Team Work: An Open Letter to Camp Staff

By Edward A. Schirick, CPCU, CIC, CRM
May 2017

Team,

This letter is addressed to all camp staff / team members whether this summer is your first or your 20th, whether you have primary responsibility for supervising campers, are an activity specialist, or work in the kitchen.

Parents send their children to camp because they perceive benefit from the experience. In some cases, the parents are former campers themselves and have experienced the value of camp firsthand. Others have been persuaded to try a camp experience as they seek positive developmental activities for their families. Regardless of the reasoning behind their decision, all parents share the hope their children will have fun, learn new skills, make new friends, and safely return home at the end of the camp experience. These hopes are shared by camp staff, camp owners, and directors everywhere.

You have been hired to help fulfill these parental and camp owner/director hopes and expectations. This is a significant responsibility. You’ll be expected to take your job seriously. You’ll also quickly learn you’re part of a team. The point is the buck may stop with the camp director, but the primary responsibility for campers’ safety and well-being belongs to you and the team.

Many people are depending on you and your teammates. You develop a resolve about safety and managing risk, so here are some suggestions to help you and the team succeed.

Know How to Do Your Job

Make sure you know what is expected of you. Understand your role on the team. Ask for a job description if one isn’t provided during staff training. Please pay attention during staff training. You might be expected to apply the skills and knowledge taught therein to save someone’s life, prevent an accident, or maybe avoid injury yourself. Ask questions if you are uncertain. Commit to doing the best work you can every day. You owe it to yourself, the other staff, the camp management, the campers, and their families.

Be Present

Be aware, every period, every day, all summer. Engage. Try to foresee the consequences of camper actions and behaviors. Learn how to identify risky situations and take proper steps to prevent accidents and injuries. Think and remain cool under pressure. How will you and your teammates respond when needed? If you’re uncertain at all, discuss issues and potential risks with activity leaders; head appropriate techniques to bring things back under control. Experience has shown staff awareness and attention reduces the risk of accidents and injuries

Take Care of Yourself

Working at camp is fun but not always easy. As the summer passes, a combination of factors (long days, increased physical activity, weather conditions, and interruptions to sleep patterns, etc.) take their toll. Remember to take care of yourself. Eat right, get proper sleep, see the camp nurse if you are not feeling well, and no booze or drugs, including marijuana, because they have lingering effects and impair your judgment. If you take care of yourself, the chances increase that you will have the energy and stamina to do a proper job of caring for your campers. Statistics reveal that fatigue is a significant contributing factor in accidents and injuries to campers and staff.

Minimize Horseplay

Most children love to be chased, tickled, and twirled around until they are dizzy. Other campers want to wrestle or jump on your back and engage in rough play. This horseplay is just part of camp. It usually occurs during free time in a bunk, in between periods, or while campers are waiting in line or for their turn at activities.

Historical data also reveals that many horseplay injuries occur during unstructured periods. Often the injury is a broken bone. Another factor contributing to injuries from horseplay involves staff losing sight of their primary responsibility. Unstructured time should never be unsupervised time. Unstructured time is not time off for staff.

Injuries occur when campers become overstimulated, which often occurs during horseplay. You need to know how and when to put an end to horseplay behavior.

Pay Attention around Water Activities

Lifeguards have the primary responsibility for supervision at the waterfront, but this is not a time for other staff to rest and relax. Be an effective team player. Supplement the lifeguards’ efforts by being aware of what is going on outside of the swimming area. Helping to maintain control of campers who are not in the water minimizes the distractions for the lifeguards and allows them to stay focused on what is happening in the swimming area.

Wear Proper Equipment

Protective equipment is intended to minimize the severity of injuries in certain activities. An example of protective equipment is a seatbelt in a van. Seatbelts should always be worn by everyone in camp vehicles. Remind your fellow staff to also wear seatbelts in noncamp vehicles on their time off, no matter how short the trip. You have their backs and they have yours.

Always wear helmets when engaged in activities such as white-water rafting, rock climbing, and bicycling, or when otherwise required by safety protocols.

The Healthy Camp Study conducted by ACA (2010) revealed that some staff weren’t wearing protective equipment such as personal floatation devices (PFD) when boating. PFDs should always be worn by campers and staff while boating. You are a role model for campers, and when you choose not to wear your protective equipment, campers will follow suit. This is a recipe for disaster.

Be Aware of Bullying Behavior

Pay attention to behavior that belittles, abuses, or makes fun of campers — or other staff for that matter. One bully can ruin the whole summer and dash everyone’s hopes for a fun and positive experience. Bullies come in all sizes and ages. Don’t tolerate bullying behavior wherever you find it. Don’t ignore this behavior thinking it will simply stop. It won’t. Take a stand and don’t permit this destructive behavior on your watch.

Drive Safely

Driving too fast is a relative issue. It is certainly inappropriate to exceed the posted speed limit at any time while you are driving a camp vehicle, whether it is full of campers and staff or you are alone. But the posted speed limit may not always be appropriate. A safe speed depends on driving conditions. Slow down in fog and rain, on wet roads, and at night. Slow down on rural roads at any time. Rural roads are pitched to the side and may have soft shoulders. Speeding contributes to auto accidents. Avoid distracted driving by putting your cell phone away. Pay attention to road conditions and road surfaces. Slow down and increase the likelihood you and your passengers will arrive safely.

Know Your Campers

Be sensitive to your campers’ issues and concerns. Listen. Observe. Care. Campers come from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds. Get to know each of them. Remember each is unique, with different talents and behavioral issues. Some may have health concerns or special dietary needs. The director or the camp nurse will provide you with this kind of information. Listen to them and care for your campers just as you would if you were an older brother or sister.

You and your teammates are on the frontline of managing risk at camp and uniquely positioned to help make this summer a safe, happy, positive experience for your campers and all who are depending on you. Best wishes for success in all your endeavors.

Reference

ACA. (2010). The healthy camp study impact report 2006–2010. American Camp Association. Retrieved from ACAcamps.org/sites/default/files/downloads/Healthy-Camp-Study-Impact-Report.pdf

Edward A. Schirick, CPCU, CIC, CRM, is area senior vice president of RPS Bollinger Sports & Leisure in Monticello, New York, where he specializes in arranging insurance coverage and offering risk management advice for camps. Ed is a chartered property casualty underwriter, a certified insurance counselor, and a certified risk manager. He can be reached at 877-794-3113 or Ed_Schirick@ RPSins.com. Visit campinsurancepro.com.