That Is Why We Have Camp

My wife, Wendy, attended a tournament last month. 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 advanced extemper helped a 12-year-old understand some basic concepts.

This advanced extemper helped a 12-year-old understand some basic concepts.

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 more happy with our camp program. We have two of them this year, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. Take your pick:

  1. Regent University, Virginia Beach, July 23-27
    We will be running our speech and debate program with the NCFCA resolutions, though all leagues are invited. Keynote speaker Andrew Pudewa will join us early in the week to give us a pep-talk on the value of speech and debate.
  2. Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, July 30-August 3
    All events are being taught at PLNU on the sunny shore of the Pacific. Stoa, NCFCA and NFL resolutions will be taught. We’re very privileged to have bestselling author Michael Hyatt join our coaching staff as keynote speaker.

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.

  • I noticed a real difference in grandson Zach Webb’s composure after attending camp. Thanks!