Taking Bad Decisions in Stride

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Last weekend at a college tournament, I happened to be on the wrong side of a flow judge's decision. It wasn't just a questionable or debatable sort of decision - it was a decision that was just utterly incorrect. It also knocked me out of the tournament.

Am I going to go into what happened? No. Suffice to say that I lost on a very simple argument, just a "We Meet" on topicality. I'd rather use this time to discuss the implications of bad decisions and how you should deal with them.

First, and most important, a poor decision will not bring about the end of universe as we know it. Do not delude yourself into think that one judge has the ability to drag down your entire season. There will be other tournaments, other rounds, and if you debate on a large circuit, chances are very small that you will encounter the same judge again. You CANNOT allow a questionable ballot to impact your performance during the rest of the tournament. That will not work in your favor. Instead, I like to approach each round from the perspective that it is the first round of the tournament - that is, you have no wins and no losses. If I am 4-0, I am really 0-0. If I am 1-3, I am actually 0-0. There is no such thing as a "must-win round" - because your goal should be to win every round, regardless of how far along the tournament is. Each round stands alone on its own merits and it is up to you to capture the ballot - your win/loss record and past decisions do not spill over into your future rounds!

Second, try to understand WHY your judge voted the way he or she did. We can classify explanations for poor decisions in two ways: an external locus of control and an internal locus of control. An external locus of control means that you perceive the judge to have made a poor decision for reasons that were beyond your capacity to address. Your judge might have been tired and missed an argument. Your judge might have voted on reputation, even if their flow indicated otherwise. Your judge might have despised the clothing you were wearing. Do these sound familiar? They should, because all of these are excuses. Remember the golden rule - the judge is always right. By externalizing the reasons for your loss, you absolve yourself of the responsbility to evaluate the round and determine what you could have done better. You miss out on the opportunity to learn from your experiences.

Conversely, the other end of the spectrum involves internal loci; that is, failures on your part that led the judge to vote the other way. Perhaps your arguments were correct, but they weren't clear. Perhaps you forgot to account for your judge's relative level of experience and expertise. Regardless of the reason, you should go back and try to evaluate why you lost, and strive to improve upon it next time.

Are judges sometimes boneheads? Yes. I've made at least one decision that I seriously wish I could take back after further reflection. Are judges sometimes ridiculously biased? Yes. I've had teammates lose a debate where everyone in the room knew they won, except for the judges who "played it safe" and voted for the other team with the better reputation. You just have to try and take it in stride and move on.


- Nick


I think the best thing about this blog is this:

     "You just have to try and take it in stride and move on."

That's exactly how you should approach anything in Forensics, and life, when there is nothing you can do to change the situation. 

And though I do agree that you should take responsibility for outcomes that might not be in your favor, to take full blame is ridiculous--the judge is always right?  No.  No one is infallible.  Do you have to accept their decision, take what you can from it, try to understand it, and then move on.  YES.  But you do not have to agree.  There are external factors.  You even mention some (judge prejudice for another team, doesn't like your clothes, it's an early morning, etc.).  I just don't think it's fair to yourself to be the only one accountable when some biases are clear.  

Never blame your shortcomings on others, but never blindly accept a decision either.  Question it and learn from it. 

Should you use these excuses/rationals as a crutch?  Certainly not.  Own up to what mistakes you have made, strive to improve, and move on to the next round. 

The worst is when one bad comment/rank costs you placing at finals. Ouch.

You're advice still holds though. It might sting more, but you as the competitor know what's what, and you're right--it's not the end of the universe.

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