Educational Contests Help Youth #PreptoWin in Life

We say Junior Nationals, and you could come back with a variety of responses. “Best week of the year.” “Family vacation.” “Where I make new friends and reconnect with old friends each year.” “The show I want to win someday.” “The best show I’ve ever won.”  

Whatever your response, we know that you work hard for that one week of the year to get your cattle looking their best. However, the breed associations and junior boards know that the week is more than a premier cattle show; the week is about preparing its young members to be the future of the industry. That is why each association offers a variety of life skill and industry contests; to help you #preptowin in life. 

“The contests at the Junior National Hereford Expo are instrumental in preparing Hereford youth for the real world and a successful future in whatever path they go after college. We hope it’s the ag industry, but no matter where life leads them, we want them to have the knowledge and the skills to be the best they can be and be leaders in their industry,” said Amy Cowan, American Hereford Association Director of Youth Activities and Foundation. 

Most breed associations offer contests that will help build better communicators, quick thinkers and more educated industry advocates such as public and extemporaneous speaking, quiz bowl or stockmen contest, livestock judging and salesmanship or team sales. In addition, some contests are geared toward showcasing specific talents like photography, writing, graphic design, posters and cook-offs. And there are even competitions to help prepare young people for job and internship interviews like career development and future professionals contests that allow the youth to prepare a cover letter, resume and go through the interview process.  

“The variety of contests offered to NJAA members ensures there is a contest for everyone. Many adults have a hard time getting up in front of people and speaking, get nervous during an interview and lack the confidence to think on their feet. By participating in the public speaking, career development, extemporaneous speaking and/or team sales, NJAA member can gain experience and confidence,” said Caitlyn Brandt, American Angus Association Events Coordinator. 

Getting Prepared 

Preparing for the contests well ahead of your junior nationals is a great step to succeeding. Make sure you know contest entry deadlines, follow the rules and read score sheets when available to know how you will be judged. Most breed associations have complete contest information on their websites. Many associations have early entry deadlines for the contests prior to junior nationals, while some require the actual contest entries to be submitted well in advance of the junior national, such as photography. 

“From experience, the best ways to prepare for these contests are repetition and practice. Also, to prepare, it’s great to ask for help from a member of the senior division. Most of these individuals, especially members of the junior board, can offer great guidance for these juniors. Lastly, a great way to prepare is becoming a part of our Mentor/Mentee Program at the National Classic. There, newer members can get a feel for everything the National Classic has to offer and also make lifelong friends along the way,” suggests Darla Aegerter, American Junior Simmental Association Director of Youth Activities. 

Cowan agrees. 

“Start early and pay attention to detail as you prepare for the contests. Those who are the most prepared always seem to have the best outcome and that starts at home before you get to the Junior National just like working with your heifers,” she said. 

Using resources like experienced members, state junior advisors and study guides provided by the associations are helpful. Some breed association post study guides for quiz bowl questions or past sales scenarios to study. Be sure to stay well versed in industry issues for quiz bowl or public speaking topics. And, if your specific association has set themes for various contests pay attention to newsletters, social media posts and the website to stay aware of any topics or contest changes. 

“Read over the contest rules. There are some contests with topics that change each year. Get involved with your state junior association. Your state advisors are a great resource to talk about contest deadlines and getting involved in team contests. Talk to other NJAA members that have participated. Use them for advice on how to prepare and do your best. And then finally practice your speech, old quiz bowl questions, sales talk, so you are prepared,” Brandt advises. 

Going Virtual 

In 2020, several associations were forced to conduct their contests virtually to meet COVID guidelines, and some are still hosting virtual events in 2021. These virtual contests not only help with scheduling conflicts and crowd control at the actual event, but also provide young competitors more opportunities. 

“I think the Illustrated and Extemporaneous speaking contests are two of the most beneficial because having good communication skills makes all the difference in the work force. We elected to leave these two contests virtual this year, because we feel it is important as the world changes for the junior members to know how to market their ideas and communicate their thoughts effectively even in a virtual format and setting,” Cowan said.  

Lindsey Broek, Director of Show, Communication and Events for the American Maine-Anjou Association, said that their public speaking and salesmanship contests are also virtual this year. However, there are other opportunities for young people to compete and network at the junior national.  

And while the virtual experience is a good learning tool, it also gives young people the opportunity to get involved without traveling to the show, if they so desire. According to Brandt, junior Angus members can pre-enter the photography, writing and graphic design contests and not even attend the National Junior Angus Show, and some of the junior Angus members do still attend the show just to compete in the myriad of educational contests. 

Involvement Matters 

According to the American Junior Simmental Association Regional and National Classic Rules, juniors must compete in four out of five educational contests prior to showing cattle or competing in showmanship, a guideline that sets them apart from most other breeds.  

“Our Regional and National Classics are so much more than just a cattle show. We pride ourselves in giving AJSA members the most knowledge and skill possible to take them anywhere they want in life, in and out of the showring. These educational contests separate the Simmental breed and its members from every other breed in the country. The structure of our Regional and National Classics not only provide a sense of competitiveness, but also pay off to our members in terms of knowledge and in friendship as well,” Aegerter said. 

Speaking of friendships, Broek said the contests at the Maine/Chi Junior National are a great way to build relationships. 

“Not only are contests excellent for developing leadership qualities and life skills, but they’re a great way for participants to get to know one other. While you’re waiting to compete, strike up a conversation with your neighbor; you may be both competing for the coveted contest prize, but you also might have something in common that could lead to a friendship down the road. Additionally, you never know who might be on your quiz bowl or team fitting team, maybe they will be a long-distance friendship that leads to a college roommate down the road! Get involved, meet new people and network! Participating in contests is a great way to start,” Broek said. 

When we say, “junior nationals,” we hope you are thinking of ways to get involved in the educational contests planned for you to help you #preptowin in life. The contests are a great way to acquire and strengthen skills, meet new people and perhaps help build your future scholarship funds. 

“I think those that take advantage of these educational opportunities stand to gain the most benefit from their experience as NJHA members, and I can guarantee you that the members who participate in the contests and learn all they can are most typically the ones in line for scholarships and awards offered through the Hereford Youth Foundation of America,” Cowan said. 

To help young people #preptowin at the various educational contests, visit to visit our contest preparation guide, complete with information about public speaking, livestock judging and some practice quiz bowl questions. 

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