Stress for speech and debate members rises during preparation for competition

By Quinn Fitzgerald

The speaker takes a deep breath, adjusts posture, and prepares to present the speech yet another time.

For Speech and Debate Club members, the preparation for a competition involves time, practice, and stress. This past weekend, the team hosted their fourth-annual Highlander Howl, and debate coach Wallace Austin explained what all they had to do for preparation  for the tournament.

“There’s a lot to be done. We have to organize. We have a computer program to organize all the of the entries. It’s takes in place in about 35 rooms, we have food for the contestants and parents that do the judging. We have the awards ceremony with the trophies and ribbons and s there’s a lot that goes into it,” said Mr. Austin.

For all of the competitions,  the students meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour after school to practice and get feedback from the coaches.

“We try to do as many tournaments as we can starting in November through to March. There are students who have other activities so we just ask them to come whenever they can. A lot of time, they do practice on their own time to improve,” said Mr. Austin.

Speech coach Lesley Austin assists her husband by handling the interpretation events of the competition. She has the students, who are involved in the interpretation events, analyze their characters because they [the judges] will be judging them to interpret the characters.

“I have a theatre background and my undergraduate degree is in theatre so I have a background with the interp [interpretation] and more on the interp events,” said Mrs. Austin.

For all of the club members, Mrs. Austin explained how much time and work must go into their practices in between the competitions.

“It can take a lot. They usually the same piece. If it’s a speech event, they’ll use the same piece in between [competitions] and so they’ll take the notes from the last one and making changes. For the debate events, they change in events some of them monthly, and some of the bimonthly, so they have to start researching again. The state debate tournament will have a different topic than what they’re debating here, so they’ll have to actually research again and rewrite a new speech,” said Mrs. Austin.

The preparation before a competition puts stress on the students as they are aiming to get as much done as possible.

“I think the most stressful part for the kids is the practice, especially if they haven’t memorized it. Also, making it to practice. A lot of students today do so much and only a few of them make one thing a priority and we’ve got a lot of kids this year making speech a priority. But still, just the practice and creating the information is important,” said Mrs. Austin.

Junior club member Grace Neal shared how the most stressful part for the members is having as much information and content they can for the competition.

“The most stressful part of getting ready for competitions is probably gathering enough sources to support the information we are presenting, and making sure these sources are reliable,” said Neal.

Neal shared that the the most stress for her is during the competition when the opponents are questioning her during a debate.

“The most stressful part during competitions for me is when I am participating in crossfire, and being stringently questioned by a member of the other team concerning my side of the debate,” said Neal.

Contributing to the stress are the fears and worries that build before competing. For freshman club member Vivian Bulleit, she worries most about being shy in front of the judges and other people.

“I just started this [discussion] so I’m a little worried that I’ll be a little shy about talking in front of everyone even though usually I’m not. When I try new things, usually I’m shy,” said Bulleit.

To ensure that her worries will not get in the way during the competition, Bulleit makes sure she has what she needs and that there is nothing more she can do for the competition.

“I just make sure I do what I do and finally there’s the point where I have to say I’m done and I don’t need anything else,” said Bulleit.

With all of the stress that occurs, Mrs. Austin said that practicing is the best advice she can give to the club members, which is why meeting after school is crucial. However, because many of the students have other activities outside of school, Mrs. Austin explained how those activities can get in the way of practice, so they must also practice on their own time.

“Unfortunately for us, this is only an after school activity, but a lot of schools we compete against speech is a required course and they practice everyday in class and they tend to be better. We practice twice a week and were lucky if we get the same people twice a week, so they have to practice on their, and that’s the best advice I give them: to practice. Find a mirror, find a wall. It’s not uncommon for kids to be talking to walls. Speech people talk to walls. It’s a big thing.” said Austin.

Contrary to the stress and worrying that the members go through, Bulleit stated that Speech and Debate is actually enjoyable because of the speaking and risk-taking that it entails. She shared that for herself, it is putting herself out there and testing the waters that drew her into the club.

“I joined speech and debate because I thought it would be fun and I could do something that I really love doing like talking in front of people and getting my opinion out there,” said Bulleit.

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