“Non-competitive” is a word that gets a lot of use here at camp. It serves as a reminder to campers and staff alike to pursue camp activities for the joy of it—for the thrill of acquiring new skills, and embarking on new adventures—not for the sake of victory.
We do our best to bring this non-competitive flavor to every facet of camp life. Every cabin gets their own unique “award” for their skits during Evening Program (“Best Break-Dancing Statue of Liberty,” and “Best Impression of a Watermelon” were some recent favorites of mine), every cabin gets a prize at the end of Counselor Hunt, and every girl even gets their own birthday cake on Birthday Night, so the fall-, winter-, and spring-babies aren’t left out.
It isn’t that we think competition is bad. On the contrary, competition can be exciting, enriching, and even wholesome in the right setting. What we do try to promote at camp, though, that might be different from the messages of schools and sports teams, is replacing the drive to win with the drive to accomplish.
We encourage our campers to accomplish as much as possible in their time at camp. We offer reams of friendship-bracelet designs of increasing complexity for them to try their hands at. We coax tentative swimmers into swimming class, so they can work on their strokes with the lifeguards. We stand patiently at the bottom of the Alpine Tower, to talk nervous climbers all the way to the top. That heady sense of awe and disbelief when a camper achieves something she didn’t think she would be capable of is one of the greatest parts of the camp experience, and usually occurs in each girl at least once when she’s here.
While we encourage accomplishments like these whenever we can, we also do our best to take away the push and pressure to achieve them. We let girls work at their own pace, for example, and allow them to drop activities that don’t interest them after just three days, rather than forcing them to continue, as might happen in a school. We help them to enjoy the process as much as the result, to gain more from the experience than from the prizes at the end.
More importantly, we also try to strip away the urge to “get there first” that can be so prevalent in the outside world. That is, we take away that need to get to the top before anyone else, and to win at the expense of everyone else, that can so dampen the fun of any activity.
A perfect demonstration of this came in our Miss RBC pageant Sunday afternoon. Each cabin spent last week crafting their very own cabin “talent” for the show, which could have been a dance, a song, a skit, or anything else they could think of. All last week, I saw cabins working during their free times, planning during meals, and scavenging costume bins around camp, all to create the perfect talent for Miss RBC.
Every camper participated, and gave their all, making it a truly spectacular show. There were elaborately choreographed dances to songs from “Mamma Mia,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” original songs about checking for lice and the joys of camp, and one wonderful skit put on by our youngest campers, acting out one of our favorite camp songs, “I’m a Little Coconut.”
The most remarkable thing about the show, though, was the genuine enthusiasm with which each cabin cheered for all the others. Each cabin seemed thrilled simply to be able to put on their own talent for the rest of the camp, and derived just as much enjoyment from watching all the others’. There was no uneasiness when campers saw a cabin that did particularly well, and no jealousy or resentment displayed toward the cabin that ultimately won the pageant. Indeed, that cabin found themselves surrounded by well-wishers as soon as the show was finished. The winning cabin was proud, of course, that they had won, but I heard more of them complimenting the other cabins on their talents than touting their own accomplishment.
Camp, of course, is a unique environment, but I always hope that this is a lesson that our campers take with them into the outside world. That something should be created, a task achieved, or a goal accomplished, simply for the satisfaction of accomplishing it, rather than for the attendant recognition and glory.