10 Things Every Camp Director Needs to do before Summer

1. Tune up your car & tune up your body

These are things you probably won’t have time for at camp but will make you feel so much better going into the summer.  Your car deserves a little love and so do your teeth, your hair and heck, even your nails if that’s your thing.  If you’re really into following my lists, go ahead…get a massage!  You won’t regret it.

2. Eat favorite foods you can’t get at camp

This sounds really dramatic and last-suppery…but seriously!  Now’s the time to eat the foods you will miss during the camp season because they aren’t served at camp or in the remote surrounding areas.  For me, that’s Thai food from Tuptim, my favorite Thai restaurant that is housed in an old Long John Silver’s (please refer to photo)!

3. Every time you find yourself doing a task, ask yourself, “Is this something that can be delegated?”

Now’s the time to prioritize.  I remember finding myself two days before staff training scanning and photocopying hundreds of health forms.  That is silly for two reasons…first because the computer can now do that for us (holla CampDoc and CampMinder, etc.) and second because I had a million more things that would be a better use of my energy for camp than making copies.  Remember, there are lots of people (staff and volunteers!) who want to help—you just might have to ask.  Make sure you’re sticking to your job description.

4. Spend time with your friends and family members

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

You may feel like there is a LOT to do before the start of camp.  And there is!  But if you think you don’t have time now, you really won’t have time once the staff and then the campers get there.  Carve out some special time to spend with friends and/or family members before the beginning of staff training.  Schedule a day off and take the whole thing (Gasp!)!!  You need this and so do your people.

5. Remember that as soon as your 50 seasonal staff arrive, you will have 50 times the help that you had before!

Something magical happens when those seasonal staff arrive.  There’s so many of them, and they are READY to go!  While you have been working on camp planning for months, it’s their first taste of CAMP.  Not only do they come in large numbers, they’re energized.  Use this to not just help you get stuff done but to inspire you for that final push before camp begins. 

(My mentor and predecessor Becca Schnetzer would always remind me of this, which would calm me down immensely in those last few days before staff training!  Thanks, Becca!)

6. Put up that out of office assistant message

“Hi!  Thanks for the note.  We are now at camp getting ready for the summer season and training our wonderful staff.  I check my emails about three times a day.  If you have an urgent need, please call the camp office at 231-555-5555.  Otherwise, I will do my best to return your email within 24 hours.  Thanks, and happy camping!”

The pressure to be tied to your e-mail is now off!  Feels nice, right??

7. Stuck on something? Seek out digital resources and online community

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at www.gocamp.pro and www.campingcoasttocoast.org!

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at www.gocamp.pro and www.campingcoasttocoast.org!

Check out resources like www.deepfun.com and www.ultimatecampresource.com for games and activities as well as online communities like the Summer Camp Professionals Facebook Group and www.gocamp.pro for advice and resources from peers. 

8. Attend at least one potluck/barbecue (this is what non-camp adults do in the summer during the evenings)


Wow!  A fascinating phenomenon!  Attendance will help you understand life on the other side (anthropological necessity).

9. Go out in nature, and write your vision for the summer

Actual photo from  McGaw YMCA Camp Echo .  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

Actual photo from McGaw YMCA Camp Echo.  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

So much of the time we are consumed with training our staff and helping them set goals that we fail to do so for ourselves.  This year, I was introduced to the concept of Visioning, which is championed by the leadership at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which is renowned for its commitment to customer service and servant leadership.  Here’s what Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s co-founder/owner, has to say about the process:

“Though we spend most of our work lives responding to problems and opportunities as the world presents them to us, visioning comes from the inside out. It's about what you believe, what gets you excited, what you truly want to accomplish.”

Read this article and give it a go (instructions are about halfway through the article)

10.  Look at your old camp pictures to remember why you do this

Mudpit, 2007.

Mudpit, 2007.

The more removed you get from the day-to-day interactions of camp, the harder it is to remember what camp means on the smallest yet most important level: the personal experience of each child and staff member who comes through your gates.  It’s the 13-year-old who learns how to swim, who never thought she could do it.  It’s the 16-year-old who feels for the first time in his life that a group accepts him for being who he is.  And it’s the 8-year-old who is yet to find out that her friends in her first cabin will be her friends for life.

Go through your pictures and remember your stories.  Remember that as the camp director, your efforts make these moments happen.  And feel really good about that.