Retaining Camp's Most Valuable Resource: A Study on the Fulfillment of Counselor Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness and Their Impact on Willingness to Return


  • Myles L Lynch VinUniversity, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Nate E. Trauntvein Utah State University
  • Robert J. Barcelona Clemson University
  • Cari A. E. Moorhead University of New Hampshire



Staff Retention, Basic Needs Theory, Work Motivation, Organized Camping, Camp Counselor, Self-Determination Theory


Within the United States, recruiting, hiring, and retaining seasonal staff continues to be a major concern for the summer camp industry. In fact, retention of qualified seasonal staff was the number two (of seven) top emerging issues among American Camp Association professionals. Low staff retention rates are problematic because training is expensive, re-hiring consumes resources, and too much turnover creates instability. Camp administrators need solutions and tools to better understand, and support components of counselor needs, which in turn could improve staff retention. The current study utilized Basic Needs Theory (BNT), a sub theory of Self Determination Theory (SDT), to explore how the degree of need fulfillment and counselor experiences impact a staff member's willingness to return to work the following summer.

Data were collected at a large rural coed residential summer camp and a total of 114 staff (mean age = 20.5, SD = 2.07) participated. The Work Basic Needs Satisfaction Scale (W-BNS) was administered to understand the fulfillment of autonomy, competence, and relatedness among camp counselors throughout the summer. A quasi-experimental design was used and baseline responses (pretest) for W-BNS items, dosage (weeks worked), camper years, counselor years, and willingness to return to work at camp were compared to posttest responses using independent sample t-tests and analysis of variance (ANOVA). Multiple regression analysis was used to develop the process and final model to understand the predictors for the dependent variable of staff willingness to return the following summer.

Results indicated that dosage was not a significant predictor of willingness to return the following year. In addition, the number of years working at camp was negatively related to staff retention (β = -.402) and camper years positively predicted retention (β = .282). Relatedness (not autonomy or competence) was the most salient basic need predictor of staff retention (β = .288). Camp experience predictors of dosage, camper years, and staff years did not relate to measures of W-BNS but were the only predictors directly related to willingness to return. Results indicated that camp experience and W-BNS items were separate and distinct predictors of a staff member’s choice to return to work. This study expands upon a model for understanding need fulfillment and motivation amongst emerging adults within a summer camp work setting. Camp managerial and programmatic implications related to need fulfillment, training, and culture are discussed.

Author Biographies

Myles L Lynch, VinUniversity, Hanoi, Vietnam

Senior Lecturer at VinUniversity College of Arts and Sciences

Nate E. Trauntvein, Utah State University

Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science at Utah State University

Robert J. Barcelona, Clemson University

Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University

Cari A. E. Moorhead, University of New Hampshire

Dean of the Graduate School at the University of New Hampshire


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