My best camp anecdotes come from seemingly insignificant moments: a little comment here, a quick experience there and often tiny moments grab my thoughts for days. This week I had one of those moments with my 3 year old.
The afternoon sun was shining and we were on the front porch just passing the day away. We’ve got a great front porch, with a big swing and this time of year pumpkins and mums. My little guy, Axel, wanted to get up on the swing with me and so he grabbed hold and threw a leg up (imagine a little person trying to climb onto a horse for the first time). My initial reaction was to put my hand behind him just in case he needed an extra boost.
In that moment I thought of camp. I kid you not, that’s how these moments happen. I thought, “what a great analogy for summer camp staff.”
We want them to succeed. We want them to experience new things and grow in confidence, but we also want them to be safe. Where’s the line between growth and safety?
We know that the most impactful moments of these young peoples’ lives is when they step just beyond their comfort zone and experience personal growth. In order to do this they must take healthy risks; the kind of risk where the opportunity for growth is greater than the opportunity for danger. When it comes to mitigating this danger we see good Camp Directors put their hands behind staff just in case they need an extra boost, metaphorically (and sometimes literally….like spotting…spoon hands).
How do we do this? We hire people interested in healthy risk taking (they understand that camp has opportunities for personal growth), train them to look for these moments (intentionally and organically we put them in team building and personal growth situations) and we are present during the summer to offer support as it’s needed (we get out of the office, offer input in a candid and compassionate way and allow space for staff to hold each other accountable.)
Risk taking is required for personal growth. But it doesn’t have to be unsupported.
The flip side of all this risk taking is that we as Camp Directors can be too overbearing and fall back to a micromanaging leadership style. This leads to stifled staff growth, trust crumbles, staff retention goes out the window and the entire program suffers. If staff aren’t getting anything more than a paycheck out of this job they’ll go find another one with higher wages. It’s in your best interest to let staff take healthy risks. It’s incredibly difficult to trust 18 year olds with the well-being of hundreds of children, but with some support they’ll do just fine.