Opinion Staff Supervision

Stop With the C.O.W. (Counselor of the Week) Awards

Last Updated on

I like reward and recognition programs. They can be fun and positive, and they often give campers and staff memorable keepsakes.

Unfortunately, these types of programs can also be toxic.


1. By not involving everyone. 

When a director chooses one or two people for the C.O.W. (Counselor of the Week) award, they are sending the message to all the other staff that they aren’t as good at their job as those who are getting special recognition. This is never the intention, but some staff will see it this way.

2. By trying to be fair, but failing.

Most summers we all tend to get a couple of staff that are truly exceptional. They go above and beyond, or they are just naturals at this type of work. These are the ones who will usually be chosen as the first recipients of  C.O.W. awards after the first week of summer. Then the next week rolls around, and though the same two staff (you know, the superstars) continue to crush it, the director feels (s)he cannot give the C.O.W. award to them again. The director wants to be fair and recognize others for their efforts. But, by trying to be fair they are doing the exact opposite. It’s called the Counselor of the Week award. That implies that the counselor(s) who did the best should get the award, even if that happens to be the same ones as the week prior. By giving the “award” to staff that aren’t doing the caliber of job others are doing, the director is diminishing the specialness of the award and making a mockery of the whole program. (“Mockery” may be a little harsh, but you get my meaning.)

3. By rewarding people only for things that are subjective.

Of course, this type of award is all subjective, right? I mean, Joe may think he is doing an incredible job, but the award went to Jack. Jack is good with camp songs and a very personable guy, but when it comes to rules, he doesn’t think they apply to him. On the other hand, Joe isn’t as outgoing, but he does the little extra things that make camp a memorable experience, like reading stories to his campers at night to help them go to sleep. Joe is now, understandably, upset that he was beat out by Jack for the C.O.W. award. He is feeling defeated and unappreciated.

Side Note: These are the same reasons I am so against choosing a “CAMPER of the week” as well.


Instead of having a C.O.W. award, here are some other things you can do to recognize your staff.

  • During staff meetings, recognize each person for something great they did during the past week. No awards, just verbal recognition for EACH person. Have too many staff? Split them up into groups and have the Unit Leaders do it.
  • Reward years of camp service.
  • If you do a bead or pin/button program, reward and recognize EACH person for something they did and allow staff to nominate others for specific beads or pins.
  • Contact parents of past campers and ask them to email you words of praise for their child’s counselor. Then share and/or pin-up on a “recognition or praise wall” the printed emails.
  • Have cabin groups sign a thank you card for their counselors each week.
  • As a director, be present and watch for praise worthy actions from your staff. Then call them out on it.
  • During meetings allow staff to mention one thing they saw someone do that impressed them, AND let them tell the group one thing they did themselves as a staff member that they are proud of. Perhaps nobody knows that Joe reads bedtime stories to his campers. Give him the opportunity to share his actions with others. This may even inspire someone else to start reading bedtime stories for their cabin group.

We all like to be recognized for our efforts. We like being caught doing something above and beyond. We like it when our supervisors appreciate our efforts. You may be thinking, “Well, Curt, we should be giving our best effort not for reward or recognition, but because it’s the right thing to do.” While I agree with that statement, I also realize that we are all human and crave positive recognition and praise. That’s not going to change. Let’s just make sure that by praising one of our staff we aren’t upsetting or alienating the others.


What ways do you reward or recognize staff?

What is a favorite way you yourself have been recognized or rewarded for your performance?

Do you agree with me about the C.O.W. awards or do you disagree? Why?



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.