Measuring relationships between camp staff and camper developmental outcomes: An application of Self-Determination Theory

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Journal of Park and Recreation Administration






Sagamore Journals

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While recent studies have suggested that positive developmental outcomes may result from participating in camp experiences, it is unclear what specific aspects of camp (e.g., staff dispositions, counselor teams, non-counselor staff) might influence these camper outcomes. Previous studies have measured the autonomy support of schoolteachers and found that more autonomy-supportive dispositions that, for example, engage autonomy, relatedness, and competence through the use of meaningful choice or rationale have positive effects on student developmental outcomes (e.g., intrinsic motivation, competence, self-esteem). Unlike schools, camps are noncompulsory recreation environments and most are outdoor-based. The existence of differences between the physical, social, and motivational environments in schools and camps suggest that autonomy support may not necessarily yield developmental outcomes in camp settings. Considering the settings are different and there is not a questionnaire to specifically measure camp staff dispositions, the Scenarios in Camp (SIC) questionnaire was created. Accordingly, this study served two purposes. First, it examined the reliability and validity of the SIC. Second, it examined the effects of staff autonomy-supportive and controlling dispositions on camper developmental outcomes. Study participants included campers (n=3,030), counselor teams (n=361), and non-counselor staff (n=289) representing 21 day and resident camps from seven different states across the United States. Counselors and non-counselor staff completed the SIC, which measured their tendency toward using autonomy-supportive and controlling strategies in resolving problems in camp. The SIC yielded good internal consistency: autonomy support (α=.84) and control (α=.83). Campers completed the American Camp Association Basic Camper Outcome (BCO) scales, which provided a measure of the three developmental outcomes: independence, friendship skills, and competence. Multilevel modeling was used to test the study hypotheses regarding the relationship between counselors’ dispositions (autonomy-supportive or controlling) and camper outcomes. The hypothesized relationships were not found to be significant (p<.05). Yet, camp staff were found to have high levels of autonomy support and low control. Despite the lack of support for the hypothesized findings, this study revealed information that will be beneficial to future research and practice. More specifically, camp professionals should feel confident that their current practices are working well in respect to hiring autonomy-supportive staff. Camp professionals might also consider using the SIC questionnaire as a tool in staff trainings to further improve the autonomy-supporting environment in camp, and therefore, the experiences of the campers.

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