The Buddy System

How do you motivate a camper? Well, you really can’t. Every human being has the choice to give a 100 percent effort… or to give something less than 100 percent.

Camp buddies are important!

The challenge for any staff member is to tap each camper’s intrinsic desire to make the choice to give 100 percent intensity and to enjoy feeling successful.

Avoid The Donkey Approach

A common but unfortunate approach that many staff members have used to get reluctant campers involved is what sport psychologist Rainer Martens calls, “The Donkey Approach,” which is verbally cracking the whip to get someone to do something… “C’mon! You look like a bunch of sissies out there. Let’s show some intensity!”

It’s all too easy to use verbal punishment as a quick fix to force someone into motion. But if you were to systematically monitor the behavior of campers after a series of verbal punishments, you probably would observe a drop in both camper intensity and enjoyment.

To make matters even worse, when some staff members see the drop in intensity, they raise the emotional ante. They may yell more forcefully or single out individual campers to embarrass in front of their peers.

Taken to the extreme, the camper may respond like the donkey who is tired of the abuse and decide to just quit.

The choices that campers make about how to act, how hard to try, and whether to persist when they become frustrated come from two sources:

1. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to be successful for external rewards, like prizes, public recognition, special privileges, and the like. One problem with external rewards is that campers, over time, lose their value… How many t-shirts and trophies does a camper need? Another problem is that the external rewards can diminish intrinsic motivation.

2. Intrinsic motivation is an inner sense of pride and satisfaction from being successful. Most young people are naturally attracted to play. If this attraction is reinforced with positive experiences, campers will be inclined to participate with their best efforts.

So what approach is best to encourage campers to give their best and enjoy camp activities? Initially, it would be to give modest, external rewards along with cultivating camper feelings of personal success.

This might sound like a lot of work: Tallying points to give external rewards, budgeting for the material prizes, and so on, and then giving campers feedback that they need to feel successful.

But there are ways to share the workload that may actually produce even greater dividends than having just the staff members providing the incentives.

The Buddy System

Researchers that have studied human behavior and motivation have found that the most powerful incentive that helps human beings to persist in any endeavor is the concept of affiliation.

Affiliation is the feeling of being accepted and valued by other people… a feeling of belonging and being appreciated. When young people were asked why they participated in sport activities and were asked to rank the value of developing skills, achieving recognition, having opportunities to be aggressive, intimidating opponents, being independent, and the relationships that they developed with other people, they ranked those relationships as being the best part of their experience.

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