Elevate Your Game

By Adrienne Shibles and Susan Langlois

Are you just getting a new basketball camp off the ground? Or are you a veteran camp director who is looking for a new approach to boost the motivation of staff members and campers? Stephen Covey’s advice would be the same for every camp director: “Begin with the end in mind.” Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a bestseller, is heralded as a bible for owners of any business because it puts the focus on people.


So how can camp directors “begin with the end in mind?” Start by answering this question: What do you want campers to say about your camp?  

Here are some answers from people who loved their camp experience:

  • “Camp was so much fun!”
  • “I made new friends and we all want to go back to this camp next year.”
  • “I have more confidence because my coaches taught me what I need to practice.”
  • “I improved so much—now my goal is to practice even harder and make varsity this year.” 

A successful basketball camp experience requires a staff that values exceptional teaching of skills and character development, as well as an environment in which campers have fun. Staff training must emphasize the camp mission and clear expectations to support the camp’s goals. A great way to reinforce the actions that support these values is through the words of the campers themselves. 

Generate Celebrations
One strategy to reinforce values is to gather at the end of the camp day to generate “celebrations.” Ask staff members and campers to recognize someone whom they appreciate at camp. Teaching campers about the importance of gratitude enhances the goal of character development. Also, for a camper to stand before a group and articulate a sentiment of gratitude can promote confidence. Positive comments are also directed toward staff members who encouraged campers or took the time to teach them a concept. 

When campers are given the space to think about and articulate the positive things that happened to them on that given day, they leave feeling good. In addition, the staff is rewarded, and each coach becomes even more invested in ensuring that every camper has a wonderful experience. This is a good strategy to reinforce camp values in a transparent manner.

Use Positive Self-Talk
Experts in human behavior, especially in sports psychology, recommend teaching campers how to use positive self-talk. It’s all about describing “what’s working well.”  

Here’s an example of a camp director who uses positive self-talk to share “what’s working well” with staff members: “We have over 90 percent of our campers returning this year. The camper evaluations showed their number-one reason for coming back was that their coaches cared about them and helped them improve.”   

It can be so easy to slip into negative self-talk: “Ten percent of our campers aren’t planning to come back this year, and most of them didn’t give a reason. A few said it was too expensive. I don’t buy it because we are the lowest-priced camp in the area. We need to make sure that every camper wants to return next year. Make sure that they know what a deal they are getting.” 

Positive self-talk delivers because it affects perception. When there is an awareness and then a commitment to state what people are doing right, positive self-talk influences what the brain filters out (the negative). Positive self-talk puts the focus on what is working. The result: People believe they are already making progress, and their mindset is to expect more success. “Our campers loved designing their own out-of-bounds plays yesterday. And it looks like our new drill that creates space is working. Creating space was part of almost every out-of-bounds play. Let’s see how often they create space when they scrimmage today.”

Positive self-talk also helps the brain identify more solutions to problems. Some of these solutions may have been there all along, but the brain may have missed them when negative self-talk diverted their focus.

Positive Self-Talk Can “Go Viral”
When campers remark, “Camp was so much fun,” a director who practices positive self-talk might simply say, “I love to hear you say that.” Now the campers are aware that the director appreciates what they said. Because the campers and the director are focused on the positives, their brains are most likely filtering out the negatives. They are also more likely to talk even more about what they did at camp to have fun. These campers’ positive self-talk also reinforces their anticipation of having more fun at next year’s camp.

Positive self-talk can pay immediate dividends and have lasting effects on how people invest their energy. When the focus is on “what’s working,” it can also instill confidence and insights from the staff. These insights can identify the next best steps in order to elevate the camp experience for everyone.

Self-talk about what’s working well gives everyone more energy, which can make all the difference!

Adrienne Shibles has over 20 years of collegiate coaching experience and has directed numerous summer-camp programs. She spent nine years as an Associate Professor of Physical Education and the Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Swarthmore College, and is entering her 10th year at Bowdoin College. Reach her at ashibles@bowdoin.edu.

Susan Langlois has more than 25 years’ experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director, and sports-facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Rivier University in Nashua, N.H. Reach her at slanglois@rivier.edu.