Phrasing: How We Talk To Our Campers Matter

Atop the high ropes course, the southern sun shines brightly upon the magnificent wooden structure. As my sweat pours down upon the plastic pulls, a confident child looks to me as they conquer the massive obstacle. A half-hour has passed, and the group below waits eagerly for lunch. They reach the final ascent of the wall and begin to doubt their ability as exhaustion begins to take over. “You have made it so far, and I’m so proud of you,” I say with an encouraging tone hoping to help them complete the climb. Their hand reaches for the platform my co and I stand patiently upon. “I didn’t think I could make it.” They say with an ever so proud smile as they’re met with words of positive affirmation and high fives.

SPOILER ALERT: Camp counselors ARE superheroes! Their ability to encourage and construct instructional and positive feedback is tireless. This power is carefully crafted throughout their staff orientation and practiced endlessly before the campers arrive.

Camp is a safe place to try new things without the judgment of others. Never climbed a rock wall before? The ropes team can help you achieve new heights both on the course and in confidence. Not sure if you’re talented enough for the camp theater performance? The theater counselors will encourage you to do your best and still shine under the spotlight. As camp counselors, all too often we hear “I’m too scared” or “I can’t do it”. Part of a camp counselors’ job is to push the campers outside their comfort zones and encourage them to do things they may not normally try.

Phrasing Encouragement and Feedback

When encouraging campers to be the best versions of themselves, remember to be patient and positive. For example, say you’re coaching soccer, and one of your campers is just not as confident in their skills as the others. Remind everyone that it’s a team sport and during the game applaud the positives before pointing out the negatives. Little notes from the sidelines such as “nice pass” or “you’re doing great keep up the hustle” can help that camper feel more a part of the game. Avoid heavy constructive feedback during events. You want all campers to participate and pointing out mistakes along the way will make them lose interest quickly. Avoid words such as; no, don’t, wrong, and never. Controlling your phrasing as a coach or counselor can create a more uplifting and encouraging learning environment. We’re not saying to “baby” everything you tell your campers, just that there’s always a more positive way to give feedback. Set your campers up for success!

“Don’t hog the ball the whole time, you’re not the only player.”


“Remember to pass the ball, we should be working as a team to succeed.”

When sharing constructive feedback with a camper, add positives in with your criticism.

“This is what you’re doing really well, and here’s what we can work on.”

Hearing that they’re doing well will boost their confidence and ultimately keep their interest in the new skill they’re learning. With these positive affirmations flowing you’ll see your campers grow as artists, athletes, dancers, performers, you name it. As they grow to older campers you’ll see these values you’ve practiced with them pass onto the younger campers.

“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” -Unknown

Sponge Moments

Those moments where a camper might fall off a bike, swim a little too far into the deep end or end up being picked last for the baseball team in front of all their peers. In these moments they look to us for direction. Soaking in every bit of positive feedback we can offer. “There’s always next time. Let’s keep our heads up and try again.” We say these things because we believe in each camper’s ability to succeed regardless of how many times they may, or may not, fail. An encouraging environment starts with a motivated and supporting staff.

How We Talk ABOUT Our Campers Matter: Phrasing and Disability Awareness

When speaking of or about a specific group or camper that may have an illness or disability we should be using what’s commonly referred to as People First Language. People First Language, sometimes titled Person First Language, focuses on the person, not the disability. When phrasing feedback or talking about our campers their disability should not be their defining quality or characteristic. It’s only one of many aspects that make up who that camper really is.

“There was a blind camper in my arts and crafts activity.”


“There was a camper in my arts and crafts activity who happened to be blind.”

Some campers will use identity-first language when speaking about themselves. This is fine as we should allow campers to express and address themselves as they prefer. However, when speaking about others it’s more courteous to incorporate person first language into the conversation.

We hope these tips will help you out on your camp journey wherever that may be, and you encourage all campers to be the best versions of themselves! Whether that’s on stage, on the field, or even just in the bunk. Thank you for being here!

Your unofficial co-counselor,

J. Humble


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