Debate Camp: Why Should I Attend & How Do I Pick One?

Speech and Debate camps are fairly common, and it’s likely that many of the successful debaters you know of in your circuit or on your team have attended a debate camp. But, you might be wondering why many people have paid hundreds to thousands of dollars to spend their summer learning debate, and what the benefits are? In this article, I’ll cover what a debate camp is, why debaters should attend one (if they can), and how to pick a debate camp for your needs.

What is a summer debate camp?

First, a debate camp is a program run over summer break, typically (sometimes there are debate workshops throughout the school year) where students congregate either online or in-person for a few weeks. Debate camps can be a few days long or run all the way up to 7 weeks. Campers will attend lectures on public speaking and debate-related concepts, engage in various debate activities to improve their skills, and participate in practice rounds/competitions. They will typically learn from former debaters and coaches.

Why should I attend a summer debate camp?

There are a number of reasons why students may want to sign up for a summer debate camp, ranging from improving their craft to meeting tons of new debaters and coaches from all over the country. I’ve outlined a list of the top three reasons why summer debate camps are beneficial.

  1. Debaters Stay Fresh Over Summer – as the season winds down for most people around March/April (at best, June if you attend NSDA Nationals), there are quite a few months where most students do very little debate work. This can mean that a lot of debaters forget concepts, or become rusty. In the typical debate season, if a debater has 2 practices a week, each 2 hours long, from September – March, they’re working with other coaches/students for around 100 hours throughout the entire season. Attending a debate camp for 2 weeks means a debater who works just 9 hours a day (typically on the lower end for camps) already exceeds the amount of time they’d spend at practice with their team throughout the whole year, in just 2 weeks. Thus, one of the top reasons to attend a debate camp is that the practice over summer gives you an edge coming into the competitive season where not everyone has dedicated hundreds of hours to debate over summer break. 
  1. Debate Camps Can Help You Improve – attending a summer debate camp means that students get to work on their ability to public speak, argue, research, write and more for hours every day for weeks. Plus, many debate institutions hire on staff who have a lot of experience, both in competing themselves and coaching other students. The opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches in the nation is one reason why many debaters choose to go to a debate camp. On top of that, debaters can be taught a variety of different ideas and perspectives, because they are working with coaches from all different regions who have vastly different experiences. In short, debate camp can be highly beneficial because students get to work on refining their own skills with the top instructors in the nation and learn a bunch of new concepts.
  1. Debaters Make New Friends – one of the core aspects most debaters remember from attending a debate camp is all the new friends they have made. After all, a summer camp should be fun! Not to mention, having additional connections in debate can be highly beneficial. You can meet other debaters who want to prep together, do practice rounds, give you feedback on your arguments, and more. More friends in debate also helps to expand your personal community, and make you feel less alone. So, go to debate camp to have fun and make friends!

How do I choose a summer debate camp?

So, those benefits sound great and you’re thinking about attending a debate camp now? Fantastic! But, there are a lot of factors to consider. We wrote another article last year on choosing an online debate camp specifically. We encourage you to also check that out.

The first is location. Where do you want to attend camp? There are debate institutions all over the country, from California to Pennsylvania to Florida. Consider what location is convenient for you as well as how much plane tickets will cost or the proximity of the camp to an airport. These are all factors that should matter when deciding on a summer debate camp.

The second consideration should be price. How much is your budget for a debate camp? Debate camps can run from a few hundred dollars (typically local camps or online institutions) to thousands of dollars. If you put a hard cap on your budget (ex: “no camp over $2,000!”) then you already have cut the potential camps to attend in half, making your choice a lot easier.

The third aspect of debate camps to consider is their staff. Who are they hiring on? How are they hiring those staff? Are they predominantly young, 18-year olds who have very little experience coaching, or are they a lot of older coaches that have 10-20+ years of teaching experience. Often, debate camps will announce new staff that have a lot of name recognition for winning big tournaments. Don’t get pulled into this marketing – instead, look at their staff holistically and think about their teaching experience.

The fourth thing to consider when picking a summer debate camp is the curriculum and schedule. What are they teaching? What style of debate are they offering? There are dozens of types of debate camps, including Public Forum Debate Camps, Lincoln Douglas Debate Camps, Policy Debate Camps, Parliamentary Debate Camps, and more. Knowing what you are going to be learning is an integral part of selecting a summer debate program. There are a lot of factors like how they teach or how long you will be working each day that you should consider before registering for a summer debate camp.

Finally, the last factor that all students should think about for summer debate institutions is how long their sessions are. As we pointed out earlier, some debate camps run for just a few days, others for three, four, even seven weeks. The most common length is around 1-2 weeks. Debaters should think about how much time they have to commit as well as how much time they want to dedicate to a summer debate institute.

Despite all of this, there are still some downsides to debate camp. Summer debate camps can be pricey and take up big chunks of your summer vacation. The camp you attend really matters. For this reason, it is important that when you are deciding whether you want to attend a summer debate camp (or picking which one you’re going to) that you think carefully, consider all of the aspects of a camp, receive recommendations, and do your own research. 

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