Many camp directors are cultivating a healthier bottom line by expanding their programming beyond the traditional summer season.
Offering camp programming to athletic teams is a target market that can pay great dividends as an entrepreneurial business venture.
However, there are several key factors that should be considered to ensure that "teambuilding at camp" can be a winning combination for both the camp director and athletic teams.
Team cohesion is all about how a team works together, how team members relate to one another and how athletes put the needs of their team before their own individual needs.
Most coaches would agree that team cohesion is a factor that is an essential component of team success. Coaches are always trying to find ways to build team bonds and believe that if teammates form positive relationships on and off the field that they are more likely to work together as a team.
Camp directors have the ideal setting to help coaches and their athletes develop team cohesion. The camp setting can provide an environment free of distractions that are part of the typical training setting: socializing with friends and family, traveling to and from the practice site, part-time jobs, the electronic comforts of home, and so on. Eliminating these distractions can help a team focus on the task at hand… improving as a team.
The camp setting also takes athletes outside of their comfort zone so that they must spend more time with their teammates and rely on them for "making it through the camp experience." This can have a tremendous impact on team cohesion because they are getting to know each other outside of the normal training routine.
This "power of knowing" can build what leadership guru Stephen Covey says is critical to the success of any relationship: "Building PC before P."
Covey believes that PC, or "production capability" (investing in the person by getting to know them and developing trust), needs to be achieved before asking them to "produce" (the P in the formula) in any task.
So if athletes and their coaches get to know each other outside of the production mode (training and competing), they have a much better chance of working together as a team.
This teambuilding concept at camp is an ideal way for team members to develop healthy relationships. They will learn more about each other than just the athletic side as they are immersed in a camp environment.
Another benefit of teams being immersed in the camp environment is that coaches will be able to optimize how the athletes eat, drink, and sleep.
Improving performance and preventing injuries have so much to do with how the athletes are getting their nutrients and the quality and amount of sleep they receive.
The camp staff and coaches can work together to design the optimal training conditions for a specific sport, which can give any team a leg up on the competition.
Formats that Work
There are two major formats of teambuilding at camp that are very successful for athletic teams: the pre-season kickoff and the off-season stimulus.
Both of these formats are designed for athletes and their coaches to work as a unit. The support staff who are employees of the camp would prepare the facilities and equipment for teams to use; support staff also can organize team activities that are not specific to the sport, like project adventure, paintball, fun-runs, aquatics and socializing opportunities.
The pre-season kickoff can be designed to build a tradition of excitement, enhanced team chemistry and positive momentum for pre-season training.
Typically, a team arrives for pre-season training with returners and rookies. The rookies will tell you that they have to work hard to be accepted and the initial anxiety is formidable.
It is also very easy for the returners to slide into their comfort zone and socialize with the teammates they already know. Under this traditional format, the team dynamic can already be compromised.
The alternative to this approach could be teambuilding at camp through a pre-season kickoff. It could be designed to put returners and rookies on an even playing field. Everyone is in a new environment and if the coaches really want to emphasize equality, the first day of teambuilding can be all about team challenges that have nothing to do with their sport, like project adventure skills and icebreakers.
The pre-season kickoff format helps everyone to invest in knowing each other before anyone steps on the playing field. As the pre-season camp progresses, more sport-specific activities can be added.
However, coaches may find that they can enhance team relations and minimize overuse injuries, if part of each camp day is devoted to non-sport, getting-to-know-each-other activities.
The off-season stimulus brings athletes back to the sport they love, to connect with their teammates, and to rejuvenate their desire to train in the off-season and reach their full potential for the next season.
There may be some restrictions as to when these camps can take place because of NCAA non-traditional season timeframes and state high school athletic association regulations. This would be an important issue to raise with the coaching staffs during the planning phase.
The off-season stimulus format would be similar to the pre-season format with the type of activities offered, but because the teams are not at the brink of their playing season, more can be accomplished with respect to strength training, speed training, leadership skills, and individual skills development.
Taking time to specialize in the skills that can deteriorate during the off-season can be a special focus of this camp. Additionally, time can be devoted for athletes who play in the same position to work together to improve. This is especially effective in the off-season, where vying for the starting position is not imminent.
The Camp's Role
Having the coaches and camp staff meet in the early planning stages is essential. Camp staff can inform the coaches what is possible for their athletes to do at the camp and they can provide the project adventure and icebreaker activities with ease.
The camp staff has the training and experience to run these and it also gives the coaching staff some time to rejuvenate between practice sessions.
Meeting early also gives the coaches an opportunity to plan what types of equipment and facilities they will need from the camp. This can prevent surprise requests from coaches during the camp that can be costly and frustrating for everyone involved.
Affordability is always a concern for athletic teams who are already fundraising for their extras like team gear and banquets. Developing packages that give incentives for bringing more athletes and providing discounts for larger coaching staffs are always attractive.
However, value can be just as attractive… The more services that your camp can offer, like team meeting areas, water stations, indoor facilities for bad weather, and snacks available on a cash basis, can make all the difference.
The payoff of these teambuilding programs extends far beyond the additional revenue that is generated by these athletic teams' business.
If the athletes and coaches reap the benefits of teambuilding in an exemplary camp setting, they will promote the camp through word of mouth and that will enhance the public relations of your traditional camp programming.
The result? This teambuilding at camp venture can truly be a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.
Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.
James Wells is head football coach at Endicott College, and became the program's first coach in 2001. Before coming to Endicott, he served as the assistant head football coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks and receivers coach at Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Ill. Wells is a 1991 graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., where he earned ten varsity letters in football and track.