aware of before the national qualifier. Regardless of state or district, the NFL mandates that only the top 2 competitors can qualify in a given speech event unless there are at least 38 competitors in an event. In most districts, there wont be 38 competitors in any event; therefore only 2 qualify. Although this seems very doable, view it in a different light...You are only allowed to have ONE competitor beat you if you plan to go to nationals. Unless you are from a pathetically easy district, this is a very formidable task.

There is another rule that most competitors don't understand because it is different from all other tournaments. The NFL has a rule for national qualifiers called "2 downs and you are out." In order to understand this, let me give an example. Let's say your speech category has 30 competitors. You will have 5 rooms of 6 competitors. An "up" is considered positions 1-3 and a "down" is considered positions 4-6. Therefore, if you get two downs, you are out of the tournament. Although this is tough enough, especially if you have a stacked room, it gets even tougher. After the drops before round 3, they move to accelerated drops meaning "ups" are only placements of first or second place. Not only is this tougher, the competitors are tougher because the weaker opponents have already been dropped.

These are the two major rules that competitors must understand. You have to be familiar with your surroudings and the procedures if you are to succeed. With these two rules comes one last piece of advice: Get lots of sleep the night before. I can tell you from much experience that endurance (on top of a great piece of course) is the key to qualifying to nationals. I remember my sophomore year specifically. I was competing in oratory and there were 41 competitors. Based on the above-stated rule, the top 3 were guarenteed to go to nationals. Competition started at 9 AM and by the time a final round was determined, it was 8 PM that night. It had already been 5 rounds and now the 6th and final round would determine who went to nationals. I can honestly say that I have never been more fatigued for a round than I was for that one. I dont care how many years you have competed or how much you have prepared, it takes A LOT of endurance to stand strong after that much competition.

These are just a few hints. Obviously, there is much more that goes into perfecting a piece that will get you to nationals. But just remember this. Each year, a little more than 2% of competitors make it to nationals. That is extremely difficult; therfore the margin for error is slim. But if you are ready for the tournament and understand the rules, you put yourself a leg up on the competition.

As a person who never even had the option of going to Nationals, and who was never awesome enough to break to State, I found this all very interesting. I got exhausted just reading it. I couldn't imagine competing in it. I bet it's fantastic fun! Load up on Redbull...haha, just kidding. The crash would be horrific!

Question...it seems "very doable" being the top two competitors to qualify? Who is saying that?! I would like to add a third thing to the list of preparedness for going to Nationals: do not go in expecting to qualify; like you already have it. Go in prepared to fight for it. Be a Spartan! I am fairly sure anyone who thinks it's easy to be in the top two, and that they own it, will not have prepared properly and fail. Just saying.

Kudos to anyone who gets to Nationals at all. That takes some mad skills.

Maybe I overstated the opinion of making the top two as not extremely difficult. I know in my district, the top 5 to 7 competitors in my event felt pretty confident that all they had to do was make the final round and then it wouldnt be too bad. In theory, you only have to make the final round of 6 and then you have to beat at least 4 of the competitors. Much easier said than done.

I agree with your third point Lis. You have to remain humble as you approach this tournament. It is very difficult. But with that said, you also have to have all the confidence in the world that you are able to qualify and will if you stay focused and only approach the round at hand. Its kind of a catch-22...lol

This is a great breakdown. And yes, definitely get plenty of sleep before a national qualifier! Staying up late the night before a tournament can be fun, but a qualifying tournament is not the best time to wake up with bags under your eyes and a desperate need for coffee...

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