Courage in Action: Highlights from our First Young Speakers Tournament

In the sunlit Atrium at the entrance of Leadership Public Schools in Richmond, young speakers in 3rd to 8th grade entered one-by-one, initially feeling the weight of the unfamiliar space. However, as the day unfolded, they grew more confident, eventually roaming the halls with a sense of belonging. April 20, 2024, marked our inaugural Young Speakers Tournament, welcoming Bay Area students to an environment designed to foster courage and expression. We aimed to instill in them the discipline of public speaking, emphasizing practice and growth within competition. This post will explore the event's highlights and the importance of early public speaking memories.

Fostering Confidence Through Participation

The day began with an air of anticipation as 50 students from schools all over the Bay Area eagerly stepped into the venue, uncertain yet curious about the journey ahead. Everyone had the chance to create "lucky charms," a symbolic gesture to instill confidence and courage in each participant. As the tournament unfolded, it felt like a traditional competition but with a unique twist tailored to young speakers. There was a delicate balance of emotional encouragement and rigorous coaching, with coaches present to push and motivate students to reach their full potential. Amidst the serious competition and high-level speeches, there was joyous laughter echoing through the halls as kids played with bubbles, created chalk art, and enjoyed games during breaks.


Coach Maribel set the tone for the day with a reminder that this wasn't the "Perfect Space" but "The Practice Space," emphasizing the importance of growth and improvement over perfection. This sentiment echoed throughout the event, nurturing confidence in youth and fostering authentic expression in every participant. The purpose of the Young Speakers Tournament was not solely to compete but to provide a platform for students to showcase their skills, learn from one another, and celebrate their unique voices. It was a celebration of courage, camaraderie, and the transformative power of self-expression.

Celebrating Courage and Creativity

One of the highlights of the day was witnessing Senior Coach Ryan Miller's playful encouragement, dressing up as a frog to inspire his students. His gesture encapsulated the spirit of inclusivity and joy that permeated the event, making every participant feel valued and supported. Public speaking is serious work that we do with joy because we embrace having fun doing serious things. As our Founder and Executive Director, AnnMarie Baines, reflected, "It was so good. It's hard for little ones to learn something brand new they have never seen before." This sentiment captured the essence of the day—a journey of discovery, growth, and joy.

Ryan + Edward

The speaking events showcased the power of creativity and expression in communication, from advocacy speeches to original stories, pitches, monologues, and impromptu speaking. Each performance was a testament to the passion and authenticity of our participants, who fearlessly shared their perspectives and ideas with the world. In the Congress Debate, students engaged in spirited discussions on pressing issues, demonstrating clarity, conviction, and a genuine desire to make a difference.

Embracing Growth Beyond the Trophies

Not everyone won a trophy, but everyone learned and grew. The tournament provided valuable learning experiences beyond the thrill of competition, equipping students with skills that extend far beyond the stage. As Coach Tatiana emphasized, "Part of putting yourself out there means that you'll fail, and the more you do that, you get one step closer to making things work." The event reinforced the importance of creating safe speaking spaces where students can embrace failure as a catalyst for growth and improvement.

Elohiym + Loma Vista

Throughout the day and after winners were announced, coaches were present and caring, giving students pep talks and support. In an event like this, the courage to participate is a huge milestone in and of itself, and our coaches reminded students that this is one step in their speaking journey, not the end. They emphasized the importance of perseverance, resilience, and continuous improvement, nurturing confidence in every young speaker.

Looking Ahead

Everyone deserves access to these sorts of spaces, and we look forward to growing the number of participants in the future. We will continue to work hard to create meaningful onramps to help more students embrace the joy of self-expression, competition, peer connection, and celebration of the speaker's journey.

As we reflect on the success of the Young Speakers Tournament, we are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to witness the growth, resilience, and creativity of our young participants. Their voices are a reminder that change begins with a single word, a single idea, a single story. We extend our heartfelt thanks to our staff, coaches, community volunteers, and parents who came together to create a supportive environment for youth expression.

Looking ahead, we invite young speakers to join us at our upcoming summer camps, where they can continue to explore, learn, and grow in a balanced environment of fun and rigor. Together, let's nurture confidence, celebrate authentic expression, and create safe speaking spaces where every voice is heard and valued. 

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