Harold Ramis' classic Groundhog Day (1993) turned a once minor day in February and minimally celebrated holiday into a profound lesson on love, life, and one's personal journey of growth and how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. It also gave us some unforgettable moments, like Phil Connors' (played by Bill Murray) repetitive 6 a.m. wakeup to Sonny and Cher's hit song "I Got You Babe," released July 1965.
On the off chance you are not familiar with the film, Bill Murray stars as a weatherman who experiences the same day over and over and over again. Through this sticky situation Murray's attitude, approach, and behavior morph throughout the flick.
Film critic Roger Ebert remarked, "When you find yourself needing the phrase, 'This is like Groundhog Day' to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something." As camp professionals, we are hardwired to accomplish something — many somethings — but if we aren't aware of the doldrums of repetition and ruts we find ourselves in week after week as the summer gets longer, the somethings that will occur are going to be lacking the positive components of youth development.
For an event to truly resemble Groundhog Day, then, it should happen again and again, in more or less identical fashion, and ideally on consecutive days. Examining the lessons in the movie (and keep in mind, there have been doctorates earned with the dissection of said movie), how can we glean growth for our staff, our camp community, and ourselves and not have the same drudge-like day over and over again?
What Is Your February 2?
What day do you have specifically circled on the calendar? Is it the first day of camper registration? Is it the first day of staff orientation? Is it the first day campers arrive for the opening session?
When summer is upon you, does that day lose its luster? If you find yourself in a rut, don't install satellite television but rather commit to spontaneous celebrations of randomness. Imagine celebrating World Sauntering Day on June 19 by making that the official means of travel from activity to activity for the entire camp. Or Take Your Plants for a Walk Day could be the start of sprucing up the flowerboxes at the front gate or getting a jump start on the fall planting on July 19. (Imagine the photo opportunities of the parade of flowers carried by campers serpentining their way through camp.)
Have staff brainstorm their own ideas for celebration days complete with access to props and decorations. Flip the calendar on its head, allowing them to have energy around all days of the session.
Your Grand Opening
The energy of the first opening day for multisession camps of the season is electric. Capturing that first-day buzz time and time again can be like getting a dachshund not to bark at a television doorbell. We need to keep the good things, tweak the things that went awry, and get better at the details of it.
Consider insurance salesman Ned Ryerson when he meets Phil for the first time on the street. He extends his hand, gives great eye contact, and has a beaming smile. What if every staff member on every opening session day shook hands that hardily and had the ability to start a conversation with campers (and the adults accompanying them) and share things with guests about themselves to break the ice? "I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show! Bing!"
Using team-building activities like Vampire Tag, Five Handshakes in Five Minutes, or Human Knot will reinforce proper handshake techniques and the cultural awareness of body language. Hitting fast forward a bit, we are giving our young people an invaluable skill to be used when entering the job market.
Give staff an opportunity to be successful by allowing them to practice — even include a script to prepare them for the conversation. Have them work in small groups to brainstorm scenarios that may and/or have occurred.
Give them sample two-sided cue cards. Use one side for space to make notes on the campers for the session. On the reverse side, list out some reminder questions and logistics about the session.
Flipping the Switch on Switching Places
I catch myself daydreaming (complete with the harp music in the background) about camps that have one summer-long session — imagining just one check-in day and one check-out day, with visions of having to lug out the signs, parking lot cones, check-in tables, extra copies of paperwork, etc., only once over the course of the summer.
Murray finds himself captive in the same routine (just like we may) but uses the repetition for skill development and job mastery. He catches a boy falling from a tree, learns to change a tire on a late model Dodge with a NASCAR-like jack, predicts a tray of dishes dropping, shovels driveways for strangers, learns to speak French, and becomes a master of the piano.
There are many positives to keeping staff in the same roles/jobs, but let them own it and spend time teaching others the ropes to nix the boredom. Slacking off seeps in when working the front gate lacks importance to the entire camp community. We can be very quick to publicly congratulate the lifeguards, but the individuals who set up the cones and lug the arrow signs rarely get our seal of approval.
