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  • Writer's pictureJuan De La Cruz

The Unspoken Rules (My Pet Peeves)

Every team has its own set of rules, customs, and traditions. I respect that. I love seeing teams continue on with the ritual of years' past. I like the sense of pride in the program, the school, and the activity that these traditions allow the competitors to connect to.

However, over the course of the last two years, I've been thinking about some things that I feel are commonly seen as "Unspoken Rules". I want to vent about a few of these and hopefully we can start to clean up some areas that I feel can be very muddled at times. Excuse the stream-of-consciousness in which this article will be written (It is currently 6:31 EST, in an airport, on the morning that I got 2 hours of total sleep before I embark on an 18 hour journey home- yay layovers and cross country travel!).

Entering a Classroom:

Please do not, under any circumstance, enter a classroom without the judge being present. I know that there are a few areas in the country that allow for students to enter a classroom and quietly wait for their judge but I have a couple of points to make on this. The first being that it takes liability away from you, the student. If you start entering classrooms without an adult present and suddenly an object is stolen/broken- you have now become one of the main suspects. You wouldn't believe how often coaches who host tournaments get contacted the following monday by a fellow teacher and are blamed for something having been broken, stolen, or otherwise misplaced. It is important that you do not put yourself, and most importantly, the activity in this kind of situation. You must always put the integrity of this organization ahead of your need to want to be seated because you're "tired". The second reason is simple: it's rude. You assert yourself as the superior, and you are not. So please, don't enter before your judge arrives.


I don't know what it is, but this past weekend at the Laird Lewis Invitational at Myers Park HS (NC), there were several times in which kids did one of the following two things:

  • Open a door without ANY thought of someone performing, even though they knew the round had already started

  • Knock on the door. <-----WHY?!

I don't know what it is, but those two circumstances really are some of my biggest pet peeves. At this point of the year- this isn't your first rodeo. We all know the Golden Rule- so, knowing that you would HATE for someone to open the door during your climax, and have the audience completely stop paying attention to you, what makes you think it is in any way ok to open or knock on the door? Please be respectful of the other competitors and do what every other seasoned pro does- put your ear lightly on the door and listen for someone speaking. If you know that round is already going- please wait for the applause. This is YOUR cue to open the door and walk in. only then. Understand? K, good.

Speak in the order you are placed to speak in

This one is a bit tricky, but let me explain myself in this regard. First thing you should know as a competitor- Judges are not stupid. Sure, some judges are new to this activity and you can get away with the very thing I'm about to write about, but don't think you're getting away with this when it comes to coaches/experienced judges.

Dealing with being double entered can be tricky, but remember, most of the coaches that end up judging you were competitors themselves. Often times, I'll see a student who favors one of his/her events over another and will, always, go to their least favored event first (even if they are slated to speak earlier in their favorite event) thereby guaranteeing they perform later in the round for their other event. I SEE THIS ALL THE TIME.

Keep this in mind next time you feel like doing this- I judge on this. I can't be the only one who does. Sure, I'm not going to give you a "5" if you're the best, but if the round is tough, and I feel like you were being shady by going to your other event first- this is something that I will put some weight on. I do not like shady people.

Special note about judges:

Give them more credit. They do not simply forget who you are because you spoke earlier in the round. Actually, it's almost the opposite. You wouldn't believe the psychological aspects that go into being a judge (and that's an entirely new article) but the point being that typically, if you are the first performer of the round, you will be the competitor on which the round is weighed. You set the tone, you set the expectations- and if you're good- this is exactly the position you want to be in. Keep that in mind next time you cry about being the first speaker.

Asking for time signals, asking for your time after you're done, and asking anything!

To me there is no more obvious sign that you are unseasoned than asking the following questions before or after your performance:

"Judge ready?"

If the judge weren't ready- they would not have called you up to the front of the room. The stage is yours. Take your time to get the attention of everyone in the room before you begin your performance, but please do not ask me if I'm ready. I'm more likely to change my mind and have you sit down, but since this is not allowed, I'm just going to be annoyed in the first 30 seconds of your performance.

Another note on this is, please do not go to the front of the room before a judge has called your name/code. It's really awkward and the judge feels like you're trying to rush his/her thoughts as they are writing. This is super annoying and, again, rude. Wait your turn. Be a big kid and sit in your seat until you are called up to perform.

"Can I have __ down?"

Uhm. No. You may not. Anyone who has ever had me as a judge knows that I do the following before the round starts:

"Alright guys, just a few quick words, please turn off all cell phones, or put them on silent. Please be respecful of your competitors. Also, you will not be timed. I do not care about time and you should be prepared to speak in under ten minutes."

Asking for time signals shows me that you have not fully prepared for this tournament and at that point, how much confidence can I really have in you before you start your performance? Probably very little and you've not created a scenario where you have to work doubly hard to win me over.

"Can I know what my time was?"

Again. No. First off, I didn't take time so I never get this question, however, when I'm watching outrounds at Invites and I hear someone say this as soon as they sit down in their seat I can't help but cringe. Let me pose this question- would you ever immediately call the employer with whom you just interviewed and ask "So, did I answer your questions correctly?" No, you would not, so please do not ask me or any other judge what your time was.


"May I please be excused to my second event?"

The judge should never say "no". It's also better than ordering "I have to go to my other round"- it just comes off as rude (notice the trend? maybe I'm just an old timer, but respect means a lot to me, especially for such intelligent individuals such as you all, hopefully, are). Be mindful of this and respectful of the adult who is there to make your day easier.

Audience Etiquette

Again, going back to what I noted earlier, judges are not stupid. They notice who the competitors walk in with. They also notice when an audience is bias toward someone. So here's where I tell you a story to bring my point across.

Last year, a very successful duo (which will remain unnamed) did not break past a certain point at one of the most respected tournaments in the nation for the following reason: the teammates of the duo filled the room and only reacted positively towards that particular duo. The coaches (all three judges in this outround) ended up giving this duo poor marks, not because they weren't one of the best, but because their team tried to manipulate the tone of the room. One of the judges was a friend of mine who told me it was one of the most obviously examples of this kind of thing that he had ever seen. Trust me. It's obvious. When you're the only one laughing at something that clearly isn't funny, and you're the only one laughing every 10-20 seconds, it becomes quickly annoying. Respect everyone in the room and don't force your own reaction. It's gross.


Ask any of my kids about this and they'll tell you exactly what I'm about to. I have an issue with screaming and hollering at awards ceremonies. I've created very strict rules with my kids regarding awards, and they get repaid by getting to enjoy later bed times and room checks. It's about me being able to trust that they'll respect my word- and this is where it starts for me.

How many times has a teammate placed at any given tournament? So why, when they place, do you have to scream and shout like it's the first time you've ever known someone to get an award? I just feel like this is one of the more trashier things about forensics. Maybe I'm just very out there with my thoughts on this, but I feel like if you lose- you lose with dignity. If you win, you win with even more dignity. Someone just missed getting 1st place. Other just missed placing top 3. Even more missed making it to finals. So why scream and holler?

Another note on this is that I'd like to see more people apply the standing ovation to all those individuals who get called in first place.

What do you think looks more professional? A group of 10-20 students screaming like they just won the Olympics? Or an entire auditorium standing up and applauding your accomplishment? You decide.

In the end, I have a huge amount of respect for this activity and I have a huge amount of respect for the competitors, coaches, and judges who sacrifice their time to be able to allow us to enjoy these precious weekends.

I'm done ranting and I hope you excuse my banter. I just hope that some of you walk away having agreed with something I've said.

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