Five Factors to Consider When Developing Games for Your Staff Training

by Gary Berger, M.S.W., Scott Lantzman, and Randy Nathan, M.A., M.S.W.

From an early age, game-play has a positive effect on group dynamics. For many camp directors, getting messages, concepts, and values across to your staff in a creative and efficient way is extremely challenging. There are numerous legal issues that must be covered during staff training, and significant cultural, moral, and ethical ideas must be discussed. Learning through hands-on experiences leaves a more indelible impression. Having fun and gaining valuable lessons may be accomplished simultaneously without staff realizing they are actually learning.

There are five factors you should consider when developing games for staff training:

  • Purpose. When creating the “perfect” game for your staff the first issue that must be addressed is the purpose of the game and the end result you wish to achieve. In order to do this, you must understand your audience, their expectations, and needs.
  • Setting and Environment. Decide what is the best setting and environment for the game. Is it better to be outside, or would inside work better? What about the size of the group and the need for them to interact well with one another? When should you lead the game? How long should the activity last? Would it work best as an icebreaker, introduction, time-filler, or termination? How about the time of day, or whether it follows a meal (when many people may be drowsy)? What happens if you plan to hold a game outside, but the weather does not cooperate? Can it be played indoors regardless of the elements?
  • Level of Intensity. Consider the level of intensity of the game; this could have a dramatic impact on the success of the game. Are you looking for a low-key activity that does not require expending a lot of energy, or do you want the participants to sweat and run around? If your game requires a lot of movement, then you need to ensure an appropriate location.
  • Safety and Participation. Analyze the group’s safety and participation from both a physical and emotional standpoint. Does the game require props? Is the playing area free of obstacles and dangerous objects that could cause injuries? Will the group feel safe to explore ideas with each other, or does there need to be an introduction to engage them? What boundaries and expectations does the leader have and want?
  • Clear and Simple Directions. Give clear and simple directions to ensure everyone participating understands the rules, levels of expectations, and boundaries in which to have fun.
    Whether you are a first-time facilitator or a well-experienced leader, utilizing games with your staff are a must during orientation. You do not need to be an expert in games to use them efficiently. The more games are utilized, the more likely it is that staff will enjoy orientation and realize that they can implement those same games as lessons for their campers.

Fun Games that Teach Important Lessons


Number of People: Unlimited
Discussion Topics: Staff Manual, ACA Standards, General Socialization

Create a life-sized game board using colored spot markers to create a fun maze pattern. Place a start box and an end box (you can use hula hoops) as well as various challenges along the way. Split your staff into four teams and have each team pick a representative to take their position on the game board (in the start box). Make a six-sided die that corresponds to the six colored spot markers on the board. The first player rolls the die, and if they answer the trivia question correctly, they advance to the corresponding colored spot. The trivia questions should be taken from your staff manual.

Candy Camp

Number of People: Unlimited (groups of six to eight)
Discussion Topics: Creativity, Articulating Vision, Creating Positive Morale

Pass out large amounts of candy, crackers, wafers, marshmallow fluff, etc., to the groups of staff members and have them create a fantasy camp using these items. Have groups present their camp to the group, or hold “camp tours” where everyone rotates from camp to camp, except the group representatives, who stay behind to give the tour. Award prizes for most creative, most practical, etc. The best part is eating the “candy camps” when the activity has been completed.

Mugsy Ball

Number of People: Two teams of twelve, you can rotate in new teams to include your whole staff
Discussion Topics: Teamwork, Problem Solving, Sportsmanship

Divide staff members into two even teams. Find a volunteer from each team and have them sit on a crate at either end of the court. Give the volunteers a bucket/bag/basket for their team to target. Have each team identify “their” bucket. The first time around, ask the remaining players from each team to sit scattered on the floor (cross-legged). No players may move from their places. Using a gator, or soft nerf-like ball, have the players try to score in the bucket — one point per ball in the bucket. The first team to accumulate fifteen points wins the game. Play again. The next time around, the players are allowed to strategically place themselves where they want. Once they’ve mastered the game, try adding more balls.

Cooperative Puzzles

Number of People: Six per puzzle, unlimited based on available puzzles
Discussion Topics: Cooperation, Communication, Frustration

Separate staff members into groups and have them sit in a circle facing each other. Pass out puzzle pieces to each member of the group. Without talking, have them place their pieces in front of themselves. Next, only moving one piece at a time, in a clockwise order, ask each individual to place a piece into the center without touching any one else’s puzzle pieces. In the next phase of the game, you can create your own rules keeping the group silent, but allowing them to touch other pieces, all leading up to the final step, where they are allowed to talk and complete the puzzle.

Blindfold Bolf

Number of People: Three per hole, you decide the number of holes
Discussion Topics: Building Character, Shaping Leadership, Respecting Differences

This game is similar to miniature golf with three players per hole; equipment needed includes a “bowling-type” ball, five-gallon buckets/garbage cans, and blindfolds. Set up the course with a number of “holes” (e.g., five-gallon buckets/garbage cans) and obstacles. The blindfolded bowler stands in a hula hoop (which is placed at varying distances from each target). One partner stands next to the blindfolded bowler, and one partner stands next to the bucket. Using their voice only, the partners can direct the bowler where to roll the ball. Three attempts each and then move on to the next hole.

Gary Berger, M.S.W.; Scott Lantzman; and Randy Nathan, M.A., M.S.W., are with Advanced Team Builders (ATB), a consulting firm that specializes in enhancing individual staff performance within camps. ATB has presented at the American Camping Association Tri-State Camping Conferences.

Originally published in the 2003 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.