If you were a business adviser and I were your client, you’d think I were crazy for continuing my speech and debate camps. My P&L sheet barely scrapes by year by year. But there is a deeper reason why I keep plugging long. What’s even more interesting is how I’m changing things up.
Financially speaking, go ahead and call me crazy. I’m long past taking offense. I have more sweat equity in my 14 years of camp administration that it is nearly insane. I pour hours and hours into making sure the revenues balance the expenses just enough to pay for fixed expenses like insurance and office supplies. Training Minds is honestly a break-even organization, a labor of love. We keep the lights on while we do that which we love: train young people to succeed in speech and debate.
I have many reason why I do what I do, but the most satisfying reason would probably have to do with my teaching heart. I am an educator by trade, remember. I have found no other activity that teaches a young person how to excel in life than academic speech and debate. Those who do well in this activity (and that’s what I do: make sure they do well in speech and debate competition) will inevitably do well in life.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? Why I do this is the easy part. How I do it gets complicated.
There is a constant frustration that I deal with: homegrown camp programs. I have students, families, and entire clubs go through my program and learn a ton about running a speech and debate camp. I pour my resources into sifting for the best coaches, maximizing the learning atmosphere, and making sure the best return on the dollar is harvested. My attendees turn out to be the smartest people on the planet, and I’m proud of that!
Some of them turn out to be the smartest business people, too, and they inevitably start to undermine me. This used to offend me, but really, how can I blame them? They see me operate from afar and think they can do what I do better, cheaper and more efficient than me with the resources they have at hand.
This the result of the how: I have not been able to keep a program for much more than a couple of years. Inevitably, the locals — appreciative of the tools I have given them — plot to cut me off and run their own show.
Fourteen years at this game has been tiring. We have had camps in Northern and Southern California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, North and South Carolina, New Hampshire and Florida. We don’t seem to settle anywhere as the “place” for the Training Minds Camp.
So that’s the why and how of it. That leads to what I do. This is going to change in 2014.
A number of idioms come to mind. I suppose I can quit, but “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” are wise words that keep me in the game. This is frustrating, but Zig Ziglar’s voice chimes inside my head, “in every obstacle lies an opportunity.” I’m sure my grandma didn’t come up with it, but one of her favorite sayings was, “If you can’t beat them, join them!”
This year I’m shifting my focus in how I run debate camps. Instead of debate camp administration, I’ll be a debate camp planter. I’m going to be working with local folks showing them how to run their own show. I suspect they’re going to want to do this anyway, and they should.
Camp Administrator to Camp Planter. I see a number of advantages to this change of perspective:
- Local clubs will take more ownership of the first time through.
- I don’t have to build the resources to run several camps.
- I can focus on curriculum development that will be used in later years.
- Training Minds can still provide coaches for later years through a coach brokering system.
- The influence of “training minds for action” can spread to corners of the country I didn’t have the resources for before.
Does this interest you? If you’re into the speech and debate community as I am, I suppose it does. Even if you’re not, I bet you can appreciate the why, how and what of the work we do. Sometimes it takes this sequential thought to make sure you are maximizing the gifts you have at your disposal.