The Tournament of Champions, Online Debate, and Self-Care


As the debate season winds down, this article is meant to highlight conversations around the Tournament of Champions. The current state of debate has presented new changes to the activity and created many concerns about the future of major bid-distributing tournaments and the TOC. We must reflect on the increasing burn-out in the debate community due to the nature of online debate and offer methods of self-care to combat this.

The Tournament of Champions (Alyssa)

The Tournament of Champions is approaching and it’s moved to an all-online format. The tournament is being held from April 23rd to April 25th. We have written this article to highlight what the hybrid shift might mean for the future of debate and the TOC.

Many were disappointed with the news of an online tournament, and it resonated most with seniors in debate. The glaring decrease in participation in debate, especially among seniors, has been an ongoing discussion in the debate community. Debate is already an exhausting activity, so the lack of in-person interactions and travel tournaments have made it undesirable for many. I can attest to this, I worked to qualify for the TOC at the beginning of the year, partly because I was looking forward to an in-person TOC. With the shift to an online format, I made the decision to not attend. While this decision was also made because my senior prom falls on the same weekend, I could see myself possibly attending had it been in person.

Prior to the switch to an all in-person tournament, there was a format of a hybrid tournament released. With this format, debaters with two bids would attend the tournament in-person at the University of Kentucky, while debaters with one bid would attend an online tournament. I personally am an advocate for more online and hybrid tournaments. I recognize that I don’t come from a small school, but debate is still an expensive activity. Valley High School is a public school where the majority of prep is completed by students and the cost of tournaments are either covered through fundraising or by individual debaters. It was only due to the immense amount of fundraising efforts that I was able to debate during my freshman and sophomore years.

The truth is online and hybrid options are cheaper, more accessible, and convenient. The TOC’s previous hybrid option and current all-online format have set a precedent. The cost of hosting an online tournament is also cheaper, so they aren’t going anywhere. Offering hybrid and online options post-pandemic will be critical to ensuring that debate is an accessible activity. Additionally, the possibility of more online bid distributing tournaments is inevitable.

The challenge will be in how teams choose to approach these new changes. The Valley Debate team has been requiring students to debate from the school since the beginning of the 2021-2022 debate season. I’ve found this an effective method as it still allows debaters to interact and build relationships. This might not address the lack of travel which is a big incentive for many people when joining into debate, however, it maintains a positive experience if done right.

Online Debate Advice (Sarah)

  1. Always have a bottle of water near you while debating. Too many times I had to interrupt my thought processes and run down to get some water during the round because all I could focus on was how thirsty I was.

  2. Find a quiet space with trusted Wi-Fi. When debating, you want to be free from interruptions so you can focus and give your best performance. It can become very stressful giving speeches when you have spotty Wi-Fi, especially since tournaments have implemented tech time (around 10 minutes of designated time to fix tech problems until they forfeit you). If a place in your home doesn’t work, try reserving a room at a local library.

  3. Stand up during your speech. Similar to in-person tournaments, standing up will make it easier to project and be clear and help with your energy.

  4. Talk to your friends between rounds! Almost after every round, I would get on a call with my friends that were also competing to debrief and/or start prepping for the next round. Even though you’re at home, online debate is still very exhausting. When you’re in your room for hours on end with no one else, it’s really important for you to interact with your friends and take a break.

  5. Have snacks nearby. This may seem trivial, but every time I was debating I would feel sick and it was always because I would forget to eat something between rounds. It usually feels like there's no time to take a break during tournaments, but finding at least 10-20 minutes to refresh will help you perform better in the end.

  6. Some snack recs:

  7. Skinny Pop popcorn

  8. Luna Bars, Power Crunch, & Cliff Bars

  9. Dang Thai Rice Chips

  10. Harvest Snaps: Baked Pea Snaps

  11. Pirate Booty

  12. Don’t use AirPods/earbuds. The best choice would be to use a headset, but if you don’t have one, then just use your computer’s microphone. Airpods/earbuds don’t adapt well to speed and can make it very difficult to hear you clearly.

  13. Adjust your speed. With online debate, your audio quality won’t be the best and you may run into connection issues. This means you have to adapt to this new setting to ensure the judge and your opponent can understand you clearly. Especially with important arguments, slow down!

  14. If you’re nervous about online debating for the first time, schedule a practice round with a friend over zoom. Especially if you’re in a partner debate, practice how to interact with each other online. This way, you can get the mechanics down and feel more comfortable when you’re actually competing.

Good luck online debating!

General Self-Care Tips (Alyssa)

For now, we’ll have to combat the increasing burn-out at the individual level with some self-care.

  1. Get a support system. Having people who support you will help you deal with whatever internal challenges you may be facing in the debate space. A support system is also just good when it comes to having someone to rant to that actually understands debate terminology.

  2. Make a fire playlist. Listening to music between rounds will help you de-stress and balance your energy. This is especially true if you’re someone who tends to over-work themselves when it comes to prepping.

  3. Find an after-tournament hobby, whether it’s cooking something, spending time with friends, or binging a comfort show. Taking your mind off the now completed tournament and finding a way to relax your brain will help you de-stress.

  4. Take a step back from debate. You don't need to attend every tournament that presents itself, no matter how passionate you are. My sophomore year I attended ten tournaments and while I was proud of myself, it was still exhausting. As a senior so far I’ve attended five tournaments and I’ve found that this has made debate a much more fulfilling experience as I haven’t been forced to over-exert myself.

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