A Structural Model of Camp Director Practices and Outcomes: Does Intention Toward Program Outcomes Matter?


  • Barry A. Garst Clemson University
  • Ryan J. Gagnon




Positive youth development, intentionality, camp, program outcomes, confirmatory factor analysis, structural equation modeling


Although intentionality has been explored within the camp literature, evidence of the effectiveness of intentionality for producing specific positive youth outcomes is mixed. While some empirical studies have produced findings indicating that intentionality enhanced youth growth and development, other studies have produced the opposite result. This study explored the potential relationship between intention toward program outcomes and corresponding parent observed outcomes resulting from the camp experience. A sample of 13 camp directors and the 2,952 parents they served completed surveys exploring the relationships between camp practices and youth development outcomes. The director survey included questions about their levels of camp industry experience, education level, practices related to intentionality and youth outcome achievement, staff training strategies, staff return rate, and staff characteristics. The parent survey included questions about parent and child demographics as well as parent perceptions of their child’s growth and skill development as a result of the camp experience. After confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) verified the reliability and validity of the outcomes measure, the hypothesized relationships were tested using structural equation modeling (SEM) to determine if camp director intention had a meaningful influence on growth as a result of the camp experience. The study findings suggest that intentional targeting of outcomes in many instances does not make a meaningful difference in observed developmental outcomes. Out of five program outcomes measured (i.e., communication, responsibility, self-regulation, attitude, and exploration), no outcomes were meaningfully influenced by director intentionality. Additionally, director practices, including staff adaptation of programs, youth engagement, youth-leading activities, and youth involvement in the design of activities, had no statistically or practically meaningful moderational influence on observed growth as a result of attending camp. However, in spite of these somewhat contradictory findings, positive and meaningful pre-to-post camp growth was noted in all outcomes of interest (e.g., communication, responsibility, self-regulation, attitude, and exploration), suggesting that the unique context residential summer camp provides may be the greatest influence on youth socio-emotional growth. This study makes an important contribution to the body of empirical evidence about the relationship between director intentionality and positive youth development. Limitations, study relevance, and future directions are explored.

Author Biography

Barry A. Garst, Clemson University

Associate Professor, Youth Development LeadershipDepartment of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management





Special Issue on Youth Development Part I