Get Your Game Face On

By Megan Ball

“Good afternoon, everyone! On my cue, your camp supervisors are going to start wrapping each other in toilet paper for 10 points and control of the game. On your mark, get set, go!”

With those words and dressed as a gameshow host standing in front of a cardboard and masking-tape set, I kicked off the 2014 camp season in DeWitt, N.Y. As the camp supervisors began the game, “Who’s Your Mummy?”, the 60+ staff members in attendance were suddenly awake, attentive, and cheering for their respective leaders.

As staff-training coordinator for the town’s Recreation Day Camp, one of my primary goals is to immediately capture the attention and imagination of the counselors. I believe these opening moments are critical for setting a positive tone for the summer. With a lot of energy, creativity, and some friendly competition, I am able to do just that.

Creating this competition between staff members might seem counter-intuitive; after all, they are all on the same team. While there may be challenges, competition has many benefits in a training atmosphere. Not only does it generate interest and participation, but it provides an opportunity to lead and teach by example. Consider how you want your staff members to handle competition between campers. This is your chance to demonstrate what you would like to see at camp. As with any training session, it is important to plan (plan, plan, and over-plan). Here are some things to consider:

Choosing A Theme
An overarching theme can help tie training sessions together and create a comprehensive flow. Choosing a theme that easily allows for some competition will make the planning process that much easier.

Our theme in 2014 was a popular children’s game show, familiar to most of the staff members.

Setting The Competition
Once the theme is in place, decide what type of competition will be used and how it can be woven in seamlessly with the rest of the training.

After racing to wrap each other in toilet paper, the camp supervisors were introduced as contestants on the show, trading in the traditional introductions for something new and exciting. Additional gameshow rounds, including camp trivia, special activity challenges, and a grand finale obstacle course, continued over the course of training. Each round provided a different teaching opportunity, and presenting each activity with energy and enthusiasm kept counselors actively engaged.

Picking The Prize
Ideally, everyone would participate 100 percent “just for the fun of it.” Unfortunately, most people would agree that competition is more enticing if there is a prize at stake. Choose something that rewards teamwork and promotes a fun learning experience rather than extreme competitiveness.

In DeWitt, counselors compete for a coffee can, paper-towel roll, cookie tin, and a few other odds and ends that have been transformed into the Camp Cup. The winning group displays the cup at its camp site for the summer as a tribute to successful teamwork during training.

Training Tip
Take a few minutes at the end of each session to communicate with staff members. Explain what the goals are for the activity, the techniques used, and how it applies to camp. While some counselors might discover these ideas on their own, it is safe to assume that some people may not. A brief discussion can ensure that everyone has an understanding of the material and might even spark some interesting questions or dialogue. In my experience, explaining each session helps the staff translate the material more successfully into their own plans and activities.

Benefits Of Friendly Competition

  1. Attentive audience. Keeping staff engaged is the key to a successful training session. Creating a team atmosphere entices staff members to pay closer attention so they can contribute to their group. 
  2. Increased participation. Competition lends itself to participation. After all, how can you win the game if you aren’t playing? Fun activities that appeal to any skill level can help improve participation from counselors-in-training to veteran staff members.
  3. Increased retention. By encouraging active participation, counselors are more likely to remember what they did and learned during training. In my post-training evaluations, activities with a hands-on component receive the highest ratings, and are requested most often for future training sessions.
  4. Leading by example. This is the perfect opportunity to show staff members all the steps needed to successfully run an activity with their campers. It is your chance to demonstrate giving directions, encouraging positive behavior, group management, and more. 
  5. Fun. Camp is supposed to be fun, and training should be, too! Kick the summer off with a fun, positive environment and it will carry through the season.

Try To Avoid

  1. Missing the point. It can be easy to lose sight of a teaching moment in the midst of a fun game. Review your training goals often to help counselors take away more from each session.
  2. Dividing the staff. At the end of the day, all personnel have to survive the summer together. Team activities can be a lot of fun, but be sure to bring everyone together in the end to celebrate the entire group’s accomplishments.
  3. Competitive overload. There will be people who take the competition a little too seriously. Create balance by rewarding those who have the best understanding of your goals, rather than those who are the most competitive. 

Megan Ball is the special-events coordinator for the town of DeWitt Recreation Department in DeWitt, N.Y. Reach her at mball@townofdewitt.com.