Summer provides countless opportunities to plan outdoor activities and exciting excursions to new places as well as the ability to infuse creativity, leadership and enthusiasm into scheduling.
Industry leaders also can deliver outstanding programs and perform at an exceptional level by encouraging team members to keep P.L.A.Y. at the forefront of their minds.
Perception is an important component of programs involving youth participants. Whether it’s a pre-kindergarten class, summer day camp, youth sport team or teen program, it is important to remember participants and parents don’t measure quality by what you say, but rather what you do.
Since the newest and inexperienced team members are often on the front lines, and make the most significant impressions on participants and their parents, attempt to incorporate the “do as I do” mentality, and lead by example.
Although everything might run smoothly 99.5 percent of the time, it is always that one incident that can be the most damaging to a program’s reputation. Whether it is a negative word-of-mouth campaign or a vocal participant who has had a bad experience, it may take weeks–if not years–to repair the damage.
Perception is reality for both participants and parents, so it is imperative to choose your reality wisely.
Leadership is and always has been the cornerstone of top-notch summer programs. A universal truth within the recreation field is that one does not have to have a title to be a leader.
Since entry-level positions often have the most meaningful and immediate impact on customers, leaders must consider multiple levels in the department hierarchy to effectively deliver programs.
To do this, it is important to recognize that vision and direction are essential ingredients in teamwork. Many people think of a leader as a captain or general, someone telling people what to do and how to do it. Instead, think of yourself as a navigator, who must detail the various routes in attaining the team’s goal.
Understand that everyone has a different leadership style in approaching various situations and personalities more efficiently and effectively. Adjusting your style to match or complement the style of the individuals you are working with will allow the flow of information to be sent and received successfully.
The goals of every youth program include providing strong leadership and acting as role models to participants; this is accomplished by detailing clear expectations and defining boundaries–all while engaging and challenging participants.
Attitude is the one indefinable action that makes or breaks a program.
When arriving for work every day, you will set the tone. Being positive and enthusiastic affects everyone, from participants to team members. Conversely, being negative and apathetic spreads like a disease and can sabotage a day, week or entire summer.
Attitude also has the ability to create a greater level of ownership among participants and team members. Imagine trying to get older and “way-too-cool-for-this-activity” sixth graders to be a part of an arts-and-crafts project. By delivering the “I know you guys don’t want to do this, but …” line, it increases the chances they won’t want to, and will let you know it.
On the other hand, starting with “Have I got a great opportunity for you guys to take charge and lead this project” might provide a chance to change their attitude about their role, and create a more positive atmosphere.
Since attitude can change the overall environment of a program, ask yourself, “What kind of program do I want to work in and be a part of?”
You are the best resource of any organization. Only you can make the key decisions to help a program thrive or become stagnant. This starts with arriving to work on time, being courteous, and delivering exceptional customer service; being enthusiastic and engaged; operating in an honest and trustworthy manner; and showing true professionalism on a daily basis.
Remember that you can be a leader from wherever you are on the organizational flow chart. You will be the reason whether a participant decides to come back tomorrow, next week or next year.
You are the reason organizations and programs can continue to provide youth the opportunity to explore, discover, and enjoy what communities have to offer.
You are who they remember many years from now–a caring adult who made a huge impact in their lives.
So, when the checklist for this year’s summer programs comes out, remember the most important thing you can do is to get out there and P.L.A.Y.!
Timothy J. Pagano is a community services specialist for the city of Brea and is on the board of directors for the Southern California Teen Coalition. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Heather K. Davis is a community-services supervisor for the city of Rancho Cucamonga, and is on the board of directors for the Southern California Teen Coalition. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.