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Facilitators and Barriers to Leadership Development at a Canadian Residential Summer Camp

Kelsey Kendellen, Martin Camiré, Corliss N. Bean, Tanya Forneris


An extensive body of literature has demonstrated how residential summer camps, when appropriately structured, can expose young participants to experiences that are conducive to their global development (Bialeschki, Henderson, & James, 2007; Garst, Browne, & Bialeschki, 2011; Thurber, Scanlin, Scheuler, & Henderson, 2007). However, much less is known about how the development of camp staff members, those who oversee camp activities, is influenced by their camp participation (Duerden et al., 2014). This is an especially important area of inquiry given that in most cases, camp staff members are adolescents and emerging adults still in an ongoing process of development. Some studies have shown how there are positive developmental outcomes associated with working as a staff member at camp, with a primary outcome being the development of leadership (Brandt & Arnold, 2006; Garst & Johnson, 2005). However, to date, no studies have specifically examined staff members’ perspectives on their camp participation and leadership development. The purpose of this study was to examine the facilitators and barriers perceived to influence leadership development at a Canadian residential summer camp. The current study took place at a nonprofit residential summer camp in the province of Ontario, Canada. Interviews were conducted with 12 individuals (seven females, five males) who were in different leadership positions at camp, and the interviews were analyzed using an inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The findings revealed how the majority of participants believed being placed in positions of authority at camp exposed them to learning situations that facilitated the acquisition of the knowledge and skills needed to become effective leaders. More specifically, some participants described how learning communication skills, developing confidence, and shadowing more experienced counselors facilitated leadership development. However, many participants also faced situations that hindered their ability to develop leadership skills as they experienced internal conflicts and discussed the lack of constructive feedback they received. Taken together, the findings of this study demonstrate how residential summer camps can offer staff members a wide range of experiences that can both facilitate and hinder their leadership development. The current findings have important practical implications, highlighting how administrators can deliberately structure their camps to promote the development of staff members’ leadership skills.


Youth development; camp; programming; training; staff; leaders-in-training

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