Underdogs - How to Approach Your Toughest Rounds

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It’s 9:00am on a Saturday morning. A horde of debaters suddenly move as a single entity and begin to crowd towards the wall. A little man armed with paper and duct tape futilely tries to extract himself from the throng. You rush up to the pairings, and see…

…gulp. You’ve just been matched against one of the most dominant teams at this tournament. They have so many trophies that they can’t even fit them all into their school’s display case. They’ve beaten so many good teams over the last year that you’ve simply lost track.

How, then, should you approach a debate in which you believe there is absolutely no chance of winning?

There are several things you need to do. The first of these is to correct the faulty assumption that the better team will always win. Upsets can and do happen; however, if you walk into the round thinking that you will lose, it will happen. You must approach each round as if it is a blank slate. Nothing is set in stone and nobody can write their ballot before the start of the 1AC.

The second thing you need to do is to think of the round as a learning experience. If I had a choice between debating crappy debaters for six rounds or debating awesome debaters for six rounds, I would choose the latter. I wouldn’t care if I went 0-6. You know why? You learn a heck of a lot more from interacting with good debaters then you do when you roll over mediocre talent without a challenge. You not only get to see what makes these great debaters great, but you also get a chance to interact with them and see what kind of arguments work and what kind of arguments don't. This is an invaluable experience. Harder rounds also help develop your critical thinking skills - even if you lose, you’re forced to think smarter, faster, and harder. There is a reason why talent tends to be concentrated in certain regions and not others - to be a great debater you also need excellent competition to hone your skills against.

Third, use the round as an opportunity to test new strategies. This works great because there’s little risk involved; since you’re unlikely to win the round anyway, you might as well make good use of it. Testing out new strategies can allow you to see how good debaters go about answering them. That will allow you in turn to block out those answers for when you start to run the argument regularly.

Remember - don’t feel bad if you lose. Debate is a game and sometimes we just get the tough breaks when it comes to pairings. My sophomores at USC were unlucky enough to be paired up against Damien EG for round 4 (Reid Ehrlich-Quinn, of course, is the defending NFL National champion and was a semifinalist at last year’s ToC). It was a tough round, but they took the loss in stride and learned from it. I encourage you learn to adapt your mindset in the same way.

Anony's picture

"The first of these is to correct the faulty assumption that the better team will always win. Upsets can and do happen..."

isn't it more like the better team for that round will win?  just because on average a team does well does not mean that they will always do better.  sometimes it's just not their round.  and i personally would hope the team that did the best in that round (not by name/reputation but by skill) would win.  otherwise, what's the point in debating lol?  and i certainly would not want to feel like i won b/c the judge had a lapse in reason and made me the "upset" lol.   

but i get where you were going with this and i fully agree.  great article!  points 2 and 3 are excellent advice.  thanks for writing!!!!!!

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