How do you play camp sport? No, not games where we all wear pink and mince around the pitch. I’m talking about sporting competition on Christian summer camps. How do you do it?
Before we get there, it’s worth asking what we’re trying to do. For my money we’re trying to do four things
1. we’re trying to give the kids a great time and so all the banter, team ethic, applause and competitive tension play into that
2. we’re trying to let the kids be involved so that everyone can feel that they contributed and occasionally someone unlikely can end up being the hero
3. we’re trying to build relationships so that camp is more than the peaceful co-existence of two groups of people; leaders and members but instead becomes a shared activity and partnership
4. we’re trying to model godly competition, something that’s harder for naturally competitive leaders to learn, so that they realise that being a Christian affects even the way we play
With those aims in mind here are my observations
1. Competition is alright. It’s not ungodly to be competitive. In a competition you pit one set of people, with their collective skills, against another, with theirs. The reason for doing so is to find out who’s best. It’s called winning. That’s why we play games; to find out who’s best. But it’s not the be all and end all. Something that’s taken me a while to work out. But it is the reason we play. And so we need to encourage the members to try and win the game. That’s the fun of it. We must encourage one another to go all out for the win. But we need to do this in such a way that we play fair and we play for fun.
2. Leaders make the difference. Every game is for the kids but every game needs the leaders. Leaders with sporting ability are like the glue that holds the game together and the oil that makes it run smoothly. The game can revolve around them and it’s alright. They can include the kids with lesser ability with a pass or a shot that makes it easy for them to be involved. If you take the leaders out of it you end up with the kids with sporting ability dominating.
3. Everyone can be a hero. The great thing about camp sport is that even the average, or even the useless, get to have fun and feel a part of it. In any normal game those with sporting ability will shine and those without will whither. Not so on camp. Most of the games we play are a great leveller. You may be an outstanding cricketer at school. But even a county representative batsmen will struggle to assert himself in a game of crocka. It’s hard to smite a half volley through extra cover when you’re holding a baseball bat, hitting an under inflated plastic and facing a fielding team of about 150. And every now and again the game throws up an unlikely hero. A well manufactured game can end up with the youngest member taking a penalty, sending his or her team into a state of frenzied excitement.
4. You need space. I used to think that the pitch is simpy a piece of canvas on which I work my sporting artistry. It is. But that’s not the point! With camp games, if you go for bigger pitches it allows time for those with less sporting ability to compose themselves for a catch, allows them time to control a ball or gives them an opportunity to look for a pass. Of course, the flip side is that space allows the really able ones to dominate. But that’s where the leaders come in! But you can also change the rules so that everyone is involved. For example, only the youngest dorm can score, there must be at least four passes or so on. The point is that if the whole thing is confined to a small space then it may be a great leveller since those with sporting ability have no space or time to show their talent but it also ends up being a shambolic melee. Usually the able get the picture after a while and enjoy using their talents to bring others into the game. Once they see leaders including everyone they realise that there’s fun to be had in playing that way.
5. Small teams are best. If someone spends 30 minutes playing a game and only gets near the ball half a dozen times, touches it three times and catches it once, they’re not going to be very happy! But if you go for smaller teams and rotate the time on the pitch then everyone is more involved. Most camp games cope well with 3 or 4 teams. If they’re on for the best of three or for 5 minute stints then no one gets bored on the sidelines.
Of course, crocka runs best with a whole different set of rules. But that’s not something that can be shared on the interweb!