Administrative Opinion

Celebrating the Wins as a Camp Director

We celebrate birthdays, graduations, marriages and more, but most of the time we fail to celebrate our own successes. At camp, as in life, we constantly have little wins, pulling off a successful event, implementing a new program, changing the negative mindset of a staff member, teaching a camper to tie her shoes, etc.

Football players know how to celebrate the small wins. You see it when they sack a quarterback, gain a lot of yards, and especially if they make a touchdown. They haven’t won the game. This is not the “We won!” celebration dance. What you see above is a touchdown dance. The games is still going. We all should have our own touchdown dance for the times we have those small wins, complete with our co-workers running in to join us. What a wonderful work place that would be.

Summer 2013 was stressful for me. It was a successful summer, but I really burned out near the end. I just added too much to one summer. After it was over I took 2 weeks off to recoup.


Burned Out

During my 2 week vacation I beat myself up over little things that I think could have been better, like the themes days, supporting my staff more, communicating with parents more effectively, etc. There were a couple of other projects and new programs I wanted to do for camp as well that I couldn’t find the time for. I was ashamed that I wasn’t able to take one day off and worked from morning to night every day of June, July and August, yet still felt unproductive and inefficient. Mind you, I direct a day camp. I was used to working long hours in my resident camp days, but day camps are a different animal, a more tame animal. You usually get nights and weekends off…usually.

I See the Light!

When I returned to the office I looked at the surveys we got back, with much trepidation. Thankfully they were overwhelmingly positive, with many of them saying that our camp was their child’s favorite. I read and re-read how parents were impressed with our program and staff. What a relief.

Because of the staff I hire and train, our unique location and our program, we get great reviews through our surveys every summer, but this summer I had some extra challenges – that I put on myself, so I was worried.

After going through the reviews and reflecting on the summer I realized that we had done a great job, and that instead of beating myself up over the things I didn’t do, I needed to celebrate the wins.

So this is my summer celebration post, my pat on the back to myself (which I rarely do, but should do more of – we all should). This is my touchdown dance.

Win #1

growthOver the past 6 years I have taken a struggling day camp and turned it into a thriving one that parents and campers seem to really like. I did this by hiring staff that complimented each other, sharing my enthusiasm and passion for camp with them, infusing my resident camp experience into the day camp (camp songs, skits, names, traditions, etc.), adding our bead program, adding specialty weeks, and making a number of tweaks along the way.

In 2008, the year I took over as director/program director (with a small camp you do it all), the numbers were the lowest the camp had ever seen in its 35 year history. Some blamed the new competition in the area (we have a ton of day camps to compete with), some blamed the economy, some blamed our location, etc. I blamed the programming and lack of leadership. I had to get things back on track and that required a complete overhaul of the program. I did a lot of things to turn our reputation and camper numbers around and it started paying dividends the following year.

In 2009 camper numbers rose 28%. I did no more marketing than before. I changed some of the ads in publications that we already were advertising in and created a better display for the camp fairs, but we spent no more money on advertising then the year before. Most of the increase came from word of mouth.

In 2010 our numbers increased 14% from 2009.

In 2011 our numbers jumped up another 42%.

In 2012 our numbers went up again, 23% from our 2011 numbers.

This past summer we rose a whopping 63.5% from 2012. We were 13 campers away from having the highest numbers we have ever had in our 35 year history. Next year we’ll crush it!

In all 6 years we never increased our advertising. We buy ads in 2-3 publications (like most of the camps do around here) and we go to the same 3 camp fairs in the area we serve. Our increase in numbers has mostly been word of mouth. Since 2009 our numbers have increased 415%. Not bad.

district-alliance-symbol3Win #2

Me and one of my staff created a specialty camp based on the Hunger Games. Despite all the gasps, rolling eyes and naysayers telling me we couldn’t do a camp based on the Hunger Games. Despite having a ridiculously difficult time putting together a camp for the 6-9th graders that they would actually register for, despite hearing about other camps in other parts of the country that had tried to run a Hunger Games camp and failing miserably (while getting raked over the coals by the media), we pulled it off. We had 27 campers (I wanted 24 so we would have 2 per district, but I didn’t have the heart to turn away the other 3), which worked great for the first summer. All the surveys that were returned had great things to say about the camp. It was very successful.

Win #3

We filled all of our spots for our Harry Potter camp. A first for us.

Win #4

My budget looked great at the end of the year, better than expected.

Win #5

My staff really stepped up and did an outstanding job. I am very proud of them. I praise them all the time and they deserve it.

Touchdown Dance!!!!


What were your wins?

I want to hear about your wins this past summer. Did you try a new program, build a new structure, make an awesome connection with a staff member or camper, change something important, add a policy, remove a policy, begin using some new software, or was it something else? Maybe you fought to keep a tradition alive. Whatever your wins were, please share them with me and everyone else in the comments area below so we can celebrate them with you.

The camp industry is a supportive one and it’s wonderful when others share their successes (and failures, challenges and obstacles) so we can cheer for each other, support one another and learn from the experiences. So please share.





  • My wins this summer:
    1. Fired a staff member. While this may not seem like a win it was the first time I ever let someone go and I put it off for a week longer than I should have because I was so nervous about it, but it had to be done. Once I let him go the atmosphere of camp immediately changed and everyone was much happier. I threw up afterwasrds but I was proud of myself that I could do what had to be done.
    2. Created a wall of parent and camper comments made on our Facebook page, emails, and from our surveys. The staff would come in the office each week to see what new comments had been posted and to see if they were mentioned by name. It was wonderful.
    3. Convinced the board to send 3 of us to the National ACA conference – all expenses paid. So excited!

  • My wins this summer:
    1. I survived the summer. I was hired to run a small day camp in May & came in to find that other than taking registration and hiring staff, no other planning had been done. I was starting from scratch. My goals & expectations quickly changed!
    2. Despite the many, many challenges in getting camp up & running and working with a staff that I met on the first day of training, I was able to build a cohesive team.
    3. This was a successful summer. I took a camp that has had no leadership, sinking enrollment, and no structure for several years and gave its campers and staff something to have pride and ownership in.

    • That’s awesome, Mary! Very inspiring. Congratulations. It sounds like the smartest thing they’ve done in years was to hire you.

  • Awesome post Curt!! Thanks for the reminder to focus on the positive, you’re right I, too, get so caught up in all of the things that didn’t get checked off of my list that I forget to do my “touchdown dance”.
    I’m in the process of writing my end of season report, and this was such a great exercise in a moment where I was focusing on (the many) challenges I faced in 2013 and recommendations for next summer.

    Here’s my list:
    1. Program -Introduced some new programming; a tractor pulled hayride, an in-ground trampoline and news paper writing (partnered with a local weekly publication)

    2. Staff – Created a seasonal Assistant Camp Director position (instead of just a programmer), created a Food Services Manager position (dietetic graduate, for special diets and menus – Awesome!) and created some specialized head counsellor training before regular staff training began.

    3. Facilities – Created new staff quarters to make better use of space and created new office space for the AD position.

    4. 10% of campers were new (even though camper numbers aren’t where we want them, that’s a small bright spot) we had an increase in one of our teen sessions, and I had a chance to get to spend a lot more time with many of our campers and get to know them better (this is my second summer at this camp)

    Ok… I’m dancin’! 🙂

    • Heehee! I love it, Patti. Hayrides and trampolines? I want to come to your camp. It sounds like you have made a lot of great changes. I’m going to dance with you. 🙂

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