I am an athlete.
But for the past three years, I, like many others, have been plagued by injuries that still haven’t healed to this day. And come 2020, between worsening pains and Covid-19 shutting everything down, I was being metaphorically “crushed.”
And that is when I needed a solution- a safety net that would serve as an impressive extracurricular while also being something that I would always be able to do.
I still remember the day my mom suggested I try out debate, and if I hated it, I didn’t have to do it.
And even though it isn’t always fun, and there is still plenty of complaining and stress-induced nausea, I can’t deny the fact that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives.
In this article, I hope to accomplish four things-
- Explain what exactly debate is
- Weigh the pros and cons of debate
- Offer advice to new or inexperienced debaters
- Go over how to get involved
What exactly is debate?
So, what exactly is debate? Technically speaking, it is a formal, timed argument over a set topic. In simple terms, it’s competitive arguing. At organized tournaments, whether in a team or individual events, debaters compete to see who has done the most preparation, who is more convincing, or sometimes, it just comes down to who can speak faster.
People often believe that debate is all about people in suits yelling over nuclear weapons and radical policies, but there is a huge variety in what debaters compete over. Over the past year, I’ve had anywhere between two minutes to two months to prepare for debates about everything between cats versus dogs and weapons of mass destruction.
According to “Forensics And College Admission” by Yale University Professor Minh A. Luong, “State and national debate winners have a 22% to 30% higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges and universities than the average student, compared with school newspaper reporters (+3%), sports team captains (+5%), class presidents (+5%), and band members (+3%).”
Pros and Cons
Now, let’s talk about what this extracurricular brings to the table, beginning with some of the downsides:
First, even though you would have to be pretty crazy to call it a sport, debate tournaments often last for days on end, and because you’re consistently debating, debate tournaments often feel like running a mental marathon.
Another con is the time commitment of debate. Oftentimes, debaters spend hours preparing and researching for tournaments. But, this can be bypassed depending on what types of debate you choose to do. For further clarity, see the list provided by the National Speech and Debate Association.
And to be transparent, debate is sometimes horrendously unfair. There will be a couple of close rounds throughout your career that you lose simply because your opponent goes to a well-known private school. On top of that, there is an apparent wealth gap within the debate community. But at the end of the day, overcoming these obstacles is what makes winning that much more gratifying.
Now onto the positives:
Whether it’s learning complex vocabulary or figuring out how to sound convincing, debate will skyrocket your writing and reading skills no matter your level.
Another benefit that isn’t talked about enough in the community is reusing things you’ve learned in debate. I’ve used knowledge gained from debate for writing essays, haikus, research papers, and the list goes on.
It’s obvious, but debate ends up teaching you about a little bit of everything. History? Yeah. Science? You bet. Philosophy? Of course. Current events? Obviously.
And to be honest, knowledge about these things is what I’ve found separates good debaters from great debaters.
I’ve only been debating for a little over a year, but all of these benefits have been strikingly apparent for all facets of my life.
If I could give one piece of advice to new or inexperienced debaters, it would be this- throw yourself into the deep end in any way you can. The hardest yet most effective way to do it is to go to tournaments. My coach shoved me into my first tournament two weeks into debating, and ultimately, getting crushed is what pushed me to earn an award at state championships afterward.
On the other hand, some people debate for months but never go to tournaments. Unfortunately, this sets them up for not having the confidence to compete while also having too much to lose.
Also, make friends- the farther ahead of you they are, the better. Personally, my friends have taught me as much as hours of debate classes have taught me. Plus, having experienced friends is going to help negate the stress and long nights which come with debate competitions.
How To Get Involved
The first step is to look at your immediate options. Most schools have debate clubs or teams, and joining should be your first step.
If your school does not have adequate resources, the next step is to join an independent debate center or academy.
Another way to get involved is through debate camps. These camps take place regularly over the summer and are usually hosted by universities, academies, or other independent organizations and nonprofits.
And if none of these options are available to you, there are so many more online. From Instagram to Youtube to Google to even Tik Tok, there is always a way to get involved.
So yes, even though there’s a high amount of grumbling during prep or shivering from fear before tournaments, whether you’re someone shooting for a top college, or someone who enjoys learning for the fun of it, I cannot recommend debate more.