Speech and debate camp is totally awesome. Those who take advantage of the summer months to fit a camp into their schedule don’t ever go away dissatisfied. If you have the opportunity, take it.
Some coaches and I started the Training Minds Camps in 2001. We’ve grown quite the program with dozens of the best coaches in the world involved. We used to be the only outfit out there, but today, there are quite a few debate camps available to students.
Most camps do a small tournament at the end of their training. It has some value, particularly apply what you learned. On its surface, that’s a good idea, but my coaches and I have decided not to do this. I believe for good reason.
Our Camp Tournament Experiment
We tried this in 2010 and 2011 by running a round-robin tournament following four days of training. Like I said, it makes sense on the surface, but we found three negatives that convinced us otherwise.
- Logistics. A tournament takes a lot out of the schedule. It’s literally an entire day of hustle and bustle. To fit it all in, we removed coached rounds and skimped on some of the drills to make room in the schedule.
- Return on investment. In the summer months, a tournament doesn’t give much return. Kids hardly know anything about the debate topics. Even those in the expert tracks — though anxious to jump into debate — clunked along their first rounds. They weren’t that impressive.
- Anxiety. Likely the biggest reason to come to a debate camp is to avoid what will inevitably come later in the year: being thrown in the middle of a tournament. That time will come soon enough, and we don’t need to force it in the summer. For camp, we value the learning experience, not the competitive experience quite yet.
So we scrapped the idea. We do, however, do something that I believe is a much better solution logistically, brings a bigger return on the investment of camp, and relieves the anxiety of a debate round. This is…
The Coached Round
So in 2012 we returned to what I call the “coached round” model. It’s a Training Minds Camp Original; we came up with this idea ourselves. Other camps may apply this today, not totally sure, and I believe it is the better way to train debaters. Here’s how it works.
We set up a whiteboard in front of the teams, and the coach flows the round as the students apply what they learned at camp. We slot 2.5 hours for the time, allowing for plenty of discussion for one team-policy round or two Lincoln-Douglas rounds. This is much different than a tournament in many ways:
- Students get to see in action what the judge (their coach) flows as the round is spoken.
- Coaches can start-and-stop the round as he/she pleases, helping where needed or to discuss a certain strategy.
- Novices get to observe a couple rounds before their time comes up, seeing how it’s done by more experienced campers.
- Attending parents can see how an experienced “judge” flows the round as it happens.
- The entire room gets to discuss the round, how it flowed, and make it a learning experience for everyone present.
I cannot tell you how pleased campers are with the Coached Round. It’s a signature of the Training Minds Camp and a most valued method of our alumni. It takes about the same amount of time in the week’s schedule, but the return on investment is worth it. It allows debate rounds to be threaded through the week of lectures (a nice break in the rigorous schedule). Coaches get to work with novice students with rudimentary how-to’s, as well as dig deep into advanced skills for experienced debaters.
All in all, everyone learns and the camp runs smooth. But kids still like to jump into the fray and compete. I believe we solve for that with…
The Free for All
Tournament adrenaline. That’s still important. We do this at the end with the “Free for All.”
By the end of the week’s schedule, everyone will have gone through a coached round on one side of the resolution. The Free for All positions the debater on the other side of the resolution, and we run all those rounds in one session. It’s like a 1-round tournament, and attending parents are the judge pool.
All in all, we get a better result for the investment: a fantastic learning experience for the debaters, both novice and advanced. And more importantly, they’re set up to take on their first real tournament in the coming school year.
Check out our Training Minds Camps for more information, and always feel free to contact me with your questions.