It’s my first week at camp and I’ve already discovered that my absolute favorite aspect of camp is the relationships I get to develop with the girls. In my first week, I noticed immediately that coaches and campers engage in a reciprocal relationship of learning. While I may be instructing these girls about the specifics of kickball, they often teach me something as well. An experience I had on my very first day summarizes this relationship well.
As we wait for lunches to be delivered, a co-coach approaches me and asks if I can help with a camper who is having a tough day. Removed from the rest of the group, this girl has the look of someone who doesn’t want to be at camp. A friend is sitting next to her, but the girl is making a considerable effort to ignore any advice being offered. I approach the girl and sit in the grass next to her. “What’s going on?” I ask. The camper explained that she was in the wrong group. “I should be in team three!” she said, obvious frustration on her face. “I’m waaay older than these girls,” she exclaims, gesturing to her teammates. It’s my first moment as a coach where I have to solve a problem with a girl one-on-one, and I struggle to think of a way to assure this girl that she can still have fun at camp as a team 2 member. “Well,” I said, “this is my first year at camp and I heard from all the returning counselors that teams one and two are the best teams.” The girl ignores me, clearly not satisfied with my answer. “I think you’re just saying that to make her feel better,” her friend says, looking me in the eye. This eight-year-old has me all figured out. I flounder for a moment before trying again. “You’re right. What I should have said is that there are a lot of advantages being on team two. For example, because you are the oldest, you can serve as a role model for the girls in your group who are new to camp. You can help them in drills that you have done before, and if they have questions, you can answer them,” I suggest. She seems a bit more content, but her face is still hesitant. “You also get lunch first,” I quip. She looks at me. “And you get to get in the pool first,” I remind her. This seems to have secured her trust. “I like the pool,” she says.
In the afternoon, I write about my first day. “I learned that the girls respond to thoughtful problem solving,” I scribble. “Pointing out the benefits was considerably more effective than making generalizations. The girls are smart, so they appreciate when you’re straight with them. I am going to keep this in mind every time I engage with a camper.”
I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how much the girls have to teach me. We’re just beginning our second week, so I imagine learning opportunities will continue to come my way! This week we are hosting numerous guest coaches and going on field trips to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Body Worlds” exhibit! It’s shaping up to be another great week at camp!
Until next time,