Way back when, my first year of camp as an incoming Junior, I was so confused and lost. I had a lot of fun, definitely, but I felt like I had been thrown in the deep end and was not given much direction on how to make the most of my circumstances. I cried a few times and adjusted, but looking back I wish I had resources that told me how to better approach camp. My Senior year, one of the big changes I made that improved my camp experience was having a better idea of what I could do outside of lab hours. If you’re trying to rapidly improve your debate skills, it’s not going to be enough to just go to lab each day and do the bare minimum assignments. Likely, you’ll also start to fall behind others in your lab, compounding stresses of camp. Below is some advice on how to best spend non-lab hours at camps.
1) Find time to speak with instructors 1 on 1.
A hallmark of the DebateDrills philosophy is 1-on-1 instruction, so much so that it’s actually built into camp as a core activity. Group education is good; you get to collaborate with others and get the space to learn in a space that’s supportive and uplifting. However, nothing can replace diligent, dedicated time where your specific needs are the central needs being address. Ask your instructors to set aside an extra 15 minutes for you to run through concepts, ask them questions during office hours, shoot them emails in your downtime. The more that you get to take advantage of experts, the better.
2) Don’t forget about your drilling.
Each night my senior year camp, my friend Raffi (who I now am coworkers with!) and I would finish the night off with spreading and efficiency drills. We would challenge each other on who could get farther into a speech without inefficiencies. He always won, but having someone with me to go through my drilling meant that I had an accountability partner and a competitive incentive to keep myself focused and locked in on improving instead of just lounging around or phoning it in.
3) Collaborate with Peers
Many times, debaters are in dire need of prep that they don’t have. Camp is an opportunity to shore up those weak spots and improve those backfiles. But, it wouldn’t make sense to spend your camp time just cutting cards; you can do that at home. Better is to work closely with a group of peers at camp to investigate what you need, why you need it, and how best to put the prep together. I do not mean that groups of kids should be pooling together and swapping cards; this will not make any of them better. Instead, perhaps students come together and find weak spots they have and work together to tag team the prep production. Who knows, some of those people may end up becoming some of your best friends!
One of the things that makes for the best camp experience is making it your own. This means that you need to get out of your comfort zone and make sure that your needs are front and center. This is not selfish, nor is it problematic. You came out there to be the best possible competitor you could be, meaning that to do anything other than maximizing the returns of that investment would be foolish. What this means is you need to be focused on you. Go to the camp directors and ask them if you’re in the right lab. Ask for further drill or instructor opportunities. Push to be included in activities like demo debates or additional office hours.
Remember Your Passion!
Likely, anyone who is at debate camp is there because they have a deep passion for debate. More than many other activities, debate provides an accessible outlet for someone to fully express themselves and explore a crucial skill. Many times at debate camp, it’s easy to forget why you’re there. You may be too caught up in trying to impress your lab leaders or lab mates, or maybe you’re focused so much on assignments that you feel stressed. No matter what, always take time to pause, take a deep breath, and flashback to those moments in your debate past that have made you smile and laugh. Keeping in the back of your mind just how much you love what you’re doing makes all the challenges seem pithy or exciting.