Competition and Cooperation at Camp

Alina Bitel
Written by
for Camps USA
Competition and Cooperation at Camp

In many ways, summer camp offers a practice environment for the "real world". The atmosphere and activities of camp teach life skills, such as teamwork and motivation, that help kids in school, in social situations, and in their future careers. As you browse through potential summer programs, pay attention to whether the camp’s structure, games, and events encourage competition or cooperation.

As your child’s parent, only you can determine the type of camp best suited to his or her developmental needs. Consider your child’s personality, interests, and behavior at home and at school. Does he love trying to score the most points at every basketball game? Does she live for competitive sports like soccer or gymnastics? Does he like to challenge himself to get better grades or rise to the top of his class? On the other hand, your son or daughter might prefer to work behind the scenes, collaborate on group projects, follow rather than lead, and strive for harmony and compromise. Either way, realize that each personality type will thrive within different cultures and in different contexts, and that both attitudes have their share of benefits and drawbacks.

Summer camps that emphasize competition might focus on dance, gymnastics, academic classes, talent shows, chess tournaments, and individual sports such as archery or tennis. High-achieving kids, especially gifted children unaccustomed to contending against peers at the same level, will thrive in this type of environment.

Friendly competition imparts motivation, drive, ambition, and the pursuit of excellence and success. Campers will work hard to overcome obstacles, push themselves to the limit, and discover their own capabilities. Shy children learn to come out of their shells, and every victory instills self-confidence in kids. Even failures can teach a life lesson about the importance of losing gracefully. While campers might be disappointed, healthy competition will give them a way to cope with life’s inevitable frustrations, and in the long run they’ll learn the value of trying again and not giving up.

Of course, in spite of these benefits, excessive competition can cause anxiety or anger, and the pressure to win might take all the joy out of the summer camp experience. For this reason, you should also consider a camp with more cooperative activities, such as arts and crafts, marching band practice, team-building games like a rock wall or trust fall, puzzle solving, a model United Nations, or foreign language classes.

Cooperation teaches kids that they can succeed with other people’s help rather than at their expense. Schools are increasingly emphasizing group work, and businesses often look for employees with excellent communication skills and people skills. The abilities to bargain, reach a compromise, resolve intragroup conflict, and sacrifice personal gain for the common good are critical steps in developing character. When the entire group succeeds, your child will feel like an important part of something bigger than himself or herself, a great way to build up self-esteem.

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Understand that an overemphasis on cooperation comes with disadvantages as well. In the absence of prizes or prestige, kids might have trouble motivating themselves to excel. A camper working in a group might slack off or not try as hard, assuming that the other members will pick up the slack. Thus, a camp that strikes the right balance between competition and cooperation provides the best of both worlds. Extremely competitive children can find an outlet for their energy through camp sports, but as a parent you can also encourage them to sign up for the art class or hiking trip as a way to “slow down.” Shy or passive children might feel comfortable learning academics on their own or rehearsing a play with others, but you can encourage them to try team sports as well. Some tasks even teach competition and cooperation at the same time. For example, a group of campers might work together to build a go-cart and then race against other teams.

As you research different camps, use the following questions to steer you toward the perfect learning environment for your son or daughter:

1. Is my child more assertive or passive, a leader or a follower?

2. Do I have a bold, energetic child or a quiet, thoughtful child?

3. Does he need a self-esteem boost, or does he need to practice teamwork? Is she more afraid to put herself out there or to relinquish control?

4. What kinds of games and activities does this summer camp provide?

5. Does this camp promote individuality or community?

6. Are there opportunities for my child to challenge herself? Are there opportunities for him to collaborate on a group assignment?

7. Is there a healthy mixture of competition and cooperation, such as an intramural sports league?

8. Will my child feel comfortable at this camp yet still learn new skills?

9. What do the staff members do to embolden a shy camper? What do they do to encourage a spirited camper to practice good sportsmanship?

10. Do the staff keep competitive games friendly? Can they motivate kids during group projects?

A camp that provides the right balance between competition and cooperation will give your child the chance to have fun, build new relationships, and reach his or her full potential.

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