The Immediate Transition From Debater to Judge

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Just months ago I stood behind a debate stand, timer in hand, ready to speak at hyper-speed.

Having been involved with policy debate for the entire four years of high school, it is bizarre to not have debated in months and to know that I will likely never debate again. I decided to stop debating, but to remain in the activity as a judge for high school tournaments.

The immediate changes are bizarre. No more camp? To not know the topic, to not speak with other debaters in debate jargon, to miss your high school team but to know that you have to move on eventually, because that part of your life is simply behind you?

That was me during the summer, suffering a mild emotional breakdown now and then.

Then I went to a tournament at the beginning of this school year, and the two experiences (judge and debater) were set side by side, and the fact that I was in the position of the debaters just a few months before made me feel like I was now a spectator in the crowd, when I was just recently on the field.

First of all, being nothing but a judge is much less stressful than debating. There’s no prep before, during or after a tournament, no mad dash to get to a room…

The judge is basically always right; if you try hard enough, you can explain (bullshit?) your way out of any mischaracterization of arguments, or evidence. Because at the end of the day, the idea is to clearly communicate ideas to the judge. People generally agree that the debater is at fault for not getting the idea clearly across.

Everything depends on you, revolves on you. A simple facial expression change can indicate to a speaker how you’re feeling, and that could be dangerous.

If a debater is more experience and skilled than you are as a judge (likely case for me), decisions can be awkward and complicated.

This all reminds me of autumn, the transitional season. Leaves go out with a fiery bang before losing their grip on their branches. We miss the leaves but we appreciate the way they change colors right before they fall.

As a chapter of our life draws to a close, we find ourselves appreciating it and wishing for a little bit more summer. But we know that different leaves will grow in due time…

The fact that I was just a debater myself a few months ago leads me to realize the little things that I used to do, tactics I would use during a debate, thinking myself to be sneaky when in reality the judge probably knows I’m doing it. The way I would phrase questions, stall when others asked me questions, bullshit responses when I didn’t know, etc.

But at the same time, I can feel my speaking become less eloquent, a treat I thought was inherently mine until I realized that a consistent practice routine was what had led me to maintain an inkling of eloquence. Now, I’ve just retreated to writing, the process of editing and re-wording, to account for the fact that I am no longer articulate in real-time.

But in college, I’ve joined the slam poetry club; hopefully this will help me gain some of my speaking skills back. We’ll see.

I can’t decide if I like being the judge or the debater more.


  1. Pingback: This Kid I Know: Navin (Year 2) | Catherine Zhang
  2. Burl

    New experiences, new challenges, new ways of looking at what makes life interesting… enjoy the experiences that campus life will bring and open your mind to seeing every problem or so-called-fact from all sides.


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