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A holistic approach to camp leadership

05.08.2021 – Mireille Guggenbühler

The young leading the young – a normal sight at most Swiss children’s and youth holiday camps. And the reason why young people in Switzerland receive training specifically dedicated to preparing them for camp leadership.

Hundreds of campfires are lit every evening across Switzerland between July and August during the summer holiday camp season, when numerous children’s and youth organisations host tent, biking and hiking camps or organise group accommodation. One such camp provider is the Youth Service of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), whose camps are geared to providing teenagers and young adults from the “Fifth Switzerland” aged 15 or older with an unforgettable holiday in their “other” home country and an opportunity to strengthen their ties to Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad (FYSA) runs nine camps each year for children aged eight to 14. The aim of these camps is to enable Swiss children living abroad to experience their native country for the first time or to get to know it better, offering them the chance to visit the sights, explore lakes, mountains, rivers and other scenery, go on short hikes, play games, take part in sport and do handicrafts and drawings.

Thanks to the OSA Youth Service and the FYSA, around 400 children, teenagers and young adults are able to visit Switzerland each year.

Holiday camps help to promote sport

This holiday selection for young people from the “Fifth Switzerland” belongs to a whole array of Swiss holiday camps that are simultaneously a part of Youth and Sport (Y+S) – the federal government’s biggest national scheme to promote sport and physical exercise. Each year, some 80,000 sports courses and dedicated camps take place with around 637,000 child and youth participants. The Confederation and cantons provide training to prospective Y+S leaders in various sports for the purpose of managing camps.

Leaders in children’s and youth organisations such as the Swiss Guide and Scout Movement receive leadership training in the “Camp Sports/Trekking” category. FYSA and OSA Youth Service leaders have often done this training already, because they are involved in other such organisations. The FYSA also offers a Y+S leadership training course every year to those who have not yet completed one, in collaboration with the OSA Youth Service.

When we train them, we teach them how to minimise risk and how to respond when even the best preparations go awry.

Marco Gyger

the “Camp Sports/Trekking” training course coordinator at the Federal Office of Sport

During their training, prospective camp leaders complete various stages in which they gradually take on more responsibility. They learn how to plan and carry out activities, and how to interact with and instruct children and young people to create memorable experiences for them. In particular, they are trained in how to conduct outdoor activities and taught about the relevant safety precautions.

A special type of sport

“Camp sports and trekking is a special type of sport of which I am proud. This is because sporting performance is not the priority. We follow a holistic approach instead,” says Gyger. Intellectual, moral and physical well-being count equally.

Incidentally, there is no shortage of new people wanting to teach this sport. Thanks to word of mouth, the FYSA and the OSA Youth Service find sufficient numbers of staff each year. These include many who are already actively involved in youth organisations as camp leaders and have therefore done the requisite training. To be camp leaders, they must be aged between 18 and 30 and go through an application process. Three quarters of those who are male do it as part of their civilian service. Many camp leaders are students at teacher-training university who will later enter the education profession.

Mireille Guggenbühler is a freelance journalist who lives in Thun.