Profiles in Courage

By Rich Nastasi

The movement experience at camp in the form of games and sports often provides wonderful physical and social experiences for the campers and staff. The teaching aspects of these experiences, while always present, often times go unrecognized.


One area of teaching movement and games that is very important is the promotion of sensible courage by participants. Without getting into philosophical discussions on the nature of courage, let's define the relevant terms.

To paraphrase Mortimer Adler, courage can be seen in terms of fearing things that should be feared and overcoming that fear when necessary to help yourself and/or others.

The development of this courage seems like a sensible objective for camp personnel. The question is how can we promote this learning initiative within the camp structure?

In this article, I would like to provide two different style lessons to illustrate ways to discuss courage. The Greek hero Cassandra listens to a chorus saying, "Your misery makes you brave." Her reply is that "…good fortune requires no courage."

Setting Goals
When setting up an activity for a group to play, a counselor should think of ways for campers to explain the difficulties they had accomplishing the task.

A checklist of questions should have three purposes… One, pre-activity questions set the stage for the campers to explore the boundaries and possibilities of the activity.

Two, mid-activity questions clarify acts as the game (or activity) is taking place. Finally, post-activity questions (or debriefing) synthesize information and develop questions for the next experience.

An example of these sets reveals purposeful (guiding) questions, enabling the camper to see the bigger picture of an activity

Pre-activity questions:

1. What do think will be the challenges to complete this activity fairly?

2. Why is completing the activity fairly important?

3. How can a person sacrifice in this game for the betterment of the team?

Mid-activity questions (at a break in play):

1. What do you see happening?

2. What would you like to change?

3. What things can you alter and what things are determined by the luck and/or flow of the game?

Post-activity questions (debriefing):

1. What did you learn during the game?

2. What challenges did you expect and what surprised you? How did you react to the challenges?

3. How did you help your teammates? What sacrifices did you make for the betterment of the team? Were they worth it?

4. How can we add to your game experience for next time? (A general debriefing question that should be asked after every camp activity.)

By introducing themes of consideration -- intelligent sacrifice and opportunity developing from adversity -- the campers will start to value a team ethos that coincides with the need for individual self esteem. Sporting activities are a wonderful avenue to explore these issues in a comfortable environment.

Role Playing
A second way that courage can be explored within a movement experience relies on the team teaching of drama, physical education and art specialists.

These people can join forces to create a movement arts production centering on themes of courage and sacrifice. By using literature and dramatics as your base, the staff and campers can formulate opinions and internalize ideas in a different and possibly less threatening setting.

An example of this collaboration would be to stage a popular children's book, like Harry Potter, as a progressive play that takes place throughout the camp grounds as the actors and audience run or walk to each set as the play continues.

There are two reasons that an activity like this would be beneficial: One is curriculum-based and the other is instructional-based.

From the curriculum standpoint, a good teaching book offers campers of a wide range of ages an opportunity to interact with a "normal" child in courageous situations where good always triumphs and sensibility is always tempered by strong emotional bounds. In a word, this is a wonderful teaching piece.

Camp directors and drama specialists have a wonderful opportunity to select (along with their charges) works that "say something" to the performer and the audience.

Thus, the process and product become one and the camp will unite around a mutually pleasing activity. From the instructive standpoint, creating a dramatic obstacle course will provide many creative opportunities for the activities people on staff.

The logistics of the production has a unique physicality to it and the challenges will be incredible for the courageous art staff. I would love to see a Quiddich match on the camp ball field in costume and props on a sunny summer afternoon as part of the second act of the play!

When one debriefs after dramatic, literature-based experiences, questions need to be asked. Siu-Runyan (1996) suggests questions such as:

1. What did you think about?

2. How would you have reacted if you were____?

3. Does this story or experience remind you of similar situations that you have been through?

4. What did you learn from this story and experience?

Siu-Runyan also speaks of literature as a way of bridging cultural differences. If this is an objective for your camp, these types of activities (guided by books that speak to the issues that are valued) could be an important unifying factor.

Activity with a social purpose can make camp life interesting for all of the parties, while enhancing the fun that campers crave. Everyone loves a challenge!

Adler, Mortimer J. (2000): "How to think about the great ideas". Chicago: Open Court Publishing (particular reference to Chapter 11: How to think about emotion, pp. 97-108)

Nastasi, Richard J. (1995): "A conversation concerning heroism: An example of sport literature in practice". Journal of Education, 177,2, 47-54.

Siu-Runyan, Yvonne (1996): "Caring, courage, justice, and multi-cultural education". Journal for a just and caring society, 2,4,420-430.

Rich Nastasi is an associate professor at Endicott College, Beverly, Mass.