“I will never lose the same way twice.”
Earlier in my speech and debate career, when I would receive that horrible fifth and below circle on my speech ballots or when I’d lose a round, I would blame it on some judge being ridiculous or my opponent sliming me in a rebuttal. My loss was never my fault. It was always the fault of my partner, my opponent, or the judge.
“Of course I lost. That community judge had no idea how to judge a debate round.”
“Well yeah I lost that round, the other speaker only won because he was an adorable little kid.”
“It’s not my fault my partner dropped that key argument.”
“What a moronic RFD. Man, if I had a sane judge watching this round, it would’ve gone a lot differently.”
Excuses, excuses, excuses. I never took responsibility for my development. I thought that my win-loss record was out of my control.
That all changed one day at club when one of our club members lost finals at a large tournament and we all worked on evaluating why he lost. I still remember my coach’s words:
“When I debated, I made a conscious decision to never lose the same way twice. I’m okay with you guys losing. I’m not okay with you guys losing multiple times for the same reason. Never lose the same way twice.”
That energized me. Through looking at my ballots after tournaments, I came to realize that there was a lot more within my rounds that I could control. So, I analyzed my ballots. I figured out why I lost every single round, why that judge didn’t give me first in my speech, why that judge gave me a three in persuasiveness, why that judge didn’t buy my argument. I made it my goal to understand every single ballot I received.
Guess what? I watched my development as a speaker and debater skyrocket.
Psychologists talk about the difference between an internal and external locus of control. Those with an internal locus of control take responsibility for their choices. They’ll seize the day and take control of their destiny. Those with an external locus of control believe that their destiny is out of their hands. They’ll always blame an outcome they didn’t like on some external force rather than their own choices.
Here’s the reality. Nearly every judge can be won. Yes, you made the exact argument the judge said would’ve won you the round in your 1AR. Yes, that judge voted against you simply for talking fast. Yes, the judge totally missed that your opponent dropped your solvency point. But guess what? You could’ve tagged and impacted better so your judge saw that argument. You could’ve slowed down. You could’ve impacted that dropped argument to the rest of the round as a whole. You always can do something to improve.
I was reminded to take responsibility for my choices two weeks ago when I lost the most important debate round of my career on a 5-4 decision in finals. I thought I had won. Looking at the ballots, it’s very tempting to want to blame that judging panel for making the wrong choice. But you know what? I could’ve impacted my framework better. I could’ve impacted the applications more. I could’ve been clearer on my thesis. I could’ve contested the definition. I could’ve delegated my time better. I could’ve spent more time on the crux. But I didn’t. I lost because I failed to capitalize on key opportunities.
Two days after the tournament, I identified my missed opportunities. I looked through every single one of the nine judge’s ballots and identified EXACTLY why I lost each judge and what each judge said I should’ve done. I flowed the round onto a giant whiteboard and visualized the round in its entirety while staring at the giant flow to see exactly what mistakes I made. I’ve written down what every judge saw as my strengths, my weaknesses, my missed opportunities, and the crux of the round.
Why? Because I’ve decided to never lose the same way twice.
However, don’t think that this is just in some empty pursuit of trophies. No, the reason we practice never losing the same way twice is not merely to win. The purpose is much higher. Never lose the same way twice so you will become the absolute best speaker, debater, and person you can be. Develop yourself by finding your weaknesses and purging them.
No debater will never lose. But the greatest debaters will never lose without learning from it. The greatest debaters will never lose without knowing why they lost. The greatest debaters will never lose without resolving to make sure they never lose that way again.
Never lose the same way twice.