How to Create an Unforgettable Camp Experience

By Stephanie Zonars

Impacted by the AAU and select teams that compete during the summer, most camps don’t draw the way they used to.

So, if you host summer camps, you’re probably looking for a way to make yours stand out from the rest.

When I worked at Penn State, a team building component helped create an unforgettable experience for the campers.

The majority of campers said the other camps they attended didn’t offer this.

Becoming a great athlete certainly requires skill development. But there’s so much more to it! Why not reflect that in your summer camps?

Our team camp had divisions with about 10 teams each. Each division was scheduled for one hour for optional team building. Most of the teams came. It gave an opportunity to rest their bodies, while participating in a fun, productive activity.

The following are terrific problem-solving activities that you can use at camp and even with your own team:


This was my favorite activity—props to my former co-worker, Maren Walseth (now head coach at North Dakota State) for sharing it with me.

Each team has a “station”:
  • 2 construction cones placed 10+ feet apart (If you work at a university, call the physical plant to ask about borrowing cones. It won’t work to use short pylon cones as they are too low. You need the height of construction cones)
  • a circle taped around each cone (about 8-10 feet in diameter)
  • 4+ ropes placed outside the circle (give each team a different number of ropes of various lengths)
  • Place a basketball on top of one of the cones (you could try a volleyball or soccer ball, but the lighter weight will increase the difficulty; we put a Gatorade cup upside-down on the top of the cone to make the top level so the ball can rest on it more easily)
To give you an idea of what each station will look like, here’s a photo (normally I would do the exercise inside). The taped circle can be solid or dashed (to save tape). In working with 10 teams at once, I had 10 stations set up around the gym.




The ropes should be something along these lines. Expect to pay between $3.50-$5 for each pack (the number of packs you’ll need depends on how many teams you will be working with at once). I spent about $20 on rope to have enough for 10 teams.
Cut the ropes into varying lengths.
IMG_1409 copy
  • To transport the ball to the opposite cone using only the ropes
  • No one on the team can enter into the circle (even to get set up)
  • Must use all the ropes
  • Every person on the team must be touching a rope
  • Ball can’t touch the ground (if it falls they must put it back on the cone to start over)
Give the teams 15 minutes to practice at their individual station.


After 15 minutes, each team gets one try in front of the whole group to transport the basketball from one cone to the other using only the ropes.IMG_0439

Here’s what it generally looks like when the teams figure it out

Time each team—the one who accomplishes the objective in the fastest time wins!


After you declare the winner, use these questions to debrief with the whole group:
  • What were the most important skills required to accomplish the objective?
  • What kinds of communication were important?
  • Was the strategy you started with the one you ended up using? If not, how did it change?
  • How does what you learned apply to your team on the basketball court?


Tallest Tower

This one is much less complex. All you need is masking tape, a stack of newspapers and a measuring tape.

Each team gets:

  • a stack of about 20 newspapers (the local newspaper gave me a stack of old ones)
  • a roll of masking tape

Objective: to build the tallest structure possible using only the newspaper and tape.

Give the teams 5 minutes to strategize. Then send them to different parts of the gym with their newspapers and tape.

Give them 15 minutes to build the tallest tower they can.

Here’s what it usually looks like when the teams complete the task:













Once you declare a winner, use these questions to debrief with the whole group:

  • what worked well?
  • what challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
  • did you build the tallest tower you could? why or why not?
  • what roles were important? (leading, listening, following)


Energize your campers’ experience by injecting a team building experience that will help them gain insights into how to work more effectively with others. Let me know how it goes!

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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