14 Feb Eight Secrets of Grit and How It’s Developed at Camp Susquehannock

Eight Secrets of Grit and How It’s Developed at Camp Susquehannock

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again […] who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
-Theodore Roosevelt

What is grit? Where does it come from? Who has it? How do I get some? The word is used in an almost mythical fashion when describing those we admire.

When I think of grit, images of people I know experiencing situations of incredible resilience come to mind. For years I have participated in an extreme endurance sport known as adventure racing. Adventure racing is a sport that encompasses trekking/trail running, mountain biking, wilderness navigation, flat/whitewater paddling, rappelling/ascending and a variety of other mountaineering and athletic disciplines.

Teams consist of three to four individuals who race together for multiple days and sometimes weeks at a time with little or no sleep. They encounter Mother Nature at her best and her worst. Team members experience dehydration, trench foot, hunger, hypothermia, cramping, hallucinations and just about any other kind of physical and mental ailment you can think of in an effort to finish the race.

My friend Teri Schneider is a fellow adventure racer who has won IRONMAN championships, and is also the author of Dirty Inspirations: Lessons from the Trenches of Extreme Endurance Sports. She characterizes adventure racing as such: “If doing a lot of IRONMAN races pretty fast was like getting a B.S. in endurance sports, adventure racing would be the PhD.”

Bottom line: adventure racers are some of the grittiest people I have ever met; it’s an honor and privilege to be a member of this club. As an adventure racer I have witnessed and experienced situations that have required tremendous amounts grit. And when I reflect on these examples, I draw an immediate parallel to the lessons I learned at Camp Susquehannock, the place that created the foundation of my multi-sport diversification and grit.

Camp Susquehannock prides itself in developing confident young girls and boys. As this confidence grows, children begin to develop self-reliance, independence, character, mental fortitude and an inherent passion for life and trying new things. And when you toss all this in a blender you get GRIT!

Grit isn’t fancy, eloquent or fake;
Susquehannock isn’t eloquent or fake either
…and it’s certainly not fancy!

Here are the eight secrets of grit and how it is developed at Camp Susquehannock…

It’s OK to Fail
People with grit don’t mind failing. In fact, they welcome it. They know this temporary setback is a learning experience. When children come to Camp Susquehannock they are encouraged to expand their limits and try things they have never done before.

Upon arrival, campers spend the first two days being evaluated on their athletic ability, experience and maturity. Teams are created consisting of children with similar skill sets, across multiple levels. These teams learn and practice together, compete together and experience level-appropriate challenges as they are pushed to try new things and develop new skills.

As we all know, children develop at different rates, so if they were simply assembled by age group there would always be kids with noticeable physical, athletic and mental advantages. As a result, the less-skilled children could see themselves at a disadvantage and therefore reluctant to participate; which would lead to an apprehension towards trying new things. The fear of failure, thought of being “inferior,” and being embarrassed is paralyzing. Not to mention, the more advanced children wouldn’t be challenged enough.

However, when campers of a similar skill set are pushed to try new things as a team, the fear of failure is significantly reduced. Why? Because everyone will struggle with the same challenges and fail a few times until they get it right. Every time this happens a child’s apprehension towards trying new things gets smaller… and smaller… and smaller.

Here’s the best part: when campers finally do overcome a challenge, their confidence skyrockets, and they are on the road to developing grit. As the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed,: Try, try, try again.” Grit is the fine art of “try, try, try again.”

Answer the Bell
People with grit answer the bell! They show up every day, every week, every month without fail. They never make excuses as to why they can’t make it, even if they’re having a bad day, are discouraged, or intimidated by a challenge – they answer the bell.

Camp Susquehannock encourages a culture of participation and teaches campers to be accountable. It starts with simple things like making your bed, keeping your area tidy, cleaning your cabin, and cleaning your table in the Dining Hall.

This may not sound like much, but campers do it every day. Let’s face it, there are days when none of us want to do this and there are times when we make excuses or procrastinate… not at Susquehannock. It doesn’t matter if they are feeling lazy, missing home or had a disagreement with a friend, they have to answer the bell and participate.

Developing consistency through completing these seemingly small tasks every day is the foundation to developing grit. Answering the bell – even when the desire isn’t strong – invariably seasons a child and exercises the “grit muscle.”

You break the habit of making excuses,
and all tasks begin to seem a bit easier.

Get In The Game
Too many people sit on the sidelines of life and let the world pass them by. People develop grit out of innate ability and acquired experience. To this day I can remember being a camper at Susquehannock and my counselors encouraging us to “get in the game.” There were some sports I had never done before but it was the same for most campers on my team.

However, it didn’t matter. We were encouraged by our counselors, coaches and teammates to get in the game and help the team. It didn’t matter if you lacked a certain skill or ability, the team still needed you! And when you played a sport you were good at, you encouraged those who were less proficient.

