“I hate this camp!”
It was day three of the week-long sports and Bible day camp where I was working as a counselor, and those were the words Kaitlin shouted to me as her face turned red and she started crying. She crossed her arms, turned around, and sat down on the grass.
Kaitlin had been struggling all week. Although this was a sports-centered camp, Kaitlin discovered quickly on the first day that she did not like being outdoors for long periods of time. She hated the ants, the heat, and the way her head pounded when she ran. She rarely wanted to join in the games we played, and when she reluctantly did participate, she quickly became discouraged when she didn’t score a goal or hit the baseball. She had been frustrated and miserable all day, and losing in a game of “Down by the Banks” was apparently her breaking point. She continued crying in the grass as the rest of my campers moved to our next station. I stayed behind and bent down beside her to once again convince her to “hang in there.”
Being a leader can be discouraging and heartbreaking, especially when your followers are ten years old and don’t like you. People will not always be eager to cooperate. They may kick and scream when they are unhappy or cross their arms and sit in the grass. For me, the hardest part about being a leader that week was trusting my own judgement and continuing to push my campers to follow the decisions I made. I knew Kaitlin did not enjoy the sports we played, but I told her to participate anyway. When she complained, I worried that I was wrong to push her and wondered if I should let her do what she wanted. But despite my own insecurity, I had a role to fulfill as the leader. I was responsible for making this week an impactful and worthwhile experience, and I had to make the best decisions for the girls that I could and stick to them, even when there was resistance.
I do not remember exactly when it happened that week, but eventually Kaitlin hit her first baseball and finally got to run to first base. She was thrilled, and for the rest of the week, she could not wait to return to the baseball station. Her attitude began to change. She started to willingly participate in the other sports. She spoke to me more and walked by my side as our team traveled from station to station. When she scored a goal or made a cool craft, she turned to me and asked if I had seen it, and I cheered for her. On the last day of camp, she told me she would miss me and asked for my phone number. We took a selfie together. She said she couldn’t wait to come back next year.
Leadership is being responsible for the development of others. It requires confidence and perseverance, especially when things prove difficult and others are discouraged. It takes grace to overlook all the frustrated outbursts. It requires gentleness to handle bug bites, patience in taking multiple bathroom trips, and forgiveness for discouraged meltdowns. I always had Kaitlin’s best interest in mind when I forced her to play the sports with us. When she was upset, she did not know what was really good for her, what would really give her joy and fulfillment in the end. Through all the hardships, through the perseverance and the patience, Kaitlin and I formed a bond that impacted both of our lives.