The Outdoor Leadership Course is a two-week program for young people interested in developing outdoor leadership skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.
The purpose of the OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, and discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives.
There’s no shortage of people who believe teens leaving high school need to be taught more skills than reading, writing and basic math to be successful, thriving adults. What are those skills, though, and how do we incorporate this kind of learning into busy schedules and short attention spans? The OLC was designed to equip and empower campers to learn and practice hard skills that lead to the development of five specific life skills: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant
Teens are more likely to be a leader upon completion of an outdoor leadership course. After arriving at camp, OLC participants will receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They will do exercises in team building, learn conflict
resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers will have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.
All OLC participants will be a “Leader of the Day,” which means each camper will use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situation that arises while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” will receive feedback from trip leaders and peers.
Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in an outdoor leadership course away from home is a perfect way to develop independence. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking — require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.
“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant
Effective communication is arguably the most important of ALL life skills. Whether we communicate verbally or non-verbally, at home, school or work, we are constantly communicating with the world around us. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group discussion at the end of every night. They make sure each camper thinks about what happened that day, what successes and mistakes were made, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants will have developed positive communication skills with peers and counselors.
Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program has a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders.
Effective OLC participants are responsible for personally handling their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences.
In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth from the program, there is a lot of FUN to be had as well!
“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant
OLC 1: July 10 – July 23, 2016
OLC 2: August 7 – August 20, 2016
#1 Improve Interpersonal Skills & Form Close Friendships
“In a … study of 515 senior executives, emotional intelligence was a better predictor of success than either relevant previous experience or high IQ.” -Forbes, “Look for Employees with High EQ over IQ”
Interacting effectively with other people is one of the most important skills teens learn at camp. In the unplugged, noncompetitive camp culture, teens build up their “emotional intelligence” (EQ), their face-to-face communication and relationship skills. Why are these interpersonal skills so important? Because 21st-century employers need people who can communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others.
If you are debating whether your teen can miss a few weeks of SAT prep or a summer academic program, know that the 2200 SAT score will never outweigh the important communication and relationship skills he or she will develop at camp. Whether on a backpacking trip, cheering each other through a ropes course, or chatting around the campfire, the interpersonal skills teens build are the same ones they’ll need to be successful adults in families, communities, and companies.
#2 Take Safe Risks and Challenge
Teens thrive on risk. Thanks to recent findings (described in Age of Opportunity and Brainstorm) about the unique attributes of the teen brain, we now understand the reason for the “mortality bump” for 17-year-old boys. They do stupid, daring things not because they aren’t aware of the dangers, but because—to them—the reward of leaping from a rocky cliff or speeding along a curvy mountain road seems to far outweigh the risk.
A teen at camp has the opportunity to take many safe, controlled risks. Climbing to new heights on a rock wall or ropes course, jumping the wake of a boat on a wake board, or reaching the peak of a 10,000-foot summit are all healthy risks teens take at camp. Plus, being in a controlled camp environment frees teens from exposure to health risks like alcohol and drug use.
#3 Experience Character Growth and Develop Life Skills
“A profound gap exists between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need for success in their communities and workplaces.” –Partnership for 21st Century Skills
Schools aren’t doing a very good job teaching kids grit, perseverance, and leadership. But that’s not their job. Rather, schools are VERY busy teaching the core curriculum and assessing how well our kids know it. No school has time to see how “gritty” a kid is, but at camp, the “grit-meter” is always running, and it’s personal character—not a report card or an athletic achievement—that rises to the top.
Teens also develop other important life skills at camp, including independence, responsibility, and decision-making. Teens grow considerably in an environment away from their parents where they are forced to live on their own and find their own resources.
#4 Meet Positive Role Models
Watch or listen to a popular music video, reality TV show, or sports event, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find positive young adults teens can emulate. But walk into any well-run summer camp and you’ll be surrounded by wholesome, outdoorsy young people who like being around others and doing fun activities. Camp offers teens the opportunity to be among young adults who are positive role models and to form close relationships with them. Most camp counselors are hard-working college students who want to serve others. They are friendly, personable, and are just the kind of young adults you want your teen to become.
#5 Discover Their Best Self
We live in a world where teens—often by their own parents—are steered towards success via the SAT, the college admissions grind, a “good” major, and a high-salary job. Look around at many adults, however, and see where that path got them. Yet, we still expose our kids to the same gauntlet.
Perhaps college education is the best option for most young people, but I’ve met many who are halfway done (or all the way done) and still don’t know who they are or what they are passionate about. Camp experiences offer teens the chance to step back from the treadmill of academics, competitive sports, and their sleep-deprived, over-scheduled existence, and instead think about what’s important to them. Many campers become less self-absorbed after spending a few weeks at camp, learning to train their focus on others. They also discover new hobbies and avenues to pursue in education and their future careers.
Each summer, tens of thousands of teens leave their phones and car keys at home and head to summer camp as campers, counselors in training, or counselors. Many teens who have never been to camp cannot relate to how a teenager could make such crazy personal sacrifices. And yet, teens are the age group that fills most quickly at many camps. Because, perhaps more than any other time during youth, camp offers the respite, recreation, and renewal to help teens thrive. Teens who have already been to camp know this and want to come back, year after year.