Some children arrive at Susquehannock and start out sitting in the back hoping they don’t have to participate in activities that are new to them. Camp Susquehannock gets kids in the game. Campers learn that in life, as in sports, there is a role for everyone. As such they are never afraid to get in the game. Children and adults of Camp Susquehannock don’t sit on the sidelines of life, they get in the game, just like people with grit.

Put The Team First
One of the things that keep gritty people pushing forward is their team; they refuse to let their team down. They look to fill the needs of the team, as opposed to their personal goals or stat sheet.

Competition is a series of ups and downs, and that is the only constant. Individuals who lack grit tend to give up when momentum shifts against them. They don’t stick it out because they don’t realize they are part of a team, often believing they are the team! At Susquehannock we know there will be an ebb and flow, there will be good times and bad times – that’s life!

A team is not just people you play a sport with. A team can be your family members, friends, co-workers, cabin-mates and counselors. However, when kids know they are part of a team and that team pushes through challenges together, those downs aren’t a crisis. The more challenges they face together the easier it is to overcome the next one. As a result, they push through challenges one after another, impervious of momentum shifts – this contributes mightily to the development of grit!

Become Selfless
In order to answer the bell, get in the game, embrace the benefit of failure, the proper attitude is crucial. People with grit have a great attitude because they are selfless. Think about it, do you know anyone who is selfless and has a bad attitude?

The only time we are unhappy is during our more selfish moments:
“I’m hot; I’m tired…”
“They weren’t nice to me; they disrespected me…”
“If these people would just listen to me everything would be fine…”
“I wonder if they like me…”
The list goes on and on.

People with grit put others first,
they help make everyone around them better.

Gritty people aren’t immune to bad days, but they know how to deal with them appropriately. They may be tired, cramping, frustrated and on the verge of quitting, and yet they don’t. So what do they do? They take their mind off of themselves by finding a way to pick up a teammate who is also down.

Parents are probably greatest examples of selfless individuals. A parent could have lost their job, got in a fight with their partner, or is just having a crappy day… all they want to do is get home and relax. But as soon as they hear their child is sick or injured, they forget about themselves and address the challenge by flexing that grit muscle.

Camp Susquehannock models a culture of looking after cabin-mates and teammates. Campers encourage and pick each other up when things go sideways and the incredible staff of counselors provide some of the greatest examples of this commitment I have seen. Despite what you may think, counselors can have some pretty rough days. They are pushed and pulled in different directions and there are times when I’m sure they feel like packing it in – but they don’t.

Instead, they look to pick up the camper who is home sick, who needs help with their jump shot, who needs the encouragement to swim the length of Tripp Lake. The staff models selflessness and this gets them through the tough times. More importantly, they are setting a great example for campers, as they are the embodiment of being selfless.

Take the Leap and Jump In
People with grit are always willing to jump in and take the leap. They know every leap can be daunting, but it’s also an opportunity to open new doors, find new passions and accomplish new goals. It makes them more diverse, resilient and independent.

The jewel of Camp Susquehannock is our beautiful spring-fed Tripp Lake. It’s a place where we cool off after clinics and games, a place for socializing and a place where we canoe, kayak and sail boats. However, before a camper can enjoy the boating activities they must be able to swim the length of the entire lake. This rite of passage can certainly be intimidating. However, once you do it you have opened the door to new opportunities and new experiences which light the embers of independence, resilience and confidence. This is a stepping stone to grit!

It’s OK to Get Dirty, and to Laugh at Yourself
People with grit realize life isn’t a fashion show, and it’s certainly not perfect. They understand mistakes will be made and that you have to be willing to get a little dirty while plowing through life’s challenges.

They are not self-conscious, they don’t take themselves too seriously and they can wholeheartedly laugh at themselves. Their ability to walk through life while a little dirty and to laugh at themselves is their key to sanity. It’s a reflection of their inherent confidence and selflessness. They are more consumed with life in the moment than the thought of what others may be thinking.

Show up at Camp Susquehannock any day and you will find
children and adults living life in the moment.

When a group of people try new things together, make mistakes together, live as a family together and experience growth together, their walls of emotional protection come down. This is when the fun begins… it’s why you will find children laughing in the cabin, sitting in a circle on the grass having a discussion about any number of topics, dressing up in crazy outfits for a camp celebration (or just because!), all the while building bonds that will last a lifetime.

This is a skill that will benefit them for the remainder of their life. We all need to remember to laugh at ourselves and be willing to get a little dirty. It enables us to get through what life throws at us and ultimately build our grit.

Nothing Left to Do but Smile, Smile, Smile
These traits aren’t something I discovered through laborious study and research. They are simply based on my observations, interactions and involvement with some truly gritty people. This is a reflection of what I experienced growing up at Camp Susquehannock, and the growth I see there on a daily basis during the summer.

If a child can understand these lessons, they will answer the bell day after day, and will possess the greatest gift of GRIT. Smiling; simply smiling!


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