Just like athletes prior to a big game or musicians prior to a large show, debaters are no strangers to pre-performance nerves. To an extent, these feelings are warranted — after all, debate is, at times, an unpredictable and intense art. There is little room for error once contentions and counter-arguments are flying back and forth at breakneck speed. Some even suggest that a healthy dose of fear can be beneficial, as manageable levels of adrenaline can keep one focused on the task at hand.
However, if left unchecked, pre-debate fears can spiral out of control and spawn a full-fledged phobia of competing — especially if early experiences turn sour. If you find yourself sweating over your next debate — or if you are nervous for your overall debate debut — it is important that you nip these feelings in the bud to maximize your chances for success.
The good news is that your fears are fixable — here are three quick tips.
This tip is easier said than done — especially when you are in a place of seemingly irreversible anxiety — but confidence is a highly important part of facing and ending your debate-related fears. If you are not feeling confident at this point in time, try your best to at least look the part. The more confident you act, the more likely you are to feel that way come competition day.
With the previous section in mind, an easy way to boost your self-esteem is to be well prepared. Regardless of your nerve levels, a strong knowledge of your debate topic and position will all but guarantee you are ready for a top-level performance. This notion can be relaxing, and the sense of security it brings will put you well on your way to mental and emotional stability.
Remember: it’s normal
By nature, humans tend to find comfort from communal hardship and challenge — it is better to face an obstacle when you know you are not alone in your endeavor. Pre-debate anxiety is a great example of this notion, and there are many other debaters like you currently wrestling with unfounded fears and stressors. If possible, seek out teammates or other peers who may be in a similar situation (or, better yet, ones who have mastered their fears) and talk out your anxieties. Either way, always remember that your feelings are warranted, to an extent, and that you will be ready when the time comes.