A discussion about the Pros and Cons of debate from a Competitive Debater
Being an Asian-Canadian, throughout my life, I’ve done an incredible amount of extracurriculars, many based on a whim from my parents. Ranging from piano to basketball, I’ve spent a decent portion of my elementary and secondary school free time doing these activities but none of them had as strong of an impact on my life than debate.
I originally got into debate because of a family friend who recommended it to my parents. I had no idea at that time that it would lead me down the most transformative journey of my teenage years. While almost every experience was a good one, there are a few things to note before you choose to make debate a substantial part of your life.
Debate is very distinct as it’s a team activity that marries strategy with academics. No other extracurricular really ticks off all the boxes that debate does. Not only does debate ask you to voice your thoughts and challenge you to think out of the box, it also encourages an open dialogue.
Debaters know that any debate round is a safe space for them to voice their opinions on topics ranging from International Relations to the morality of pressing a red button when you don’t know what it does. But at its core, discussions that happen in debate have to do with pressing matters that the world is dealing with. These issues are rarely taught in schools yet they are integral to the understanding of the world we live in.
Debate also shares some characteristics you find in sports like strategy and competition. From the outside, debate may seem passive but the reality is that if you like the rush of scoring a goal or hitting a shot, the thrill of winning a round rivals that feeling completely. All of these quirks of debate make it a very universal activity- offering aspects you’ll like no matter who you are.
Even more so than just the sheer amount of skills you learn, debaters are often some of the most open minded and most tolerant people. Because we’re constantly thinking about how to make the world a better place, many debaters crave listening to the opinions and lived-in experiences of others. I personally have never felt more at home or more welcomed in any other environment. Even at tournaments when you are competing with strangers, there’s a level of respect that almost every debater offers to their opponents.
On the off chance that this respect isn’t present and something does happen, every debate tournament has an “equity team” that works to ensure a safe and respectful environment.
I have this one memory of being at a tournament and in one of the debate rounds I was in, the other team was a bit rude and after the round, I told my academy friends who were also at the tournament competing and I really felt a sense of solidarity. Though I credit learning debate with many of my accomplishments in life so far, the most irreplaceable and most important thing I gained through my debate experience was a support system of friends that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Even though I’ve presented an image that debate is amazing, there are a few things to note that may turn some people off from becoming a competitive debater. Firstly, it’s stressful competing at tournaments. Everyone wants to do well and everyone wants to win so sometimes it can get stressful.
While many people can handle this pressure and thrive in it, it is a substantial consideration for people who don’t necessarily do so well with stress. I know that both myself and many debaters started off petrified of the thought of speaking in front of other people to the point of stomach pains or feeling like throwing up.
Though I have learned to manage these symptoms of anxiety through self reflection and the support of my partners, the stressful nature of debate tournaments is not for everyone. But even if you do find that tournaments are stressful, it’s your choice whether or not you attend them.
Many debaters only take classes or only go to debate club meetings and never really go to tournaments and that’s completely fine! Sometimes debaters think that they have to go to a tournament or else they aren’t a real debater which isn’t true. The skills learned in debate classes through friendly debates and drills are integral in creating confidence and public speaking skills for people who do struggle with speaking up and through this continual effort, you may even find yourself wanting to go to tournaments later on.
The second thing to note is the time sink. Debate or more specifically American debate formats are incredibly time consuming. Because American formats require a huge amount of research, many debaters spend dozens upon dozens of hours doing research, practicing and competing. Most tournaments last for at least 2 days usually on the weekends. Though the experiences of going to a tournament are irreplaceable.
Some of my best memories come from overnight trips to tournaments where we stayed up way past midnight talking about debate, our lives and our hopes and dreams. These conversations still stick with me and I think about them all the time.
The learning process of going to a tournament is also an irreplaceable experience. I personally found that every time I went to a tournament, I would go through a breakthrough in achieving a higher level of debating every single time. So even though I missed out on many laid back weekends, I have no complaints.
I highly recommend every parent to get their child involved in debate or even public speaking. The amount of real world skills and abilities learned through debate is incomparable to any other extra-curricular. Be it critical thinking, public speaking or generally better interpersonal skills, I personally credit most of my success in high school and in interpersonal relationships to my debate journey kickstarted by VDA.
I started off as a very self-conscious kid with barely enough confidence to speak in debate class to someone who tries to go to as many debate tournaments as possible and teaches my own students to speak up. Check out this page to learn more about how VDA debate classes are programmed, and check out our Youtube page for an inside look in one of our classes.