Scheduling a Time to Schedule
Then put your little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb . . . then put your little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb . . . then put your little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb . . . (Bono, 1965)
Tackling weekly / twice weekly / everyday tasks like assigning campers to cabins, staff duties, days off / time off schedules, camper activity schedules, taking of cabin photos, etc., can grate on your nerves like the same phrase of "I Got You Babe" repeating on an endless loop.
Time is not a renewable resource. Just like there are people in this world who can feed a family of six on a pound of ground beef while canning their own tennis balls, there are people who can schedule 219 campers through a round robin setup of seven adventure activities in a three-hour time slot. Find them. Find all of them. Let them share their wealth of expertise in completing tasks in camp with many moving parts. Invest in whiteboards, feltboards, chalkboards, and emery boards if need be to take the ho hum out of scheduling.
Scout staff social media pages (admit it, you do it before you hire them, anyway) for baby pictures and present the session's schedules not with names but rather the young photos of the adult person behind that toothless grin.
Food for Thought
Can you tell what day of the week it is by looking at your plate in the dining hall or the snack handed out during the afternoon break between activities?
Napoleon is attributed with saying "an army marches on its stomach." If we want to keep our army of talented young people marching along facilitating memorable experiences with our campers, pardon the pun, spice it up a little. Celebrate National Lasagna Day on July 29, which is conveniently followed the next day by National Cheesecake Day.
Innovation is a team sport. You may have staff who know 101 ways to cook ramen noodles and would love to be the Iron Chef and shake off boredoms of the belly.
- Set up a coffee café with a chalkboard sign of specials of the day and buy some flavored creamers.
- Deliver fresh veggie trays to activity areas dressed as a rabbit.
- Fire up the grill for an unexpected cookout wearing capes of red-and-whitecheckered table clothes.
- Send out to staff vague invitations entitled Take a Dip, and when they arrive to the waterfront, greet them with guacamole, salsa, spinach and artichoke spread, tortilla chips, pita triangles, etc.
A surprise or two will add to staff morale and give the dining hall team a rewarding challenge.
Staffing the Staff Meeting
With the compressed time of a session that has a quick turnaround with another session and the need to keep things moving forward in the moment while fully staffed, staff meetings can play the role of Pacman chewing up time, energy, and focus. Commit to approaching staff meetings consistently with this agenda. In groups that make sense for your camp community — by units, departments, living areas, age groups, villages, program teams, etc. — have each staff person answer the following questions:
- What was a great thing about this session/week?
- What was a challenging thing about this session/week?
- What are you looking forward to in this session/week?
- What do you need support with this session/week?
Training staff to follow this structure gets them into a useful rhythm of expectation to be prepared for staff meetings and gives them responsibility in the environment.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Some of Murray's behavior throughout the movie we should choose not to reinforce, such as chug-a-lugging directly from the coffee pot at the buffet. Instead, highlight those things you do want to see.
Take pictures of superstar staff in action — bending over helping a camper in arts and crafts, smiling at the check-in table, leading songs on the camp bus, and so on. Tack them up in the staff area. Insert them during staff in-service gatherings. Post them on the camp's staff-only social media site with the challenge of a caption writing contest; then post the winners on the camp's public page.
The Closing Credits
Let this be our rallying cry this summer: "Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today!" Make every session just as exciting as the last. Commit to making the only endless loop in your camp session be the bowstrings in archery.
Bono, S. (1965). I got you babe. Look at us. Atco Records. Retrieved from youtube.com/ watch?v=BERd61bDY7k
amis, H. & Rubin, D. (1993). Groundhog day. Columbia Pictures.
To learn more about Vampire Tag, Five Handshakes in Five Minutes, and Human Knot, visit:
- Vampire Tag (sometimes, regrettably, called Squeeze Murder)
- Five Handshakes in Five Minutes
- Human Knot
Kat Shreve is a native West Virginian who recently landed back on the east coast. She is a camp professional, a camper parent, an ACA volunteer, a public speaker, and a youth development consultant. Kat is the Outdoor Program Manager for the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She can be contacted at email@example.com.