3 Benefits to Losing a Debate Tournament

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The last 3 days, my oldest son participated in his first debate tournament. He joined a local debate club last September and jumped right into the world of debate. He learned the difference between Lincoln-Douglas and Team Policy debates. He learned terms like affirmative, negative, constructive, cross-examination, and rebuttals. To be honest, at times it felt like we (him and I) were drinking from a fire hose. But over the first semester, he gradually started catching on. During club meetings, he practiced debating fellow club members, and flowing his debate rounds. On our drives home, we would reflect on what he had learned that day, and how he can improve his debating skills. Noticing he was missing some basic knowledge about economics; I asked fellow debate moms their recommendations for economics books that would make sense to a twelve-year-old. We quickly found their recommended books, and he started reading in preparation for his first debate tournament.

first debate tournament

On the day of his first tournament, he felt excited and scared. I left him to judge another debate round and joined back up with him throughout the day to see how he was doing. During the first two days of the tournament, he debated six times, each debate running from an hour to half an hour. He was excited how some of his round went yet knew he had blown others. On the night of the second day, the tournament organizers rounded up all the debaters to announce who would move onto the next round. He sat in silence, while his fellow clubmates talked to each other excitedly. Finally, the moment arrived when he would find out if he would advance. As they read name after name, he celebrated the members of his club who advanced. When the last name was read, his had not been called. As a mom, my heart fell a little. But we had been here before. Every missed swing, every missed catch, every losing season. Baseball had taught him how to handle disappointment.

He was quiet as we headed to the door, getting ready to go home. But then I was told they needed judges for the next round. I asked him if he was okay with us helping this last time, and he said yes. Together we walked to watch debaters who had advanced to the level he had not. But after watching the debate, he realized what the goal was. He realized he was not at that level yet.

The next day, he watched as many debate rounds as he could. He watched those who had been debating for three, four, and five years. He knows he can reach their level, but now knows it will take both work and time.

Three Benefits to Losing your first Debate Tournament

Reflecting on his loss, I realized there are several benefits to losing your first debate tournament.

  1. Learning to handle disappointment. Learning to handle disappointment. While I’m sure my son didn’t think he would win the tournament, he was still hurt when his name was not called out to advance. But he didn’t cry, he didn’t shut down, he didn’t insist we go home. He thought quietly. I asked him if he was sad. He said “Just disappointed”. I said “I understand”. And that was it. We moved on to the next thing.
  2. Realizing you have not yet arrived. Realizing you have not yet arrived. Most things come easily to my son. But debate is something that challenges him. It is something he cannot just read a book and know how to win debate rounds. Winning in future debates will take work and determination, grit.
  3. Celebrating others’ wins, even when you lose. Celebrating others’ wins, even when you lose. After realizing he had not advanced, he still went up to a few clubmates and congratulated them on their wins. The next day, he watched excitedly as one team in his club advanced to the finals. He realized that he could still encourage others, while he, himself, was not in the race anymore.

My sons next tournament is in March. Between now and then, I look forward to seeing how he uses his first debate tournament experience to up his game. I’m sure he’ll rise to the occasion and move closer to his goal of being a great debater.