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down their best and worst experi- ences of camp. “Far and away the worst thing

for any age kid was our dock test,” Thurber says. More than 85 percent of them said they hated it. The results stung Thurber like lake water up the nose. And for good reason: He’s Camp Belknap’s waterfront director. “Here I am a psychologist, I have 20 years of aquatics training, and I’m the program head of the camp’s most psy- chologically traumatic activity!” Thurber can laugh about it

now, but it was so shocking that he immediately took action. He gathered some boys together to chat about ways to make the dock test less intimidating. He learned that campers didn’t like thinking of it as a “test” and that they felt anxious about being evaluated among kids they didn’t know. They also hated “per- forming” in front of their parents. Because the swim test was the first scheduled activity, many parents stayed around to see how their kids did. Some boys also told Thurber that they felt uncomfortable chang- ing clothes in a room full of their campmates. “We created a trifecta of embarrass-

ing judgmental factors for these kids to which we added the environmental shock of jumping into water colder than they are used to,” Thurber says. Things had to change. But Camp

Belknap had to have a “dock test.” So Thurber adjusted everything else. First, he changed the name to the less-intimidating “swim check.” The aquatics staff would stress that it’s not pass/fail but rather a classification exer- cise so that everyone can participate in water activities. Next, they streamlined camp registration to eliminate waiting in long lines for the swim check, another anxiety producer. Perhaps the most effective change,

though, was moving the swim check to the afternoon, after parents had gone home. Instead, the camp experi-


and build self-confidence, suggests Bill Hurst, chairman of the BSA’s Health and Safety Support Committee.


the bottom and worry about being touched by fish, snakes, and other water creatures. Eliminate this by conducting it in a YMCA or community swimming pool before coming to camp. Note that while swim checks may take place prior to camp, the aquatics director is expected to recheck any Scout or leader whose skills appear to be inconsistent with his classification.


clinical psychologist William Pollack, Ph.D., “to minimize the eyes watching, the fingers pointing, the possibility of embarrassment.”

with the new environment. Some Scoutmasters have been known to make their Scouts wear swim trunks under their uniforms on the drive to camp to save time in changing for the swim test. Not only is that uncomfortable, it keeps

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Arrive early at camp to allow your Scouts to blow off some steam after the drive and become comfortable

Have boys with water anxiety take the swim check in smaller groups of two or three, if possible, suggests

Test your troop in a pool. Anxiety often stems from swim checks in lakes or rivers where boys can’t see

Hold “wet runs” in local pools months before the troop goes to camp to become familiar with the swim check

Scouts’ minds focused on something they might be anxious about. And the stress of rushing only creates more anxiety.

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Walk the boys to the waterfront or pool before the swim check to famil- iarize them with the environment and

visualize what they’ll be doing, just as golf pros walk the course before a tournament.

Give Scouts a pep talk before the swim check. Explain the require- ments and why it’s so important that

they can demonstrate their ability to float and do a resting stroke. “Be upbeat and encouraging. Tell them, ‘Hey, not everyone passes, and that’s O.K. We’re here all week to work with you, and our goal is to help everyone become a better swimmer,’” says Dave Smith, an assistant Scoutmaster and camp aquatics director.

Emphasize the goal of getting better, suggests child psycholo- gist Chris Thurber. “Self-esteem is

grounded in competence, especially for males,” says Thurber. “If the words ‘fail’ and ‘nonswimmer’ become part of a boy’s inner monologue, you might be looking at adjustment problems and enthusiasm bar- riers. Every boy can do something in the water, and he will feel good about himself as he progresses.”


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