Rules vs. Standards: Camp Director Success Story

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

– Stephen R. Covey

Whether you have new or returning staff working with your camp there are always challenges in getting the best out of your personnel.  As a former director leading staff and those of you who are or have served in the position can attest that no two seasons of camp are ever the same. I have found that sometimes empowering staff to make decisions on their own, while adhering to the camp’s rules, can often make it difficult to grow and cultivate your staff.  Therefore, I felt it necessary to always set standards for myself and those under my leadership.

In comparing rules versus standards, rules are often created by a “leader” or authority figure which is then forced upon by the group, whereas standards are developed by the group to achieve more buy-in and ownership by staff, when mutually agreed upon.  Although rules do have places and specific needs in our society, developing standards at your camp can help instill a positive change in your camp or organization’s culture that builds trust, accountability and a measure of success by staff in the campers they serve.  Through standards the leader and those under their guidance help ensure everyone follows through on meeting the standards while working to achieve their full potential.

I first learned of the concept while attending Fork Union Military Academy in central Virginia. FUMA as it is commonly called is an all-male, private military boarding school where I spent time as a post graduate student.  It was during this time together with fellow cadets where we were held to a set of military standards (more so than rules). This concept had a great impact on me, which I adopted years ago when I had my first opportunity in serving as director of a local youth coed sports day camp in Cleveland, Ohio.  Our staff was diverse comprised of both experienced and inexperienced professional and collegiate coaches and players. During orientation, I decided to forgo our current camp rules and instead opted for implementing new standards with collaboration by staff. Throughout the exercise my staff experienced a greater sense of ownership and responsibility in the success of the program rather than just coaches adhering to a set of rules.  Over the course of several weeks at camp, it was remarkable to see how much my staff progressed from the first day of camp until the last day of our final session all the while working to live up to the standards set forth collectively, taking on their responsibilities to not only each other but the campers they served.

Another example, standards provided by the American Camp Association serve to teach camp leaders in core components of their overall organization such as the operation, programming and risk management of staff and campers. These standards are used to measure the quality and success of camps and organizations.  Similarly, creating standards for your staff to achieve success is a great way to build cohesion among all personnel while serving as a measure of success. Keep in mind that standards should be measurable and challenging, yet attainable and not too high for staff to reach. Standards should be developed and set prior to the start of camp during either orientation or training so that all staff are present and have an opportunity to participate in discussions. Once everyone has had a chance to participate the group adopts the standards for the season and at the close of the season discusses how they met or can improve upon those standards.


Additionally, when you are deciding on standards with staff, consider choosing standards that pertain to skills we often use at camp with one another and more importantly with campers such as communication, decision making, conflict resolution, teaching or leadership. This exercise can also be replicated between counselors and the campers they are serving in their group, cabin or unit. Only you and your staff can decide what types of standards should be for your camp, but remember that the standards you all set should be reflective of your camp’s objectives, goals and its mission.


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