Positive youth development at a summer sport camp


Research has shown that summer camps (Henderson et al., 2007) and sporting environments (Gould & Carson, 2008) are contexts in which youth development occurs and therefore it is expected that a sleep-away summer sport camp may be an environment in which positive youth development (PYD) may also occur. There is currently little evidence of how counselors and sport leaders (coaches) provide PYD experiences for youth at sleep-away summer sport camps, therefore the purpose of this research is to examine how counselors and coaches contribute to developmental experiences for children at a summer sport camp and the leadership qualities of these staff members. Thirty counselors and coaches participated in the first wave of semi-structured interviews in a season-long case study of a summer sport camp (Stake, 1995). Thematic analysis (Patton, 2002) of data indicates that counselors and coaches felt campers develop confidence at camp through opportunities to try novel activities and by challenging themselves. Counselors and coaches facilitated PYD experiences by creating unique relationships with the campers and by providing support needed for campers to move outside their comfort zone in a safe and encouraging environment. Participants characterized a high quality counselor as positive and possessing a good work ethic, and a good coach as someone who can be adaptable and friendly but authoritative. Challenges in delivering PYD experiences may arise when dealing with campers’ behavioural issues, however leaders felt they could continue to develop character and life skills with appropriate training and support from senior staff and camp directors. Results from this study may provide guidance for facilitating the delivery of PYD experiences within a sport context and can guide staffing directors when hiring counselors and coaches to promote PYD experiences in a summer sport camp setting. Keywords: positive youth development, confidence, life skills, leaders, summer camp, sport camp