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Growing Grit: GAC 2016 Theme

“Gold Arrow Camp has taught me to be brave and reach my goals.
If it weren’t for GAC, I wouldn’t be nearly as courageous as I am now.”



Need for Achievement

These are all desirable traits we want for ourselves and for our kids. What do these traits have in common? All are associated with grit, which psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth defined in a 2013 TED Talk as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” Grit correlates with stamina and stick-to-itiveness, Duckworth said, “day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.” TB-C16-C17-C23-3269Duckworth is among a handful of researchers and educators who have studied grit in the context of behavior for the last few years in an effort to determine who will be successful in certain settings—such as schools—and why. Surprisingly, perhaps, she found that grit is unrelated to measures of talent: everyone can succeed in a given task, Duckworth said, if they work hard and long enough. Before “grit” became a buzzword in the field of adolescent psychology, researchers, professional educators, and parents alike used words like “persistent,” “hard-working,” and “disciplined” to describe people who exhibited this desirable character trait.

And what was it, exactly, that got this conversation started? According to Forbes education contributor Margaret Perlis, it was the “concern among teachers that kids these days are growing soft.”

Kids (and adults) need grit to succeed. It’s what helps us push past failures, work hard at things we struggle with, and eventually find some success.  Grit is something that campers have been growing at GAC since our founder, Manny Vezie, started his “rugged camp for boys” back in 1933. In fact, you might say that Manny was ahead of the curve on the topic of grit; way back in 1962, he lamented to a local newspaper reporter that “[t]oday’s kids are just sitting around getting entertained.” Gold Arrow Camp, he said, was the ideal antidote for what he perceived to be a culture growing in “general softness.”

G-C09-7709This summer, we’ll continue to build grit the way we’ve done at camp for more than 80 years. The only difference is that in 2016, we’re going to talk about it more. That’s because when we name grit at the time we see it, campers will become more aware of—and more motivated about—opportunities to grow that passion, perseverance, and stamina Duckworth and others laud in successful children and adolescents. Counselors and campers will be looking for opportunities to witness grit, and we’ll share inspirational stories of people who’ve overcome adversity, challenged themselves, failed, and kept trying. We’ll share stories of our own and others’ grit, and as a camp community, we’ll respond to Duckworth’s call to action: we’ll “be gritty about getting our kids grittier.”

Setting Goals & Overcoming Failures

One of the keys to growing grit is setting goals, getting motivated by them, and working towards them over time. At the opening campfire, counselors ask campers to think about something they want to accomplish at camp.  These goals, set during the first days of camp, might include trying something new—maybe something that has been scary in the past—or reaching a specific milestone at an activity. Sometimes it’s a social goal, like getting up on stage in front of a big group or making a new friend.  We encourage kids to think of something that is outside their comfort zone and a little bit challenging, because those goals are the ones that lead to the greatest feelings of pride and accomplishment—and the most grit! Goal-setting is an important life skill and something extremely valuable in growing grit. The goals campers set motivate them to persevere, overcome repeated failures, and eventually succeed.

TB-C26-7304Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps, than in waterskiing, which is among the many challenging recreational activities we learn at GAC. If you’ve tried it, you know it’s not easy. Most kids (and adults) do not master waterskiing on their first try, and a common error when learning is standing up too fast, which leads to a forward fall, or “face plant.” What follows is an unpleasant rush of cold lake water up the nose and a period of awkward floating and struggle to reattach wayward skis, often ripped free of the skier after the fall. It’s understandable, then, why many people give up on waterskiing quickly and never reach the point of enjoying it. But those who stick with it despite failure often end up feeling a great sense of pride and enjoyment in a new sport.

So, this summer, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. Whether we’re waterskiing, rock climbing, backpacking, sailing, meeting someone for the first time, or singing on stage, we’re excited to focus on Growing Grit at Gold Arrow Camp!