Begin with the End
Take a minute to relax, close your eyes, and think about a storybook ending for your camp. Perhaps you'll envision the campers who are saying goodbye to new friends, promising their counselors that they will be back next year, and starting to tell their parents the first of their camp stories which will continue through the ride home.
Now open your eyes, grab a pen and some paper, and write down what it will take to make your storybook ending come true.
This short, but very effective exercise can be a springboard for your camp preparation. Steven Covey, author of the national bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this habit, "Begin with the end in mind."
Covey is convinced that highly effective people have a clear image of what success will look like before they begin to tackle any task.
Successful camp directors put tremendous investment into the preparation phase of camp programming. The aphorism, "The harder I work, the luckier I am" is an axiom which makes great sense.
But how to invest this preparation is the key to success. Taking the time to create a vision for success is an effective way to jumpstart the camp preparation process.
Think of all the people who contribute to your camp experience. You could start with your campers. What goals would you like them to achieve because they attended your camp?
Again, begin with the end in mind. Look back at your storybook ending. The concept of affiliation is a powerful incentive.
If campers make friends and feel as though they belong, they will come back for more. If parents realize that their children have enjoyed their camp experience, have improved intellectually, physically, and emotionally, and are already excited about attending again, parents will be ready to do whatever it takes to register their children for the next year.
Identify The End
To take this vision to the next level and identify what services must be provided for campers to have a positive experience, you need:
• Enthusiastic camp staffers who love to work with campers and who have the skills to help cultivate campers' enjoyment and skill improvement.
• Vendors who deliver the t-shirts, equipment, food, and merchandise which all have superior quality and who ensure that they arrive on time.
• Support staffers who take pride in facilities that are clean, safe, and attractive.
• A smooth registration process with accurate forms, timely mailings, which provides the public with easy access to the important information about the camp.
• A promotion campaign that gets the word out and takes advantage of no-cost media outlets and third-party marketing.
• Market research that uncovers data for a director to target the ideal market of campers and to identify what the needs are in the ideal market.
• A strong camp mission which communicates the core values of the camp organization.
Now that you have developed a vision for your ideal camp, take the results and break them down to their action components.
For example, what must be done to provide a group of staff members who will inspire and instruct campers?
These action components might be:
• Establish credentials and personal criteria for each staff category.
• Set compensation commensurate with these credentials and criteria.
• Research avenues to attract an interested talent pool, including job boards local youth organizations, schools, and colleges.
• Establish a screening process and verification of credentials.
• Develop interview questions, scenarios and criteria for selection.
• Train staff members in first aid, CPR, camp protocol, programming and supervision responsibilities, customer satisfaction, and staff teambuilding/camaraderie, and uniforms issue.
The next stage of the preparation process is to create a master timeline that incorporates each key factor's action components. Incorporating these into one timeline will facilitate how each of the actions will be accomplished and will create an incentive to "just do it."
Constructing a master timeline with generous leeway and making it visible to all staff members will also help to avoid the unexpected and might help to identify more action components.
The most critical component and often the most neglected component of this preparation process is evaluation. Document your results, insights, and trouble spots as you execute your preparation timeline.
Once you close the doors and the books of a camp season, the documentation of how you executed the timeline is valuable as you begin the process for the following camp year.
Once the staff has been in the trenches of the camp experience, memories fade about critical mistakes, brilliant saves, and even typographical errors that were part of registration. Documenting events as they happen can be a powerful tool for improvement of the camp experience.
By beginning with the ideal end in mind, identifying the necessary action components, and creating a master timeline, camp preparation becomes an exercise in living your dream camp. Ideally, this can be an exercise that the entire camp staff could complete.
Not only does this approach to preparation mobilize the energies necessary for a truly great camp, but it also instills a sense of professionalism in all who participate in creating this vision.
John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coaching great, once said, "Success is a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."
When you prepare by "beginning with the end in mind" you have embarked on the great journey that can give your camp the chance of being its best.
Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. Her undergraduate education was at the University of New Hampshire in physical education. She earned her Master's and doctoral degrees from Springfield College. She is active in several professional organizations including NASSM, AAHPERD, ISCHPER, AAUP, NACWAA.
Sharman Hayward has directed sports camps at every developmental level, and has coached intercollegiate field hockey and lacrosse for ten years. Sharman earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Colby-Sawyer College and has a Master of Science Degree in Athletic Administration from Springfield College. Sharman currently serves as Associate Director of Athletics at Endicott College.