Advice For Youth Starting Leadership Programs

advice youth camp training leadership

Hello to all of my fellow camp counselors and staff!

As the weather starts to get warmer, camps and counselors are beginning to get excited about the first day of camp. Many programs have already re-hired staff from last year, and with hiring staff comes hiring teenagers for leadership and camp training programs. At Outpost, we call our youth-in-training Junior Counselors or JCs.

I had the opportunity to participate in several leadership programs from the time I was 12 until 17. The programs I participated in gave me a ton of experience, taught me a million things, and gave me many happy memories. Whether you are going to be a leader-in-training, counselor-in-training, junior counselor, or one of the many other things we call them, you’re in for the experience of your life.

So what do I have to say about them? As I said, I participated in these programs. I also worked with teens in leadership programs as a counselor, and have had the opportunity to help my counselors work with their junior counselors. I think these programs matter. I think they prepare participants for jobs, teach them responsibility, and give them the opportunity to work towards goals and learn what it means to truly earn it.

So if you’re interested in joining a leadership training like our wonderful Junior Counselor program, here’s everything you need to know!

The Application Process

This may well be the first job you’ve applied to. Whether it is or not, there is a great deal to be learned. Different programs handle the application process different ways. Often there includes a paper application and an interview.

  • Paper Application: First piece of advice: spell check! And check it again. It’s awfully hard to be taken seriously when you use the wrong form of “your.” Be thoughtful in your responses to questions, and be honest. We aren’t looking for perfect teens, we are looking for honesty and a desire to learn.
  • Interview: Some camps do group interviews, some do one-on-ones. This is likely your first interview. There’s a few basics you should know. The first is to breathe. They know you’ve probably never done this before, and they’re not expecting perfection. Feel free to ask questions. Most camps will tell you what to wear, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s also okay to ask for a minute to think about your answer to a question. Represent yourself honestly. Don’t be the person you think they are looking for, be who you are.
  • Hold Your Breath: Now it’s time to wait. Some programs are very selective, and some are not. Regardless, you will still feel nervous. If you are accepted to the program, congratulations! If not, ask what you could do differently in the future! Not only is this great information for you to know, but it also shows that you have a growth mindset and want to learn.

Training

Camps all have their own systems of training teen leaders. Some camps choose to train you along side the counselors, some will train you separately, and many camps choose a combination of the two. Something that can often be a challenge is that many camp training dates go over the last week or so of your school year. If this is the case, discuss it with the camp early; most camps are pretty flexible about it because they know most of their teen leaders will have the same conflict. Here’s a few things I recommend thinking about during training.

  • Get To Know Each Other: This is something I think is so important for everyone at camp. Get to know the people you are going to work with. Something that is pretty universal is that camp people are nice! Introduce yourself, and spend time getting to know as many people as possible.
  • Listen Up! Whether this is your first time at this camp, or you’ve been going for years, this is a whole new angle that you’ll be looking at camp from. Training is full of awesome strategies and skills that you are going to want during the summer. I’m a big fan of taking notes, so don’t feel weird about jotting down some things you want to remember.
  • If You Are A “Lifer”: If you don’t know what a “lifer” is, it’s someone who’s been at this camp for their whole life. Even if this is your second or third year at this camp, this applies. Share your experience. What’s really special is getting to hear about camp from the perspective of someone who was a camper and loves camp. However, proceed with caution. Remember that as awesome as it is that you know this camp so well, you’re new to the leadership side of camp and you don’t know about being on this side.
  • Returners: These are teen leaders who have done the leadership program in the past. One of the great things about returners is that they become leaders amongst their group of teen leaders. You get to show through your actions how to do this. It’s a lot of responsibility, and you should consciously be thinking about what your behavior is telling the new people.

Summer! 

It’s finally here! You meet your first group and off you go. You’re busy, you’re having a great time, and you’re simultaneously exhausted. Welcome to working at camp! Here’s a few ways to make your summer count.

  • Be Ready To Learn: One of the biggest lessons I learned as a teen leader was how little I really knew. The first day is probably going to kick your butt. But don’t let that scare you! Learning new things takes time, and you’ll be learning constantly. Ask your counselor questions. They might not know either! That means you get to learn together. Here’s my analogy about new experiences. Trying new things and growing is like stretching. If it doesn’t hurt a little bit, you’re not getting anywhere. And when it comes time to talk about how your doing, try to hear it with an open attitude. It’s meant to help you, not hurt your feelings.
  • Be A Team: Be a team with whoever you work with! Fellow teens, counselors, directors, everyone! The best counselor/teen leader pairs are the ones who communicate with each other, and have pride in their work together.
  • Give It Your All: Nothing is worth doing if you aren’t going to do it 100%. Go into each day with renewed energy and a positive mindset. Take initiative. Seek feedback. Go to sleep exhausted because you worked so hard.
  • Most Importantly, It’s Not About You Anymore: You know why camp is so awesome for campers? Because it’s all about them. It’s about getting them to join the group. It’s about working to ensure they have a great time. It’s about helping them form memories that will last a lifetime. Sometimes you’re going to have to do things that aren’t fun for you. Sometimes you’re not going to want to do what you need to do. Remember, camp is about campers, and your focus is on them now.

So there it is! That’s my advice, and I encourage you to seek the advice of others who have done it. Being a teen leader was one of the most rewarding, challenging, and enlightening experiences I have done. Enjoy every second of it, because it really does go way too fast.

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