NSDeep responses – week 1

Hello! Welcome to this week’s NSDeep, our new anonymous advice column! We got a high volume of submissions, so we picked 5 that are most representative. Just a reminder: A. these submissions are 100% anonymous B. this is not a column for strategic advice, teaching about authors, or coaching.

  1. How do I keep competing when losing makes me very depressed and I care too much about bids but am still bid-less?
  • “If you’re holding on to the idea that winning is everything then that is a problem, because that cannot be the only goal. Through your own sense of self-compassion you can become your inner ally instead of your inner enemy. So, it’s about developing self-compassion; self-esteem and confidence aren’t it. Self-compassion is the ability to talk to yourself, just like you talk to a friend you believe in or care about. If you have this, you see that failure is a stepping stone and not something that defines you. This does not mean accept less than your best, but it is really about working towards your mission and vision for your goal. If your goal is to win the debate and get the bid, that’s okay. However, if you don’t, you have to withstand the disappointment rather than letting it destroy you because you want to have a rational perspective about yourself and your experience. Sometimes you’re going to lose when you should’ve won, because the world isn’t fair and that is frustrating. However, you can be willing to take the risk and approach yourself with a strong sense of self compassion.” – Shirley Matthews PhD.

Interested in learning more about this concept? Dr. Shirley Matthews is citing one of her favorite books: The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive by Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD.

  • Reach out for help — often, with anxiety/depression comes feelings of alienation and isolation. These feelings may make it seem like there is no one else who feels the way you do, or that no one cares or understands. But, those feelings are not descriptions of reality, and you should push yourself to reach out to trusted adults who can help you. These might be a coach, a teacher, a parent, or a counselor.


  1. Dealing with anxiety and toxic competitiveness, obsession over records, TOC in debate

When obsessing over records and TOC, give yourself this quick reminder: In the long run, debate is not the end of the world. For example, postsecondary schools are not concerned about your records at these random national tournaments, BUT they do appreciate a balance of different activities with a good academic record. That being said, do not let debate consume your life and make you so unhappy that you trap yourself in a bubble. Play some games, go outside, turn your Facebook notifications off for a bit and enjoy something that makes you feel great about yourself.

WE GOT A LOT OF SUBMISSIONS RELATED TO THIS. A Word document is attached to this article with a full list of tips from a variety of former and current debaters, here are a few:

    • Make sure to take care of yourself right before tournaments! Instead of stressing out & staying up super late the night before to cut loads of prep, try to work out and sleep early! Or watch some Netflix. If you can get yourself in a more relaxed mood and take care of yourself before the tournament, you won’t feel as stressed during the weekend.
    • Music! Before one of the biggest rounds of my career all I wanted to do was cry after I got my pairing. My coach put these giant headphones on me and played Beyoncé, and it calmed me down. Make pump up playlists, calming playlists, distracting playlists—whatever you need.  
    • Do non-debate things between rounds. My teammates and I played a lot of Contact, trivia games, card games, etc. Even 5 minutes can help get your mind off of what’s stressful. Using a fidget spinner, cube or kinetic sand at tournaments, helps to have something small to fidget or play with to help focus more
    • Get up and move around if you are able to. Especially when I’m on a big campus like UF or Harvard, I just go for a walk. I put on my comfy shoes and put in my ear buds and I just walk and take in deep breaths and just reflect. This works best in areas where the air is cool because I can feel the air going in my noise and that makes it easier for me to focus on my breathing and make sure it’s slow and controlled.
    • Maintain healthy relationships, a lot of times it’s easy to make toxic friendships which just made debate seem less fun.
    • Speak your truth in the midst of anxiety due to fear of retaliation against your identity. “Being Black and talking about structural violence in debate usually comes off as ‘aggressive’ or ‘unconvincing’ but when these same arguments are spewed from a white mouth they somehow become more coherent. In order to cope with this anxiety of going into rounds in front of white judges and white judging panels, adopting a form of hope by continuing to speak truth to power can be a great thing in itself. Bringing these issues into round is a good thing in itself, regardless of the results of the ballot.” – Delon Fuller
    • Do yoga. It’s very grounding.
    • Do what you love!!! If you love policy style debate, if you love high theory, if you like kritikal literature – do it. This activity is meant to be fun regardless of what anyone tells you, so do what you love in the space. When you’re excited to run your new AFF, it can block out some of your anxious fears

Download (DOCX, 23KB)

  1. How to deal with seeing people who are triggering to you (like actually triggering, not as a joke) at debate tournaments as well as how to deal with feeling unsafe at tournaments for this reason
  • Keeping yourself safe has a lot to do with self-containment, and not putting yourself near this person. If you can, stay as far away as possible and seek close friends, coaches, and adults throughout the tournament. Please do your best to make others close to you aware of the situation so you have consistent support.
  • Dr. Shirley Matthews says “breathing exercises and meditation are helpful. Try to calm yourself, one helpful yogic breathing technique (Pranayam – conscious breath) is the 4/4 breath – 4 sniffs in, and 4 sniffs out. For public speaking, there is a ‘victory breath’ breathe in ‘vic – tor – y’ (3 breaths in) and then do 1 exhaling breath. These breathing techniques get your mind out of the crisis mentality.”


  1. How to get individual fundraising for myself without seeming weird to the community, reduce/waiving entry fees, and school permission for tournaments
  • Debate can be a very expensive activity and this has often caused a shift towards exclusivity and elitism. Luckily, there are several foundations that help out low-income debaters! Including The Voices Foundation, which gives need-based financial assistance for summer camps in LD and Public Forum and Texas Debate Collective, a non-profit debate camp that provides high quality debate instruction affordable to debaters from all income backgrounds. Raising money for yourself, depending on school policies, may also be done through a GoFundMe account.
  • Schools can be really tough to work with for permission for tournaments. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, having discussions with the principal, attending tournaments as an independent, and reaching out to tournaments about their policies on accepting independent debaters are a few options!
  • Several tournaments will waive or reduce entry fees if you call or email the directors and explain your financial situation. For example: The director of the Crestian/The Tradition tournament at Cypress Bay High School waives entry fees for any UDL (Urban Debate League) teams.


  1. Dealing with partner troubles and prep? Small school debater keeping up with writing blocks and preparing for tournaments when big schools have 10 coaches prepping for each debater?
  • A debate partner can be many things including your best friend or your adversary. If you have troubles balancing the prep workload with your partner, try starting off with delegating specific but small prep tasks to them. Give your partner deadlines for certain prep to be done and encourage them to be honest with you about their other time commitments and their progress with the debate work.
  • As a former small school debater myself, I understand how it feels to be feeling as if you have to go above and beyond to face schools that are larger and have more resources. Honestly, work hard and do your best to write frontlines to and block out some suggested answers to your cases (e.g. ask other people how they would respond to your case and then write responses to that) and then take a break to take your mind off debate. Do not let foolish social stigmas like “rep” or how many TOC bids someone has bog you down or cause you to be salty when you get pairings, just be confident. Keep in mind, coaches can write things out for you and tell you which cases to read but they can’t give anyone’s rebuttal speech for them, so always try your best and that will be more than enough to keep up.

Jayanne Forrest