After pouring hours into prep—redoing speeches, cutting cards, blockwork, practice rounds, etc.—you finally reach the tournament only to get dropped before the bid round, again. You are frustrated beyond words and feel like quitting altogether.
Trust me—I’ve been there. In fact, in my junior year, I attended sixteen tournaments and didn’t fully qualify to the TOC until the very last one (oof). At every loss, my partner and I felt hopeless and that all of our hard work wasn’t paying off. I would momentarily question why I continued to pursue an activity when I kept relentlessly failing. However, this feeling never lasted long because, after each loss, I would return to see my friends and teammates, always ready to build us back up again: bringing jokes, laughter, and comfort. Shortly after, I felt prepared to try again at the next tournament.
No matter how many wins or losses I received throughout my debate career, the best thing I got out of the community was friendship. Not only do debate friends benefit you from a debate standpoint—offering motivation amidst tough losses, sharing prep, exchanging flows, round takeaways, etc.—but they are also relationships that will last a lifetime. So, how do you go about building a community and strong friendships in debate?
First, show up; be present. It’s not a huge secret that people sign up for debate partially motivated by how it will look on college applications. But, instead of viewing each tournament as a box that needs to be marked off to reach some higher status, I encourage you to be present and involved in the community. You have to put yourself out there. Whether that means making an effort to eat lunch with fellow debaters, striking up conversations before rounds instead of going on your phone, or organizing a team pizza night, always strive to be involved.
Second, reach out to people. A huge way that I have gotten more connected—especially in an online debate setting—is through simply messaging my opponents after the round. It doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. You can simply say, "Great round!" and chances are they will hit you with a response. After connecting with people on social media during the pandemic, I have made great friends through group chats and online games post-tournaments.
Third, attend camp (if possible). Going into my first session of camp, I didn’t have lots of debate friends outside of my team. However, camp changed that because it's designed for you to make connections and friendships. Through lab time, free days, practice rounds, etc., it is nearly impossible to not make amazing friendships with students all across the country at camp. Especially today, with so many camps and online debate platforms existing (and having scholarships, aid, etc.), these are becoming all the more accessible. Though there is still more work to be done from the accessibility standpoint, you can always reach out to a camp worker about opportunities that you could take part in. At camp, I met an array of individuals who I now call some of my best friends.
These are tips that I learned the hard way in debate, but after applying them, I felt immensely more excited to partake in debate activities and felt much more at home in the community. Without these friendships, I am not sure that I would have stuck with debate all four years of high school. So I encourage you to put yourself out there and make connections. The community will be an even better place with you in it!