Thursday, November 20, 2014

Debating to Build Mental Strength: Part Four

Written by: Dr. Sarah T. Partlow Lefevre

It has been a few months since the first three installments.  But, I hate to leave a job unfinished.  So here goes number four.  In parts one, two, and three, I discussed 15 ways that debate can build mental strength.  I based my suggestions on the blog written by Paul Hudson called 20 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.  In this final installment, I discuss Hudson’s remaining suggestions and contextualize them in terms of debate.  The suggestions are:

16. Repeating Mistakes
17. Giving Into Their Fears
18. Acting Without Calculating
19. Refusing Help From Others
20. Throwing In The Towel

In debate, students learn to avoid repeating mistakes, overcome their fears, prepare their arguments, accept help from their partners, and to never give up.

16. Mentally strong debaters learn to avoid repeating mistakes.
When I was a debater, my coach told me that the path to winning in debate was learning from arguments to which I lost and never losing to the same argument twice.  After debates, I would analyze and examine the arguments that I lost to and write better answers to use in the future.  This strategy works in debate and it works in life.  Rather than bemoaning a loss, complaining about the judge, or belittling your partner, a mentally strong debater should craft better answers to other people’s arguments and seek to use each loss as a moment to learn and improve. 
17.  Mentally strong debaters do not give into their fears. 
There is a reason why public speaking is “America’s biggest phobia” according to the Washington Post.  Simply put, public speaking and debate are scary.  It can be a great challenge to speak in front of a judge; to try to give a coherent speech when you might be behind in the debate; to speak well as you enter a break round.  However, giving into such fears leads to defeat.  Instead, mentally strong debaters learn to channel their adrenaline and to use their fear productively to create better performances.  Misdirected adrenaline sparked by a fight or flight response can be a debater’s worst enemy.  Purposeful movement, mental strategies for overcoming fear, and focusing on the task at hand can help debaters to perform under pressure –a portable skill that will serve them throughout their lives.  For more suggestions on overcoming fear click here.

18.  Mentally Strong Debaters Are Prepared and Have Considered Arguments In Advance.
When you have time, you should prepare.  There are different ways to prepare depending on the particular debate format.  But, not to consider a variety of arguments and how they interact before you are in the heat of the debate leaves you without the ability to fully understand the complexity and strategy in a given situation.  Substantial calculation in advance will serve you well in prep time and speeches and allow you to construct winning arguments.

19.  Mentally strong debaters accept help from their teammates and their coaches.
In watching years of practice debates, I have often noticed that debaters respond to constructive criticism defensively with comments such as, “Well, of course I won’t do that in the debate” or “I know I am not supposed to do that.  But, this is only a practice.” This type of face saving comment makes it difficult for a debater to learn or to process potential improvements.  Mentally strong debaters should be open to constructive help and suggestions from their coaches. 

Additionally, debaters often refuse to accept help from their partners or other team members.  This is unfortunate because learning to work effectively in a team environment is one of the greatest benefits of debate.  Mentally strong debaters recognize that accepting help from others makes everyone better and does not diminish the individual. 

20.  Mentally strong debaters do not give up.

Many people try debate and give up because it is a challenge.  But, as with most things that are worth doing, debate requires personal growth and improvement over time.  It requires concerted effort from individuals who do not easily give up.  Perseverance in debate magnifies the importance of the accomplishments you do have.  We don’t do debate because it is easy.  We do it because it is an intellectually challenging, strategy oriented activity that requires development of useful skills over time.  If debate was easy, there would be no reason to continue.  It is because debate is difficult that we must press on.