The Off-Season isn’t getting any longer...
Camp people handle the end of the summer in lots of ways. Some leave town for vacation the day after camp ends. Others cozy up in their homes and turn on Netflix and catch up on sleep for days on end. Some camps turn around and start with rental groups or schools right away. Still other camp pros manage to plug away for a luxurious nine to five schedule while their peers have disappeared for the week.
I tend to fall into the category of needing a week to clean, reorganize, and shut the door on the summer. Camp is like school in that it is cyclical in its work flow. There is a definitive beginning and end to a summer. As soon as the last staff member departs the parking lot on closing day, I often feel exhausted at the fact that it is now time to start assembling my team for the next year.
I tell my staff that marketing for next summer begins the day campers arrive this summer. Though I have been looking towards next summer a whole bunch before the current one comes to a close, there are some absolute musts that all camp professionals should do prior to charging forward with the next year.
Absolute Musts Before Starting to Think About Next Season
1. Stop working. Seriously. Stop. A few days away from work, away from the facility, and away from your email are critical to processing. A director’s job is to be able to take a step back and it is hard to do that when you are still in the throes. I find that I need a few days before all the lost and found emails and requests for recommendations quit streaming in. About a week after camp ends is when I take my time to have a camp-free weekend. I try to connect with one of my many friends working other cool jobs--whitewater rafting? A zipline tour? A massage? Reward yourself for a job well done and do something that will truly take your mind off camp.
2. Rest. Though we have trained ourselves to function on very little sleep, camp directors are far more pleasant and happy when we have had a full night’s rest. Every year, I get caught off-guard by how exhausted I am during the month of August. The sleep deficit will catch up with you--so expect it. If you insist on working, bust out the hammock and allow yourself to take a rest hour every day for at least a week.
3. Get your work space off-season ready. I am a nester. That means that by the end of the summer, my office tends to resemble that of a horrifying episode of Hoarders. File all that paperwork. Throw away materials you don’t need. And if you are feeling it, have a cathartic bonfire with all those staff manuals and training schedules that were left behind.
4. Tidy up loose ends. Call the parent that gave you a negative evaluation. Answer the emails that are still in your “Starred” folder. It’s hard to have closure when there are little nagging things bringing you down. Often these will be the points that need to be improved upon going forward.
5. Write down your thoughts on rehiring staff. Your feelings tend to be much stronger at the end of the summer than they will be when they finally submit their applications in March. You don’t have to necessarily make hiring decisions, but write down what it is that staff need to work on before they would be considered for a position. Then you can discuss these in interviews or have them available when turning somebody down.
6. Visit another camp. It doesn’t have to be a formal visit. Whatever the occasion, take the time to visit another facility, whether they are running program or not, because there is much to be learned by simply seeing what others do and how their facility is set up. Have coffee with the director or bring them some fresh produce (because after a summer of camp food, I want nothing more than delicious fresh fruits and veggies) and talk about one another’s areas of excellence and areas for improvement.
7. Debrief. Get your entire year-round team together and talk about how the summer went. So many programs skip this step and jump in to doing things the way they have always done them. The ability to gain perspectives across the levels of administration and across your programs will lead to insights that will be valuable to making camp great. Many accreditation programs require some sort of annual review of incident reports or policies so this is an easy way to ensure that occurs.
Onward with next summer and happy off-season to you all.
[note from Travis: Thanks to CampHacker Ruby Compton, program director at Green River Preserve in North Carolina, and all-star co-host of the Camp Code podcast, for writing this article. We look forward to many more wise thoughts from Ruby!