It’s the night before a tournament. Your throat is itching/aching/sore. You feel sniffly. You try to speak but all that comes out is a wimpy squeak. You sound like a dying horse or a discombobulated frog. You get the chills. You go into a panic. Sound familiar? I know I must speak on behalf of the entire 3P coaching team when I say that we’ve all been there and done that, whether it be in reference to our personal or our students’ experiences. Over the years, you’re bound to get sick and/or lose your voice at a tournament at least once; if not, lucky you!
Personally, I have an awful immune system and my body tends to take a toll on me whenever I have to adapt to a new sleep schedule, environment, or eating habits (read: adapt to tournament atmosphere). My body’s two least favorite tournaments were GMU Patriot Games and Harvard (which happen to, ironically, be my two favorite tournaments). Both, held during the winter months, involved me marching around their respective university campuses looking like a grilled eggplant (two scarves, large coat, UGGs, earmuffs, gloves, leg warmers). I competed at GMU for three years and managed to lose my voice after the tournament every year. And let’s just say that Harvard in February = snow (snow and I are not BFFs). So you’re probably thinking, “Why would I ever take how-to-make-myself-unsick advice from this girl?”
I’ll tell you why. I firmly believe that the most successful forensics competitors have the unique ability to endure, adapt, and overcome. You have the opportunity to choose your attitude, no matter what your circumstances are. Even if you can’t get your lost voice back completely for an entire week, there are ways you might be able to reclaim it for a round.
I’m certainly no doctor but here are some tried, tested, and proven tips (all natural, no medication) that can help you:
1. Rest your voice. As soon as you feel like you might be getting sick, don’t talk unnecessarily! The nodes in and around your throat may be swollen and you absolutely do not want to put more stress on your vocal chords. If resting your voice means running your piece one less time the night before the tournament, so be it. Save your voice for when you need it most.
2. Clear up your nasal passages. You don’t want your voice to solely rely on the back of your throat, which may be drying up. Your nasal passages are super important for your body receiving enough oxygen so you don’t want them to be stuffy. Take a hot shower at the hotel, drink plenty of warm to hot fluids to keep the passages moist and help loosen the mucus, and try some breathing exercises!
3. Avoid dairy products. Lay off on the cheese, milk, creamer (even non-dairy) in your coffee, whipped cream, creamy soups, yogurt, etc. Dairy will thicken your mucus and phlegm, making it more difficult to breathe and speak.
4. Honey can be your best friend (as long as you’re not allergic to it!). Honey is a miracle food. It contains an amazing degree of antibacterial and antifungal properties, is a great natural source of sugar (energy!), and can coat your throat. You can use honey in any and every way you wish. I love sweetening my tea naturally with it (and it makes the tea less hot and harsh for the throat) but my favorite way of utilizing honey is simply downing it. Yes, you’re allowed to think I’m “that crazy girl.”
At Harvard my senior year, my immune system was having some issues with the cold and the tournament environment. My team gets housed by current Harvard students (alumni of our high school) so that means we usually have to sleep on the floor of a freshman residence hall common room. This means that although our former teammates, who now attend Harvard, understand to let us sleep in peace in their rooms, their roommates, who are not former speechies, don’t necessarily understand to do the same. Long story short, I only got ~ 4 real hours of sleep during my first night at the tournament due to roommates. Add snow, cold, and bundling up like a grilled eggplant to that and you get a cranky Omika. The Harvard tournament is notorious for being cold, long, and essentially an endurance contest. I started to get sick during the first day of this endurance contest but I didn’t want to let any opportunity of doing well slip away as it was my last invitational ever. But instead of being overambitious and setting my mind on winning one of those highly sought-after Harvard bowls, I decided to take the tournament one round at a time. And honey quickly became my best friend. Before each round, preliminary and elimination, I took my bear-shaped bottle of honey, turned that bad boy upside down, and let it pour down my throat. It kept my throat coated when I spoke and actually even improved the quality and range of my voice. Also, as a natural source of sugar, and thus, energy, it kept me awake despite my lack of sleep. I was 6th speaker in my final round so I had a full hour before it was my turn to speak. I downed honey between each speaker (I didn’t really care how silly I looked in front of hundreds of people) and it paid off. I got a 1st place Harvard bowl and my voice back.
5. Liven it up with lemon. When life gives you a lemon...squeeze it, mix it with some warm water and honey, and drink up! Lemon is awesome because, like honey, it is miraculous! Lemon is a natural antiseptic (it prevents the buildup of pathogenic bacteria), it’s loaded with vitamins, it’s a great way to boost your energy and immune system, and it’s great for your digestive system. If you can, bring a lemon or two along with you to a tournament. Use your hotel room hot water maker to heat some water, add honey to it, and squeeze lemon into the mixture. The hot water will keep you hydrated and help clear your nasal passages. The honey will coat your throat and kill bacteria, and the lemon will help clear your mucus and improve the quality of your voice.
6. Gargle with salt water. This is one of my favorite cabinet cures. Salt has been cherished as a valuable commodity since the beginning of time, practically. Mix a cup of hot (bearable to the touch) water with 2 tablespoons of salt and gargle it. Sore throats are caused by inflamed, swollen mucus membranes. Salt helps draw moisture out of the irritated membranes. It also helps loosen the excess mucus coating the throat.
7. Stay hydrated. Hydration is essential. Fluids will help moisten your nasal passages, your body needs fluids to function and remove toxins, you want to avoid dehydration (which can only lead to more problems like nausea and lightheadedness), hydration increases energy, etc. The reasons to stay hydrated are quite extensive. Always have water on hand with you at a tournament but be careful not to drink too much and dry your throat out. Avoid caffeinated beverages (sodas, caffeinated teas, coffee, etc.) as caffeine is a diuretic and makes your kidneys eliminate water more quickly.
8. Miscellaneous herbal remedies rock. My favorites are cloves, turmeric, and peppermint oil. You can get your hands on these at a local grocery store and if not, then you can definitely find them at organic foods stores, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
a) Simply keeping 2-3 clove buds in the back of your mouth/front of your throat and juicing them works wonders. They ease sore throats and with their numerous antiseptic, antifungal properties, will improve your health in the long run.
b) Turmeric is another wonder herb. Mixing turmeric powder with an equal amount of salt and keeping a bit of the mixture at the back of your throat kills germs and eases pain. Turmeric is a natural painkiller and anti-inflammatory herb. Super good for you!
c) Peppermint oil is awesome. Pour ~ 1-2 teaspoons onto your hands, rub them together, and inhale the refreshing scent. I did this before every round and it always woke me up and made me more alert. The scent is known to be refreshing, calming, and can alleviate nausea and general discomfort.
9. Rest up. There is no substitute for sleep. Sleep is probably more important than any of the aforementioned remedies combined. If you feel yourself getting sick the night before a tournament, go to bed! Don’t stress about running your piece two more times. I promise you’ll thank yourself in the morning. And in general, try to sleep as much as you can in the week leading up to a tournament. The more you sleep, the better you’ll feel and the less you’ll crash at the end of the weekend after the awards ceremony.
I swear by the above 9 tips, even though I no longer compete. Of course, I am no doctor, but I know that it is possible to endure, adapt, and overcome in any tournament setting. You just have to have the correct mindset for it. And quite obviously, these tips are no substitute for maintaining good health habits on a daily basis even when you’re not competing, but they are good complements. If you have any other tips you’d like to share with the forensics community, I encourage you to comment on this article with your thoughts!
Happy (and healthy) competing!