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How to Be a Good Competitor

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

It's never fun to be at a tournament where everyone's unfriendly. Here are some ways to improve your etiquette as a speaker or debater.

Speech and debate competitions are scary enough without being afraid of your competitors too. To foster a positive environment, take care to behave courteously towards others.


Especially in debate tournaments, it can be easy to view fellow competitors as 'the enemy.' Overcoming these barriers is often the first step to actually having fun at forensics tournaments.


Here are a couple of easy little tips to try out next tourney!


Tip #1 - Introduce yourself


Before or after the round, take some time to introduce yourself to your competitor(s), and get to know a little about each other. This can help diffuse some of the tensions of competing and even make it fun.


Learning peoples' names also helps for later rounds when you encounter them again, or even for making friends.


Tip #2 - Try some small talk


This tip often elicits a couple of groans. But small talk helps to reduce the tension between competitors and build a more comfortable atmosphere.


For debaters, this buffer helps to 'keep it clean.' After all, it's much harder to be rude to someone who has been pleasant, as well as looking worse to the judge.

Small talk helps to reduce the tension between competitors and build a more comfortable atmosphere.

Here are a couple of small-talk ideas:

  • What school are you from?

  • What grade are you in?

  • Are you competing in any other events?

  • Oh, you're from X school? Do you know Y?


Tip #3 - Give compliments


As painful as it is, it often helps to complement the competition. It doesn't have to be ultra-specific; something as simple as "You're so good!" will suffice. This ensures that even after a particularly tricky round, you can remain on good terms with your competitor.


Tip #4 - Landmines to avoid


Of course, there are a couple of things to avoid in order to be a good sport. If you're a debater, don't discuss the round itself afterward. Keep it to generic statements about how great your opponent's did. Some things to avoid:

  • "You could have said-"

  • "You said this, but you didn't-"

  • "Some things you could fix are-"

In general, avoid the round topic all together.


If you are a speaker, avoid giving critical feedback about your competitors. While specific compliments are generally fine, circumvent improvement suggestions.


Trash-talking other competitors is almost always a no-no. More often than expected, those very people (or their friends) overhear, which causes all sorts of disasters.


A good rule of thumb is the 'van-talk' rule. For any trash-talking you should want to do, keep mum until you're in the 'van,' or some place away from the location of the tournament. That way, it's impossible for other teams to overhear.


Closing Statement


Believe it or not, debate tournaments are meant to be fun. It's even a good place to meet like-minded individuals who also enjoy speech and debate. Being a good competitor helps to foster an educational experience and make your experience enjoyable.

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