Wading Through Possibilities

By Todd Lennig

Your supervisor has just asked you to implement a new activity for the camp’s aquatic program. Excitement starts to build as you have been looking forward to this project for a long time.

Will you bring in new sailboats?

Maybe start a whitewater kayak program or possibly a sea kayak program?

The camp down the road has a “blob,” and all of your campers are asking for one, too.

Where do you begin?

Brainstorming Phase
Brainstorming is the most exciting phase of any project because any idea is a possibly good one. Ask a diverse group of staff members, campers, and parents (a focus group) this simple question, “What new activity would you like to see at the waterfront next summer?”

• Ask parents what they think is missing from the waterfront.

• Ask staff members because their answers might surprise you. They might not want that popular “blob” because there are concerns about supervising it.

• Ask former campers what they think would be a great addition to the waterfront. They might offer a few activities that were popular in the past, and are now making a comeback.

• Ask maintenance staff because those members will be responsible for caring for the activity and will want something easy to maintain.

• Ask the supervisor for ideas (he or she might already have something in mind). What has been seen at other camps? What activities in the past have not worked out?

• Ask the current campers—after all, the new activity is for them! Allowing campers the opportunity to have a voice will make them feel important and connected (which, in the long run, might help increase and or/stabilize enrollment—but that’s a different topic).

Narrowing Phase
Now comes the difficult part—narrowing the list of 10 to 15 suggested activities.

• Sailing
• Sea kayaking
• Whitewater kayaking
• Water slide
• Waterskiing
• Parasailing
• Snorkeling
• Scuba diving
• Windsurfing
• Paddle boating
• Spear fishing
• Log rolling
• Giant water swing
• Water trampoline
• Fishing

How do you narrow the list to the top-three that you can hand to your supervisor?

First, eliminate all activities that don’t align with the camp’s mission. If the program activities generally have a progressive component, eliminate those that don’t demonstrate skill development.

Next, eliminate activities that will not be successful because of geography. For example, if the lake the camp uses only permits a 10-horsepower motor on boats, any activity that needs a powerful motor will not work.

Now, return the focused list to the group, asking the members to choose the top-three.

• Sailing
• Sea kayaking
• Whitewater kayaking
• Snorkeling
• Scuba diving
• Windsurfing
• Log rolling
• Fishing

Include instructions on what to consider when casting a vote. Share with the group:

• The camp’s mission
• The time allotted for the activity
• The focus for the activity (e.g., safety and fun in which groups of campers can participate).

Expert Phase
Three activities are nominated:

• Sailing
• Whitewater kayaking
• Windsurfing

Now it’s time to find an expert in each activity. This can be a former camper who has been involved in the activity for a long time, or the owner of a local outfitter shop. It can even be the staff member who put the activity on the list during the brainstorming session. The ideal expert will be able to offer advice and support throughout the process.

How do you know when you’ve found the right expert? Besides being involved in a sport or activity, some other criteria should be considered when recruiting:

Trust. It is important to find someone you can trust and who is looking out for the best interests of the camp and the new program.

Objectivity. This is incredibly important when selecting equipment and gear.

Networking. This is important when the person doesn’t know the answers to questions. Does the person know of other resources in order to find the answers?

Curriculum development. Can your expert help develop a curriculum? Participating in an activity and developing a curriculum are very different skills.

Equipment purchasing. Purchasing a kayak and purchasing a fleet of kayaks are also different experiences.

Staff hiring and training. Does your expert know where to find qualified staff? Are there local colleges that have a club that features the activity?

Camper supervision and safety. Has your expert ever supervised a large group of participants doing this activity? This is important when factoring in the cost of running the program. How many staff members are needed to keep campers safe?

Budgeting experience. Does the person know what it costs to keep the activity up and running on a camp scale? Can the expert factor in the appropriate wear-and-tear that a camp season will inflict?

It can be difficult to find one expert who has all of the criteria above. It is OK to use the combined knowledge of several experts for a comprehensive look at an activity.

Recommendation/Sales Phase
It is now time to make a recommendation and/or sell the idea to a supervisor. It is important to know how your boss thinks. What is he or she most concerned with—upfront or ongoing costs? Will a supervisor want to see the program curriculum or just the cost of the program? Is there an interest in knowing the process used?

The more you know about how your supervisor makes decisions, the easier your sell will be.

A new activity on the waterfront is exciting, but it shouldn’t be an “impulse buy.” Take the time to make the correct decision so the activity lasts, with a positive impact on campers and staff members.

Good luck and happy planning!

Todd Lennig is the director at YMCA Camp Timbers in Saginaw, Mich. Reach him at tlennig@saginawymca.org.