I just read a short blog about Inclusive Sports on the American Camp Association’s website and thought of our own values here at camp as it relates to inclusive or non competitive activities. I like that term “inclusive” and we use that term a lot here at Gwynn Valley. As we all know almost every turn in life carries some competitive overtones to it. On the sports field and other venues, we refer to this concept at camp as a GV tie with no winners or losers. Our emphasis and purpose in the GV tie is that we acknowledge our growth in the activity and no one comes away as being defeated, feeling failure, deflated, unsuccessful, non athletic etc. Most children who play know the score at the end of the game. Our role as staff and mentors is to de-escalate the winner – loser aspect and promote the fair play and skills learned by those on both sides and what a great game it was.
In our camp world where several age groups play together, you also have to consider that some campers are physically more gifted with size, strength, and age. We’ve all heard the adage playing up and becoming better because of playing with those more gifted than you. As a young athlete growing up I used to love to play with the bigger guys and learned a lot from them and in some cases improved my own play by trying to play at their level. Most times this was not so successful and sometimes when it was, it gave me confidence to try new things, move to another level and feel more confident. A couple of good passes in soccer or basketball can result in a score and you don’t have to be the one to score to receive the accolades that go with it. Any good coach or mentor realizes the assist is as key as the goal itself and it has to start somewhere. Stephen Curry of the NBA Warriors, is a phenomenal shooter but he is also great at feeding assists to those who score. That assist can also come in the form of support of a cabin mate who is up on the ropes course and feeling nervous.
Team play is crucial here at camp. I believe the camp experience is a stepping stone and link in the chain of life. You’ll play for a team one day; a work team, a project team, a surgical team, and you’ve got to become a team player. Camp teaches you to live in a cabin as a team, eat at the table as a team, share food as a team after hiking 10 miles with a backpack through the rain, and carry those boats to load on the trailer after an exhilarating and hard day on the river. Phil Jackson, NBA coach once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team”.
Children learn in so many different ways and some of them learn by observance, watching a touch on the soccer ball, a behind the back dribble, or just keeping your heels down when trying to smear your climbing shoe on steep piece of rock. “We learn to predict (think about) our movements before we execute them (move) so that we control them better (Flanagan, Vetter, Johansson, & Wolpert, 2003). This ability suggests that all motor activity is preceded by quick thought processes that set goals, analyze variables, predict outcomes, and execute movements.” Pulling this off requires widespread connections to all sensory areas and culminates in the brain’s cerebellum, which controls balance, movement and coordination. Maybe I can do that and viola, it’s copied, practiced and improved on. Others have to have that coach or counselor to help them through those steps and again practice until confident on their own. And some may never get to that skill set, so we have to figure out what skills that child does have. One camper may be able to climb like a monkey on the wall but is deathly afraid of heights 20 feet off the ground. Another camper may flail on the wall but slowly makes it to the top. They both have much to learn and through trial and error, they can see one another gaining more skills as they try for new levels of achievement each time.
The good news is that movement and athletic endeavors are good for mind, body and soul. People who exercise have far more cortical mass than those who don’t. Simple biology supports an obvious link between movement and learning. Oxygen is essential for brain function, and enhanced blood flow increases the amount of oxygen transported to the brain. Physical activity is a reliable way to increase blood flow, and hence oxygen, to the brain. We all benefit from play!
Camp is a great place where failure or feeling like a loser most always leads to success because we can try again and again. Gwynn Valley is a trusting environment where we achieve growth in our activities under the guidance of a mature and caring staff. That is what we do best with a constant eye on those playing on the fields or out in the field. We make sure that camp includes all levels of fair play and in the end we all win. Inclusive – I like that word.