Breakfast was half an hour earlier this morning, and the coaches were looking less than lively at the morning meeting in the auditorium. Volunteers to play opposite camp director Barkan in various role plays were not exactly jumping out of their seats — until Haneen Nassar, a coach at training, offered herself up as coach to Barkan’s non-participatory camper.
Everyone in the auditorium straightened up in their seats to see this one. Barkan was sullen, arms swinging, head down. Haneen, 15 – recently the shy camper herself – was soft-spoken but firm. Making the dynamic funnier was the fact that she now towers over Barkan. Barkan didn’t want to play with kids he didn’t know; Haneen told him he’d make new friends just as she had. He wanted to text his dad; Haneen told him “no telephones,” he could do it at night. OK but could he just sit on the sideline for five minutes and send one text? Some coaches would have been tempted to make the compromise. Haneen plucked the imaginary phone right out of his hand.
The lesson: showing respect to your kids means setting and keeping rules. We’re here to be their coaches, not their friends.
Fast-forward a couple hours and teenagers from 13 communities around the country are arriving by the busload, getting their tri-lingual nametags, and splitting from the friends they know into teams of strange kids from foreign-seeming communities who may not have a word of language in common with them. The first day requires a leap of faith.
Most kids jump right in, but some take a minute. One camper, for instance, on the Frostbitten Bunnies (the working name for the white boys’ team), didn’t particularly want to “mingle.” Mingle is a silly ice breaker where everyone bops around in a cluster, singing “mingle, mingle, mingle,” until the leader yells one of four instructions: toaster, tea party, princess, and washing machine. Groups form in imitation of whatever the leader called, and anyone left out of a group is out of the game. This particular camper, who speaks only Arabic, preferred to sit on a table. When forced to play, he made no effort and got out immediately – a non-verbal version of Barkan’s character from the morning.
But when, having run out of ice breakers, the coaches emptied the disc bag and told the kids to throw for a bit, the camper’s face lit up. He clapped when his partner made a nice catch. Where he learned the game is a mystery, but he’d clearly been working on his forehand. Not a word was spoken, just a sigh of relief for the first of the breakthroughs.
We spent the afternoon in team practices, learning catching, backhand, forehand, and marking, and coming up with team names like Blue Steel, Spongebob Frisbeepants, and Firetruck. Ah, practice is over, a little time to relax. Jump in the shower, check the time – dinner’s in eight minutes.
The evening was a parade of stations: team ping-pong, Frisbee bowling, human spider web, hot lava hopping, pass the balloon without using your hands, human pyramid, etc. etc. Then free time, when all the day’s duties are done, there aren’t really any rules, and it’s cooled down to the perfect weather for games of 500, catch and an impromptu dance party.