By Guest Blogger Andrew R Hano

My summers spent as part of the senior leadership team at a sleep-away camp have made me witness to many confidence building moments in the lives of campers. A camper who spent not days, or weeks, but two and a half full summers learning to swim and completing the basic swim test. There was a camper who could only make it part way up the climbing tower wall in the past who reached the top for the first time. Plus, a group of campers in a cabin that rarely scored well in cabin inspection who made a late session run to claim the cleanest cabin title. These campers walked a little taller with confidence because of their accomplishments and meeting these identifiable challenges.

Summer Camp Confidence Lasts a Lifetime

Some confidence building moments happen unexpectedly. I recently came across an essay I wrote in 1983 at the start of sixth grade following my first summer as a camper.

The time I liked myself best was… When I was elected overall captain of the orange team at camp, also when I won an award shirt at camp. I got these for being a good athlete and a good sport. Being captain meant accepting a trophy if we won color day, and we did win color day. But Orange didn’t win Orange-Blue competition, so we didn’t get a chicken feed. I’m not sure if I deserved being captain but I’m glad for the chance. I played my hardest in all the sports, and tried to have a good attitude win or lose. And I had a really fun time.”

Forty years later I still remember the surprise I felt as the honors announcement. The award shirt no longer fits. However, the confidence I gained from that experience remains with me today.

Self-Discovery Opportunities

These experiences, expected or unexpected, are part of a camper’s self-discovery that happens at summer camp. A child may attend a sports camp in the summer to learn basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, and so on; however, sports are a venue used to teach life lessons.

In Joe Ehrman’s book Insideout Coaching he states that, “For Socrates, a team was a virtuous community critical to the civic, moral, and spiritual development of the city-state. Friendship was the foundation of a team and self-knowledge was a prerequisite to becoming a true friend.”

I immediately thought about a child’s summer camp experience. A camper’s self-discovery, be it confidence or empathy or cooperation, leads to a better understanding of self, which in turn results in the deep and meaningful friendships formed at camp. These friendships build the foundations of cohesive teams, like a group of campers cleaning up for cabin inspection or two teams preparing to face off on the hockey court or a table of campers and counselors sitting down for a meal in the dining hall. A sense of self, a sense of friendship, and a sense of belonging to a team all combine to form a strong community. Empowering children at summer camp with these lessons they will be better versions of themselves, and, if I may quote my eleven-year-old self, “[have] a really fun time”!

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