Reminded Why We Do Camp

I’m at a national open tournament in Minnesota this weekend. I was reminded of this article that I published last year of why we do camps. Share this with others whom you feel would benefit from this activity.

Last year my wife, Wendy, attended a tournament early in the year. A new debater took the podium, knees shaking, voice barely audible, and she ended up crying. She was 14 years old and had a terrifying experience.

This is a picture of a scrimmage at camp. The coach guides the students through the arguments to help train the students to think and persuade.

This is a picture of a scrimmage at camp. The coach guides the students through the arguments to help train the students to think and persuade.

I’ve seen this time and again in academic debate, but never from our camp alumni. At a tournament, that is. When your first round ever is at a tournament, you can’t expect much sympathy. Your opponent may feel bad for you, but she also wants to win. Your judge may have the same feelings, but he will vote for the technical winner in the end.

The time to work out your fear of speaking is at camp. This is why I’ve been running them ( since 2001. Thousands of students have gone through our program over the years and they come out confident, committed and conscientious speakers.


Now, I’ve seen breakdowns like the one my wife witnessed at the tournament last month. There is anxiety in speaking, even in a relaxed camp atmosphere. I’ve had students sweat, faint, throw up, and cry. There is always one or two at camp who have a breakdown.

But you know what? That’s why we have camp. We have a team of coaches ready and willing to encourage and help. Stopping a round to build confidence is commonly done. And the opponents aren’t out to win; they’re learning along with the one having the breakdown.

The result is confident and composed speakers ready to take on their first tournament later in the year.


Camp is fun and relaxing. We fit in some rec time and get to know one another over meals and lodging, maybe some frisbee on campus. You don’t get this bonding at tournaments. At tournaments people are committed to winning; at camp people are committed to learning.

Wendy spoke to the mom after her daughter’s experience. “I’ll be surprised if she wants to do this again,” she lamented. That’s too bad. She had a horrifying experience, one she won’t be eager to repeat.

That’s why we have camp. Even the kids who have a breakdown at camp get through the trial. They’re surrounded by encouragement and coaching. They leave camp with a tough experience—not embarrassing—behind them. They leave committed to “do it again,” this time at their first tournament.


At my Training Minds Camps we have advanced and novice tracks. We get to manipulate the pairings—matching the best with the best (coaching higher level concepts) and the novices with each other (coaching basic concepts). The other students watch, take notes, and participate in the discussion.

There isn’t anything like this at a tournament or even a scrimmage. You’re thrown into the fray and expected to survive. I truly feel awful for the brand new debater who doesn’t have the opportunity of a tight-knit camp experience to train them up.

You know what? I have seen the most encouragement come from the advanced debaters. It’s so great to see an older, experienced debater watching a round of novices when they pipe up and encourage the new one struggling along. We sometimes even shadow novices to keep them on their best. These same advanced debaters have their opportunity to go at it with each other, but there is never the “slaughter” round that you may see at tournaments.

That’s why we have camp.

I couldn’t be happier with our camp program. We have quite the set up this year. Click on the following links for more information:

  1. Nationals Intensive Training Camps (Stoa and NCFCA)
    These are for debaters who have qualified to the national tournament of their league. We partnered with Ethos to bring in the best coaching possible for an awesome nationals experience.
  2. Texas Training Minds Camp
    This is our main camp with all events available in Stoa and NCFCA available. We have both novice and advanced tracks. For students who want the total Training Minds experience, Texas is the place to be this summer.
  3. Colorado Lincoln-Douglas Camp
    Matthew Erickson and Cheyenne Ossen are national champions in Lincoln-Douglas Debate. They have perfected their skills through their college debating at the award winning CCU in Lakewood, Colo. Join them to master Lincoln-Douglas debate!

Do your best to make it to camp this summer. You’ll want to be there to become a confident, committed and conscientious debater for your tournaments next year. Let me know if you have any questions.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • So proud: Olivia (the brunet in the picture) is doing fantastic at this national tournament. She advanced to quarter-finals this morning. Awesome!