How To Maximize Improvement at Debate Camp

Debate camp is right around the corner. Whether you’re attending for the first time or a grizzled veteran, these tips will help you make the most of your investment. 

1. Get going while the going is early! 

I get it. People don’t like being that kid. The kid on the first day who’s all over the place, raises his hand at every opportunity, and is chatting up everyone he/she can find. But you know who people do like being? Top debaters. And “that kid’s” thirst, passion, and desire will give him/her the best shot of becoming one.

This doesn’t just apply to the first day. Whether its shyness, a lack of comfort, or just the illusion that there is still plenty of time, campers don’t like getting off to a fast start. Many labs where I’ve taught at have had to even develop little numbers game to determine who would go first in a drill. Instead of getting into gear the last few days where everyone is racing to make up for lost time, the best way to ensure you receive individualized attention is by being brave enough to raise your hand when no one else is willing to.


2. Make a plan of how you are going to utilize office/Socrates/ etc. hours.

Even at the best camps, the student to staff ratio is, at best, 4:1. While that is more than sufficient to maintain a traditional classroom setting, it may not be the best place for debaters to hone their individual weaknesses, especially in a one on one setting.

Enter office hours where debaters can individually approach staff members about whatever questions they see fit. However, what campers don’t make is make a plan; instead, campers tend to go out and just see what they can find.

This approach is bad for two reasons. First, the best way to find out what you want is to have a sense of what you are looking for. Are you interested in learning about Kritik alternatives or do you feel like your time would be better off discussing Kantian philosophy? What you are looking for will largely decide a number of factors, most notably which staff member you seek out. Second, making a plan will help you ensure that the staff members you want to talk to are available. If you plan out how you will spend each office hour, you can also anticipate whom you will need to speak to and on what day. This will allow you to reach out to certain staff members days in advance and give them a heads-up that you will be looking for them and also allow you to make changes should they be off that night.

Finally, make sure the drills you are doing are meaningful! What I mean by this is make sure the staff member contributes something that you wouldn’t receive should you have done the drill by yourself. One drill I’ve seen campers request more than they should is a flowing drill. What does the staff member reading accomplish that watching an online video can’t? 


3. Don’t be scared of the staff! In fact, get to know them! 

I’ve noticed that, for whatever reason, many campers seem intimidated by staff members, especially those they haven’t worked with before. But don’t be. Yes, we’re here to teach you, but we’re also just as interested in building friendships as we are in building your refutation skills. 

Getting to know the staff will not only strengthen your relationships within the community, but may also improve your drill efficiency. Not only will whomever you are working with subconsciously be more invested in your success, they will be more likely to remember your specific strengths and weaknesses allowing each drill session to build upon the previous one.

Finally, these relationships will be especially helpful throughout the year. Maybe it’s December, and you hit a roadblock because you just don’t know how to deal with frivolous theory. Instead of facing this challenge alone, if you take the time to get to know the staff, you will have contacts that will be more than happy to take the time to answer whatever questions you may have.


4. Eat, sleep, take care of yourself.

I’ve noticed that debate camp can be very similar to college. Late nights, good company, and of course the Freshman Fifteen (especially if you’re attending VBI @ UCLA).

Two weeks can be a long and grueling time, making it imperative that you take care of yourself. This means not only being excited and eager to learn, but also smart enough to understand your limits and when that extra card is just not worth the sleep deprivation. Knowing when your body probably can’t tolerate any more cheeseburgers and replenishing it with a salad instead. And remembering to bring ample water during drills so as to not blow out your throat.

Every year, campers get sick and by the time they recover, half of camp is already over. If there’s a camper you don’t want to be, it’s that one.

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