Headspace: Suggestions for Debaters

I’ve mentioned before that mindfulness training can be an effective way for debaters to improve their mental toughness and perform better in high-pressure contest rounds. One of the most popular tools for practicing meditation is Headspace, an app that provides guided meditations and other mindfulness training programs. For debaters seeking to improve their mindfulness in preparation for competition, I strongly recommend giving Headspace a try. To help students get started, I’ll share some debate-specific suggestions below the fold.

As a “test drive,” Headspace offers a free basic guided meditation course (and a few other courses) to everyone. In order to access the full library, a paid subscription is required. Students can purchase a discounted subscription that provides full access for only $9.99 per year. Educators can also sign up for a free subscription with an eligible email account. (Disclosure: I have been a Headspace subscriber since 2016, but I don’t work for the company and I don’t receive any compensation for recommending the app. I just like it.)

Once subscribed, users have access to a huge library of guided meditations. After completing the basic courses first (there are three, along with several helpful animated videos that explain basic meditation techniques), debaters will benefit most from the Headspace for Sport series. While a few of these courses are targeted at physical aspects of athletic competition (especially Recovery and Rehab), most provide excellent mental training for debaters. These are my favorites:

  • Sports: Motivation — “Discover a healthy sense of perspective as you set clear intentions to pursue your goals.” This will help students with goal setting; it uses the reflection technique.
  • Sports: Training — “Make the most of every moment by learning how to set clear intentions for training sessions.” This will help students improve their mindset during practices; it uses the noting technique.
  • Sports: Competition — “Train your mind to let go of the inner chatter, focus and discover a place of quiet confidence.” This is the single most valuable meditation course for debaters. It will help students improve their pre-tournament and pre-debate mindset; it uses the focused attention technique.
  • Sports: Concentration — “Learn to let go of both the past and the future.” This will help students maintain focus and “stay in the moment;” it also uses the focused attention technique.
  • Sports: Analysis — “Review your performance with a healthy perspective and objective mindset.” This is another particularly useful course for debaters. It will help students reflect on their performance at tournaments and reset themselves before moving on to the next one. It is another course that uses the focused attention technique.
  • Sports: Communication — “Nurture supportive relationships as you learn to give and receive constructive feedback.” This will help students process feedback, especially those who struggle with negative comments.

Each sports course includes ten meditations; users can choose whether they are 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes.

In addition to the sports series, I recommend the following courses to debaters:

  • Finding Focus — “Get familiar with a relaxed, precise kind of focus.” This is a three-level course (30 total meditations) that will help students understand and maintain focus. It uses the visualization technique.
  • Productivity — “Practice maintaining focus to make your days more productive and efficient.” This is a ten-meditation course that uses the noting technique. It is a good complement to the Finding Focus course.
  • Dealing With Distractions — “Create a calm environment for your studies as you learn to recognize distractions and let them go.” This is another ten-meditation course; it uses the focused attention technique. It will be particularly helpful for students who struggle to manage distractions while researching, practicing, or even competing in debate.
  • Pro Level 1 through Level 8 — If you are enjoying and benefiting from the other courses, this is a set of meditations that will take you several months to complete. It teaches several techniques and in my experience is most effective once you have become comfortable with basic meditation techniques.

There are also many individual (“single”) meditations that debaters might find useful; examples include Exam Prep (to “find the sweet spot between focus and relaxation,” like before a big tournament) and Frustrated (to “let go of tension and find a little peace of mind,” like after a disappointing debate).

Headspace meditations aren’t a magic bullet to becoming a better debater, but they can help students maintain better focus, reduce stress, and perform better in competition. That’s why Headspace (and mindfulness generally) has become so popular among elite amateur and professional athletes. Headspace has even established partnerships with (among other organizations) the NBA and WNBA, U.S. Soccer and MLS, the LPGA, and the ATP.

One final note: While corporate initiatives to promote mindfulness are rightly criticized as neoliberal disciplining of exploited workers, the use of mindfulness techniques to prepare for debate competitions seems meaningfully different to me. For one thing, students who are competing in debate have already decided to participate in a competitive activity; their participation is (at least in theory) voluntary, and they enjoy the challenge of competitive debating. Perhaps more importantly, practicing mindfulness in order to calm one’s mind, control one’s emotions, and debate one’s best in high-pressure situations does not valorize hyper-competitiveness or accumulation — at least not to a greater degree than competitive debate itself already does. In this context, one doesn’t seem to need to accept prevailing social conditions or take responsibility for medicalized self-surveillance in order to benefit from meditation.

Others may disagree. But if students are interested in giving mindfulness training a try, I hope these suggestions are helpful.