Choices, Choices, Choices

Camp Cobbossee's athletic menu is certainly well-rounded. In fact, it's down right extensive, with such variety as tennis, basketball, ice hockey, street hockey, roller hockey, lacrosse, team handball and water sports galore.

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All this choice could present quite a difficulty for the camper, and for the camp, whose job it is to organize the program and encourage participation.

One way Cobbossee deals with this is to allow the campers more choice in their scheduling as they get older. The eight year olds have fewer electives than the 15 year olds.

"When the youngest boys first come to camp they are taken all over the camp so that they can see all the activities," says Tony Lembeck, a partner at Camp Cobbossee with Steve and Nancy Rubin, the owners of the camp. "We have found that many of the boys say they don't like certain sports because they haven't been exposed to them or because they don't think they'll be any good."

Cobbossee runs a seven-period day. The youngest boys get to pick three activities, and four are assigned to them. The four assigned periods are a rotation of all the major land sports and the waterfront, and the boys receive instruction in all of them.

One of the electives is called a major, and they pick that elective weekly. The other elective activity is called a daily optional and the campers are encouraged to try something different. The third elective is, depending on the age group, a choice of one, two or three activities or the waterfront. The older the boys get, the more electives they have. By the time they are the oldest campers, they pick almost their whole day.

"The parents like the discipline and structure, but today's boys have to be given a certain amount of liberty under the structure or they don't function well," says Lembeck. "I had one optional a day when I was a kid, but boys of today are not the same."

Before the boys come to camp they fill out an interest finder, as do their parents. Camp Cobbossee is then charged with doing its best to meet the needs of both. It's a fine line and the camp has been mostly successful in its endeavors.

"I've learned over the years that forcing someone to do something they don't want to do, even if their parents want them to do it, doesn't work. But if a parent wants their son to try an activity, and the boy shows no interest in doing so, I will call the parent and let them know that we're having some resistance, and ask them what they'd like us to do," says Lembeck. "Most of the time the parent will tell us to just drop it. In some cases they don't drop it and then we have to do what we do best and that's to convince the kid to try it. Trying it is easy to do if you present it the right way. Sometimes the battle isn't worth it, and we'll let the parents know. We have a very good rapport with our parents -- they're our friends and our customers. I have young kids, so I do my best to talk to them as a parent and not as the owner of a camp."

The method of persuasion depends on the intellect, psyche and age of the child, says Lembeck.

"For the older child the easiest way to convince them is to say, 'You know your parent wants you to try it, let's go and do it; we can write home and say you tried it and they won't ask you again.'" That's the easiest way," says Lembeck. "When they're younger, most of the time they don't want to try it because they're afraid, so you have to work at alleviating their fear.

We'll work one-on-one with them, instead of putting the boy in a group scenario -- build up his confidence, and maybe he'll want to come back."

Bryan BuchkoComment