My Debate Career Is Over

cat 2

I started debate in 8th grade, but my mom was actually the one who pushed me to join. I wanted to quit before freshman year but I was convinced by one of my friends to stay a little longer; ironically, she quit before her sophomore year, but I’m still here.

I watched other kids in my grade drop out of debate, having the time to do three other extracurriculars instead of one and wondering always, what if, what if, what if?

What if I’d quit? Where would I be? Who would I be? What would I be doing with my life and how would I be spending my time?

I stuck with it and found my interest culminating towards the end of my sophomore year. Maybe because at this point, I’d made enough friends outside of school that I looked forward to seeing them at tournaments?

I was travelling to more exciting places, Vegas, Boston and the like, and I was also getting a lot better; the activity and its benefits were starting to reveal themselves to me.

My mom noticed this first; she noted that although she had to nag me in every which way (to do my homework, to exercise, to sleep earlier), she NEVER had to nag me to do debate work, because I drifted naturally towards it and always found an excuse to take a break from everything else and just settle down a pair of headphones.

Our squad’s pretty weird; I’m lucky to have come from a school with a rigorous, competitive program. The debaters of the class of 2014 are talented AF and great in number, so I sometimes saw these peers as competition and sometimes as friends.

While you can discuss secret strategies and such within the people in your school, the competition gets real as soon as you venture beyond that. Although your lab group at summer camp is basically one huge family or “squad” during the summer, as soon as summer ends, it’s everyone for themselves, though there’s still always that underlying safety net of support #achm

In years past, people would ask if I wanted to debate in college, and my response would always be a nonchalant “Yeah, of course!” but the statement was empty. It portrayed only my intentions and didn’t account for my abilities.

It overlooked the massive time commitment and the intense environment that encapsulates college debate these days.

And I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m personally probably not cut out for college debate.

When I was younger, I had the hugest dreams of being a really good debater, unprecedented. Taking names, breaking records, setting standards, and becoming an example for those to come.

But the months passed…and it felt like time was running out. I’d feel really satisfied with my progress, but I’d glance over and see my peers across the nation eclipsing me.

I’m not sure if the competition in debate just got to me, because this sort of feeling is not something easily diagnosed; it’s more of a gradual dissatisfaction developing in your gut.

People fundamentally underestimate the overall draining impact of debate tournaments.

You spend the week before juggling class and last minute research obligations, trying to find a balance.

Before you know it, you’re off on a 6-hour bus trip or grueling pat-down at the airport; there’s always something that throws you off, like a different timezone or a delayed flight.

Rounds will start at 8AM and you will spend the next 10 hours of your life constantly moving around, and your nerves won’t let you keep food down.

You see your friends once a month, once a semester, or maybe even once a year. These sort of reunions are often the highlight of the weekend; these long-distance friendships really make us who we are.

When you finally get back home, you’ll look around and notice the homework that you’ve slacked off on; the next week’s just a strenuous game of catch-up.

I think in the debate community we hear success stories all of the time. Big schools frequently on top or small schools producing one exceptionally good team…But what of the others? What of the students from the large schools with tremendous resources and coaching opportunities? What’s their excuse, and more importantly, do they need one?

We forget that adolescents are rarely one-dimensional. The half-hearted debater might be a regional soccer champion, work a part-time job, or run a kick-ass blog (holla).

Some can still do incredibly well, given that they manage their time wisely. They are the picture-perfect, text-book definition of a “well-rounded student.” The rest fall prey to the inescapable effects of human nature.

It is difficult, more than difficult to leave an activity behind and not feel like you used your time as best as you could have, like you didn’t amount of anything.

It’s wholely okay. I used to be really insecure of the judgement that those in the debate community would pass, especially those who knew me only through my competitive record at tournaments.

What’s the use in denying it? My record can be found online; people will prematurely judge me anyways. Why not explicitly acknowledge it and explain why it doesn’t make me inferior to you?

Nowadays…it doesn’t bother me at all. Looking back, I am more than content with my personal progress in this activity; examining myself in regards to others provides neither satisfaction nor shame, as comparison is the root of all unhappiness.

In the debate community, the majority of people tend to strive towards this one goal of qualifying to this major tournament in Kentucky at the end of the year.

Some never reach their goal; others do reach it but don’t see it as the end-all-be-all of their debate career. Some really strong-willed and high-road-moral people just flat out refuse to attend, and I salute them, because their justifications are never less than thought-provoking and frankly, true.

One of my lab leaders at camp this summer said something profound, and I think it bears repeating that our debate careers are much more than this one tournament, or that one tournament, or our competitive record, or some medals and trophies on our shelves

If you think back to freshman year, to you wetting your pants on the first day of practice. If you think back to this and don’t smile, if you don’t realize how different you are from that freshman, then you’re doing this activity wrong.

I’m leaving debate; this bittersweet progression doesn’t really feel like quitting, because I am moving on.

But I’m not demeaning the value of debate at all; it’s made me who I am, and I regret nothing out of my last four years. At all. Seriously.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel the need to prove or justify myself to others; it’s my life, my decisions, and my future.

It just seems to me that there are lots of people out there, debaters and non-debaters that feel similarly as I do, and this makes us all a little more alike. 


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  3. tboner

    I really feel this post, because even though I didn’t really continue doing TOC debate as an upperclassman, I continued debating and I honestly really miss the friends that I made doing TOC debate. After a bit though, I had moved too far away, and nobody else at my school expressed real interest in doing TOC level debate, so I moved on a bit early.


  4. sharpeggio

    I really appreciate this post. A lot of it resonates with me; more with my involvement with theatre, but also with my light dabbling in the argumentative art of debate itself. I, too, had that “what if” moment, during the end of my senior year in Highschool. Long story short, I would have so many different friends I hang around, I would have such a different view in the world, and a different understanding of everything I have right now. And that really fascinates me.
    Theatre, for me, has been that big “thing” that sucked up my life. And my parents, who now ironically want me to stop participating in theatre, originally encouraged my participation in it to help speed up my breaking out of my socially awkward shell. Needless to say, that definitely worked, but now what? What happens now? Do I still do it? What drives me to do theatre? Theatre’s arguably more or less just as time consuming as Debate; memorizing lines, blocking, lines, notes, keeping the nerves down and the energy up. It’s even more rigorous in college, but depending on your role and college, more or less so than debate’s rigor.


    • catdiggedydog

      I definitely feel that connection. I think if you had given it up before the end of high school you definitely wouldn’t be the person that you are today. And seeing that you’re still so talkative about it, it must be doing really good things to you. You’ve never been as “you” as you are at this very moment, dude.

      Did you know I wrote a blog post about you/your love of theatre? This is back last year when you were still here at school, but my points still resonate:


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