By Team Singapore 2017 • Singapore
This opinion piece was written by members of the team that represented Singapore at the World Schools Debating Championships 2017 in Bali, Indonesia. It deals with their journey preparing for and debating in the tournament, as well as their experience in dealing with adjudication feedback.
Earlier this year, Team Singapore participated in the World Schools Debating Championships held in Bali, Indonesia. After months of preparation, eight preliminary rounds, and three out-rounds, our journey culminated in an extremely exciting and rigorous debate with Team England in the Grand Finals. Participating in this tournament was truly an eye-opening and enriching experience for the team. We would like to share some of the learning points we gleaned from participating in this tournament, in the hope that this sharing will be useful for others – and if not, simply for the sake of posterity.
As competitive debaters, we are often taught to respect the rules and structures of the WSDC format almost as the gospel truth, and for good reason – these rules and structures provide us with a strong framework that facilitates the robust exchange of points and arguments. However, for many of us, this also makes it difficult to think of debating as anything other than an after-school activity; something we engage in during adolescence and leave behind once we enter the working world, to be memorialised only in dusty medals tucked away in trophy cabinets. Yet this is a notion many of our alumni continually reminded us was false – debating is also a skill that can be carried on to adulthood. Particularly at a time when democracy seems to be disintegrating in the face of a relentless onslaught from tone-deaf politicians, rigorous discourse in the real world is more important than ever. Having this broader vision of the importance of debate was certainly something that motivated us to keep pushing on when the going got tough.
Hence, while debating may seem like a purely intellectual exercise, it is also important for us to remember the emotional dimension involved in the sport. Particularly for international tournaments, where judges and debaters alike hail from all walks of life and come into the tournament with a vast array of socio-political experiences, it is crucial for us as debaters to be tactful and diplomatic in constructing and relaying our arguments.
Debating is also a game of psychological strength and endurance. There were many instances throughout this competition where our team had to fight hard and steel ourselves against feelings of despair, particularly after our loss in Round Two in what was an extremely engaging debate against formidable opponents from Team Canada. But if there is one main lesson our alumni taught us, it is this: No team is perfect. You don’t have to be a perfect team to win. What matters is having the perseverance and unyielding faith in the team’s capabilities, and the fortitude to press on despite all. Many of us spend much time trying to refine our personal skillsets, and it can be easily forgotten that debating is, at its core, a team sport. In hindsight, pursuing holistic development as a team and working in tandem to complement one another was crucial to helping us grow.
As our coach often reminded us in the lead-up to the competition, the World Schools Debating Championships are won by whichever team learns the fastest. Being adaptable and quick on the uptake throughout the competition is paramount. While every team certainly comes into the tournament having spent time and effort refining their skillsets, a lot of learning happens on the go during the tournament itself.
In this regard, one thing that we learned to treasure was the adjudication feedback that was given to us after every round. The essential perk of participating in such a large-scale international tournament is the diversity of opinions and debating experience that can be amassed, and we believe that all teams should make full use of this privilege. What is crucial is that teams should not just listen passively to what adjudicators tell them, but should actively try to see how they can apply the lessons they learn, so as to improve. Our team found it useful to break down adjudicators’ comments and distil them into smaller concrete goals, which could be designated to a specific member of the team. This person would then be responsible for ensuring that the task in question would be completed in the next debate. This allowed us to hold each other accountable, and go into every round with a specific improvement in mind. Some team members found it useful to write this improvement down on a cue card that they would then place in front of them throughout the entire debate. Regardless of the method each one of us used, one of the core lessons we learnt was this: that targeted and deliberate learning is what allows teams to make the most of the feedback they are given.
It has been a great privilege to represent our nation at this year’s World Schools Debating Championships – a dream that many of us have harboured since we first embarked on schools debating. Few of us will go through our debating careers without a hitch. There will be countless disappointments and letdowns. But the future rewards those who press on. We encourage you to set realistic short-term goals, to have faith in your own ability and to never yield to adversity even when the going gets tough. With hard work, what may seem unattainable now could very well become a reality in the near future.
Lee Jit Ping, Siobhan Tan and Ryan Wee were members of the 2017 Singapore National Debate Team.