Debate can be hard to understand, especially when you’re twelve. Learning that it’s not all about winning can be even harder, not matter your age. Here is a piece written by Elliot Paul, the 2017-2018 winner of Lincoln Douglas Debate, sharing what he has learned from his time in the NCFCA, including some tips for current competitors.
As I wrestled with understanding what the LD resolution meant by “governments have a moral obligation to assist other nations in need”, I had no idea that six years later I would be debating in finals of the National Championship about how governments ought to use globalism as a framework for making their decisions. More on that later.
I soon went from being a twelve-year-old novice LD debater to a fourteen-fear-old somewhat competent Team Policy debater, mainly due to the coaching I received from my dad and older siblings. I even began achieving a reasonable level of competitive success in speeches and debate. But each time I crossed a new competitive milestone, I immediately found myself yearning for the next one! Qualifying to regionals was cool, but I really needed a slot to nationals to be satisfied. Qualifying to nationals in debate and one speech was exciting, but I really desired to qualify in all five speeches and debate. And so on.
I then decided to spend my final two years in high-school and the NCFCA as a Lincoln Douglas debater. In my last two years I worked hard, continued to benefit from the enormous investment my parents made in this activity, and ended up walking out of my final tournament with a trophy for first place in Lincoln Douglas.
This came after years of learning, failing, and trying again. You will hear that I won the National Championship, but I’m guessing you will not hear that, just a month and a half earlier, I was stressing about whether I would even qualify to Nationals (I ended up getting the last LD at-large slot from my region). Don’t lose heart when you don’t achieve your desired result on your first try. Try, try again! That way, whether you end up achieving that result or not, you’ve practiced two characteristics that are much more valuable: discipline and dedication.
Remember that little wide-eyed twelve-year-old boy who couldn’t wrap his mind around the word “moral”, the word “obligation”, and certainly not the term “moral obligation”? If you told him he would win the National Championship in six years I have no idea how exactly he would have reacted, but your best option would have been to immediately seek shelter from whatever extreme reaction his happiness produced. But after putting in the work and then experiencing the feel of competitive success, I’m here to let you know that the former was not worth the latter. You read that correctly; winning did not feel good enough to make my investment worthwhile.
My word of advice to you is this: consider your goals for competing in this league. If your main goal is to hoist a trophy at the end of your last season, don’t even compete. That is a great feeling, do not get me wrong, but it was not worth the six years I spent in getting to that place. Thankfully, I walked out of my last tournament with much more than a trophy. I left with skills that I have already begun using in all communication, from conversations to speeches, to point this world to my Heavenly Father, who gave me the skills in the first place. I left having developed many friendships that I can genuinely say make me a better man. If those sound like they align with your personal goals for this activity, you will not walk away disappointed whether you win nationals or fall just short of an invitation to regionals. I am glad I spent the last six years of my life competing in this league. And I would have been thankful for those years even if I found out that I had not earned that final at-large slot to nationals.
Whether you are already a competitor or you are just considering competing in the future, please understand that the competition, while fun, should never be valued above the skills you learn, the people you meet, or the God we serve.
Elliot Paul (Lincoln-Douglas Debate)
Elliot Paul recently graduated high school in May of 2018 and concluded his sixth year competing in the NCFCA in June. He will now be starting college at East Carolina University, where he will study biomedical engineering.
My name is Elliot Paul and I am writing this soon after completing a journey of six years marked by countless sticky notes, hundreds of positive memories, and the confidence to say that my skills as a communicator for Christ have grown into something I never expected. Imagine a skinny, 5’0”, exuberant, loud twelve-year-old boy and you’re on the right track to understanding where my journey began. That was me! I had seen my two older siblings compete in speech and debate and I was eager to get started.