Great Expectations

By Susan Langlois

Are you preparing for a new camp season or are you preparing for another camp season? Are your sights set on the beginning of your camp season or are they set on what you will be able to do when the camp season is finally over?


When someone makes a suggestion for improving your camp programming are you listening with optimism or are you thinking of reasons why the suggestion won't work? When you interview a potential new employee are you looking at the energy level that the person can bring to the camp staff or are you sizing up how likely the person will be to break with camp protocol?

Performing to Expectations
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. After all, managing a camp season is intense. Preparation before opening day is a major focus so that day-to-day operations of the camp season are optimized and looking ahead to those rewards at the end of the season is a natural impulse that can mobilize your energies to stay the course.

But if most of your thoughts are focused on getting the season over with, identifying only the negative aspects of suggestions, and being on edge about your camp staff breaking the rules, you can be setting yourself up for an exhausting summer of working at worrying.

Sport psychologists have identified this phenomenon as "negative self-talk." Loretta LaRoche, a stress management expert, calls it "stinking thinking."

You've probably heard these positive motivational slogans:

"Attitude is everything"

"Begin with the end in mind"

"If you build it, they will come"

These are all based on the idea that focusing on the positive is the best way to achieve success.

However, if you are a seasoned professional who has struggled with the responsibilities of managing an intensive camp season, it is easy to dismiss these slogans because it is so easy to fall off the positive thinking bandwagon when your days are overflowing with solving problems. Being that positive can seem almost impossible to sustain.

But why do these slogans persist in our management-speak even though their practical application often does not persist? There are people who have transformed their management styles with these slogans as their mantras.

But for those camp directors and owners who find that these slogans are just noble ideas that evaporate when the camp season gets in high gear, there may be a more effective approach to accentuating the positive as a management style.

There has actually been some promising research in this area of management. One common research finding is when managers fall short in their efforts to have a successful camp season and find themselves limping through the final days (or weeks) with exhaustion, it is often because they focus on the "product" rather than the process.

Don't misunderstand this point; having a product or a goal to be successful is not a bad thing because it can be an effective marker to channel our energies for achievement.

Social scientists have studied the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy (where people believe that success is part of their destiny so intensely that all of their efforts are channeled away from doubt and into doing whatever it takes to succeed).

But most of us mortals need a plan (a process) that lays out small, intermediary steps that can help us to meet the goal. Without the plan, the motivational slogans are just wishful thinking.

So how can a camp owner or camp director take a goal, a vision for success and make it happen? There are two principles that have been studied by sport psychologists that can transform those motivational slogans from wishful thinking into powerful tools for a successful camp business.

1. Reframing negative self-talk into positive self-talk. There are physiological changes that take place when people consciously monitor what they say to themselves when they are planning, leading, organizing and evaluating.

These physiological effects range from lowering blood pressure and facial tension to having a better memory, more creativity, and more physical stamina.

For example, when someone has a suggestion that you have already tried and found that it wasn't worth the investment, do you say to yourself, "This is so frustrating to have to listen to people reinvent the wheel," or do you say, "I'm glad that this person is invested enough to want to offer a suggestion. How can my experience help improve the suggestion so that the investment can pay off for the person and the camp?"

Often, the most powerful messages are those we give ourselves with our own self-talk. Which phrase are you most likely to choose? "I don't know if I am going to make it through today with all of these meetings," or "These meetings could set the tone for the entire camp season; I'm glad that I involved my staff to set the agenda; their energy is vital to our camp's success."

2. Set performance goals as well as outcome goals as a team. An example of an outcome goal would be improving staff morale. Most importantly, this goal should only be part of the camp's agenda, if the majority of the staff believes is worthy.

If there is consensus about this goal's importance, everyone should contribute to its achievement by setting performance goals. A performance goal should be a measurable action that is under the control of the staff which can contribute to the achievement of the outcome goal.

A camp director might offer the contribution of preparing the camp schedule a week in advance to the entire staff so that revisions can be suggested by the people who will implement it and so that everyone has a chance to prepare for what is expected from each staff member.

A performance goal for a staff member might be to acknowledge when colleagues get things right and to offer constructive suggestions when they don't. All staff members could set a performance goal of arriving 10 minutes early to the activity that they are leading and to leave enough time to have their campers help them set up the next activity. That ensures a smooth operation, no surprises, and campers who are given responsibility and maybe even start to feel invested in the camp operations.

Sometimes the simplest changes are the most powerful ones. Examine your self-talk. Is it worrying about what is not going to work or is it great expectations?

When you have framed your mindset for success, have your staff identify the goals that will make a difference and the contributions that they can make to achieve them.

Wouldn't it be amazing to have your camp business meet your greatest expectations? Think about how your end of the season vacation would feel when your camp staff has worked hard as a team to achieve them.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 25 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.