Apart from the a love for others, working at a summer camp requires real skill, sheer grit, and unbounded determination. Bottom line: camp doesn’t allow any half measures. Camp workers have to jump in feet-first – and then swim a few laps around the lake.
1. On-The-Fly Flexibility
At summer camp, the plans never quite go like you think they will. You could schedule each day down to the second, but inevitability you're forced to change things up at the last minute. A late bus, sick employee or unexpected rain shower – just a few of camp’s many unexpected turns – can throw some serious shade on the day’s itinerary.
Fortunately, camp people are fast on their feet. They aren’t fazed by Plan B (or even Plan C or Plan D for that matter). In fact, many often prefer the alternative; it gives them an opportunity to put their creativity to work.
Whatever the change-up or challenge, great camp workers are on-the-fly magicians -always conjuring up a new game or entertaining activity that can completely transform those “ruined” afternoons.
2. The Patience of a Saint
Camp people have heard it all. Every year, parents ask the same questions. As a camp person, you’ve literally heard the same questions thousands of times.
But that’s just one example that requires patience – and a whole lot of it.
Inevitably, campers will Push. Our. Buttons. They get into ridiculous arguments, or demand so much of our attention that we don't have time to blink - or think. And of course, disagreements among staffers can bubble up during the dog-days of summer. (Staff disagreements are par for the course, considering how much time the camp community spends together.)
That’s why at camp, the patience of a saint is about as necessary as a swimming suit or bug spray.
The day-to-day pressures of running a camp or managing a cabin can stretch us thin. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget to take a deep breath and walk away.
With experience, however, camp people learn to develop a zen-like sense of patience and serenity. Without patience, camp staffers can easily lose their head, get burnt out, or give up. An abundance of patience is necessary for getting through summer with positivity and poise.
3. Investing in Others
Here’s a pretty eye-popping statistic: More than 14 million kids and adults go to camp each summer in the U.S. according to the ACA.
Just think for a second about what that actually means; summer camps (and their staffs) are responsible for shaping future generations. And they do it every day by modeling positive behavior, mentoring, creating a strong sense of community, and investing in campers.
Need proof? Ask any former camper about their experience, and inevitably they'll bring up an experience with a favorite counselor or summer camp director. You’re bound to hear vivid accounts of special people – many who go on to be lifelong mentors.
So how do camp people do it? How do they invest in others so well?
They make a conscious choice to treat everyone around them with professionalism and respect. They live and breathe camp values, and they often model conflict resolution like champions. No gossiping. No yelling and screaming when they’re frustrated. They problem-solve with composure – and that’s where many campers learn what positive, professional behavior looks like.
Being watched like that every day can put a lot of pressure on camp staffers. But the best wear the honor with pride and tirelessly invest in their campers day in and day out.
4. A Strong Sense of Empathy
Camp counselors and administrators spend a lot of time helping kids simply have fun. But of course, not every day is magical.
Sometimes homesickness, disagreements, or loneliness can make campers wish they were elsewhere. Great camp staff, however, have that innate sense to pick up on subtle cues. They can read people and know when to step in with words of encouragement or comfort, or when to reach out to a kid or co-worker and ask them to join the team.
Empathy is a truly special character trait that carries campers through the rest of their lives, and great counselors put it to work with sincerity and compassion. No matter the circumstance, they’re able to be anyone’s friend or confidante.
But what does empathy look like at summer camp and how does it permeate camp culture?
Empathy at camp can look like words of encouragement. Smiles and random compliments. Positive advice and support. It’s making sure everyone feels welcome and included. And it’s knowing when to step in, offer support, share (and even wipe away) tears. Great camp people are always tuned into others, and looking out for others before themselves. It’s part of what makes them camp people.
5. Grit. Lots And Lots Of It.
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, failed numerous times on his way to transforming the company into what it is today. In fact, you'd likely not be reading this on your Mac, iPhone or iPad had he not been fired from Apple at one point.
When he failed time and time again, he dusted his shoulders off and got back up. (Then, went on to invent the iPhone…change the technology landscape...make a gajillon dollars...you know the story.)
We often don't focus on the failures. But through our failures, true grit is born. And it’s an important trait for summer camp workers.
Over the course of the summer, counselors and camp staffers are bound to make mistakes. Some big and some small. But the truth is: Those mistakes are part of the process.
No matter how hard you try, the summer won’t be 100% perfect. (It may be pretty darn close, but inevitably something will go wrong.) Great camp people see these mishaps as times to learn, to recognize what went wrong, and use that information to make themselves and camp better in the long run. They learn grit.
Bottom Line: Camp People Are Superheroes
We know that camp people often have to do it all. Buzz with positivity, build excitement for even the most seemingly mundane activities, always ensure everyone feels welcome. They have to be responsible leaders and keep everyone safe.
The traits we outlined in this article are just a glimpse of what makes camp people who they are; there are countless other skills camp workers need to thrive every season. One of the most important traits, though, one that you can’t go without – is a deep respect and love for camp.
It's why we do what we do.
So here’s to the camp people of the world: You are all, truly, amazing. Thank you for what you do.