One of the more frequently asked questions I get from youth kids and parents as the head of Youth Speakers Tournament (Speakers for short) is “Why should I join Speakers?” or “Why should my child participate in Speakers?” I think on the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward answer, especially if we’re thinking about it from an “Asian perspective”. In today’s culture, one of the skills most desired in the workplace is the underdeveloped and underrated skill of public speaking − using words to motivate to action and writing well to convey a message. At the end of the day, I know most people who approach me with this question aren’t truly asking for the “why” because they already know why. Their hearts are longing and searching for more.
Studying the Perspectives of Students and Parents
For most students, they ask ”why” because they think “tournament” means competition, which also means, “Don’t join if you aren’t good at it.” However, the point of Speakers isn’t really to win because it’s all subjectively judged anyway. They’re asking “why” because it’s a frightening thing to write a speech, memorize it, and then present it in front of a large audience. It’s scary to open up about what lurks beneath the heart that no one sees. In other words: it’s hard.
For parents, it’s about the cost. Not the $45 that covers the ribbons, medals, and meals, but the time. Is the time spent on this program worth anything if it can’t be put on their high school resumes? Is the time spent on this program worth it knowing that it takes time from the things that actually count like studying, community service hours, or practicing for sports if the child is on the school team? The answer to that is “absolutely!” if they care about shaping character and worldview. Furthermore, it also helps the students prepare for much of their college coursework, which involves developing workers who know how to think critically and make presentations that captivate and motivate. Not to mention, for three full months, their child is getting free coaching on speech writing and presentations for a small cost of $45.
Let’s just think about what Speakers is for a moment. Yes, in a nutshell it is a competition for public speaking. Yes, the students pick a topic and they try to address it to the best of their abilities in 4-6 minutes. Yes, presentation does matter. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But the implications are larger than what it seems on the surface.
Strengthening Relationships Centered on Christ and His Word
In a time where information can be accessed by the tap of a thumb or click of a mouse, we are constantly being bombarded by what or how we ought to think. The Bible does that too (e.g. Rom 12:1-2; Ps 1; Phil 4:8-10), and if it’s the truth that it self-proclaims, then shouldn’t we be investing the time shaping our students to see the world through the lens of Scripture? That way, when they do ask why they should be doing one thing or another and we aren’t there to direct them, they know where to turn for their source of wisdom. Speakers is an opportunity to show them that the Bible does indeed have the answers to their questions (1 Pet 1:3), and it also gives them the key to why they do what they do (Js 4:1-4).
While we may live in a time where loneliness is pervasive, especially in America’s society, Speakers is an opportunity to forge relationships between students as well as the coaches. It’s a space where sharing about true convictions and experiences is encouraged, and guidance is provided by the coaches both biblically and practically. Finally, and most importantly, it’s a space where we are developing leaders for the next generation. Whether this is in the church or in the workplace, we’re building up leaders who know how to communicate their convictions, emotions, and beliefs. We’re training leaders who have a high view of God, a passion for Scripture, and a heart for God’s word, God’s world, and God’s family, who I hope one day will take part in reproducing vibrant churches wherever they go.
As the head coach of Speakers Tournament, that has been my goal. It’s not about winning a tournament. It’s about forging relationships, making disciples who go off to college with a worldview set on Christ and a lens to process everything through Scripture. The hope is they take what they learn in these three months and develop others in turn. This is why I love Speakers Tournament.