Developing The Dream Team

Wouldn't it be great if recruiting the perfect staff were this easy?

Wanted: an energetic, caring, creative, open-minded, dependable, and organized person who enjoys teaching children everything we offer from archery to golf. Please submit your application to Camp Utopia with three truthful, glowing references by January 1.

Many camp administrators engage in extensive and intensive staff recruiting, hoping to attract the best and the brightest. But another area worthy of this same investment is the staff development process.

Fine-tuning or revamping your staff development program can help to produce your camp's own Dream Team.

Peter Drucker has researched leadership and management for over seven decades. His ideas have informed and inspired leadership training in business, recreation, education and athletics. Drucker believes that there are those people who are "born leaders" but unfortunately that aren't enough of these people to fill every leadership position.

But Drucker also maintains that people can learn how to be effective leaders. So if you don't have a huge number of applicants for your camp staff who already possess the ideal characteristics that you are looking for, do not despair. There are ways to develop the leadership talent that both you and your campers need to have a successful camp experience.

Top Ten List

Listed below are ten strategies that you can use to create a staff development program that will help camp staff develop leadership skills…

1. Give them hands-on experience and plenty of it. There are people who can lecture for days about expectations, rules, and regulations but there is only so much information that can be absorbed by the human brain in one sitting. As the great educator William Arthur Ward professes, "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." Research in learning retention rates supports this hands-on approach to inspire learning. When people listen to a lecture, the average rate of retention is only five percent. When students actually apply the subject matter, the average retention rate soars to just above 90 percent.

2. Build personal connections. One activity that helps develop personal connections is to ask the staff to work together in pairs and have each person write the other's biography. Share each biography with the rest of the staff. The power of knowing each person's story can help build relationships, which in turn develops trust and a spirit of cooperation. This activity could be extended by having each person create a poster that tells his or her biography. This biographical poster could be displayed for campers to see.

3. Cultivate a team spirit. Have them respond to challenges in small groups. Shipwreck could be the first challenge activity. Organize the staff in groups of five. Give them four, foot-long 2x4 blocks of wood. Have each group move from point A to point B (about 20 feet) by only making contact with themselves and the 2" x 4" blocks. Note: Once the blocks cross point B they cannot be used. Have the groups discuss the process that they used and identify the leadership behaviors that contributed to the group's success. Other challenge activities could be created from actual camp activities that the staff will lead.

4. Discuss the inevitable bumps in the road (just like in life… everything will not always be perfect). Have the veterans share their successes and their challenges. Discuss how they coped with their mistakes.

5. Accentuate the positive. Camp can be so much fun, especially if everyone can focus on what works and strives to improve what doesn't. Sport psychologists call this positive self-talk. Have the staff write down their own internal talk. Take the statement, "I am so tired." Restructure the negative internal talk into positive self-talk: "I am really going to enjoy my next break!"

6. Create a mission statement tapestry. Have the camp staff design and display a tapestry that expresses the purpose and outcomes of the camp experience.

7. Develop a sense of competence. Have each person take an inventory of their talents and the talents that they hope to develop at camp. You can even have them write the reference that they would like to have written about them after the camp experience is completed.

8. Build variety. Mix it up, both at the camp training sessions and during the camp programming. Train staff to job share and give adequate downtime so that the staff members will have opportunities to recharge. There is a difference between working hard and being overworked.

9. Feed each staff member's extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards can be as simple as a handwritten thank you note, providing surprise snacks, sponsoring informal gatherings, and giving t-shirts with the camp logo. Intrinsic rewards can be instituted by having staff members establish their own personal goals for the camp. Be sure to provide an opportunity for them to reflect on the achievement of their goals on a weekly basis.

10. Develop a feedback loop. Have them write a daily self-evaluation and encourage them to share with another staff member. Have a weekly meeting to discuss what they wrote and develop specific action steps to improve the camp operations.

These ten strategies can help to cultivate what every human being needs -- a sense of belonging, purpose, achievement, respect, and the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of other people. If a camp director cultivates these needs in a staff development program, the dividends can make the camp experience exceptional.

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.

Bryan BuchkoComment