The Developmental Importance of Success and Failure Experiences at Summer Camp

Cait Wilson, Jim Sibthorp


Young people can learn from success and failure. Such experiences are useful in developing skills (e.g., perseverance and coping), and remain essential facets of youth programming. However, success and failure can also impede development. Appraisal theory has been used widely to examine youths’ experiences with success and failure in school and sport, yet summer camps represent an important setting where success and failure may look and feel different. In camp settings success or failure are often more subjective and less dependent on objective performance indicators such as grades, wins, or losses. Because of these contextual differences, little is known about youth experiences with success and failure at summer camp. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to use summer camp as a context to describe youths’ appraisals of success and failure experiences and the associated development. Findings explain how success and failure at camp can contribute to the positive development of self-efficacy, effective coping, and perseverance. Furthermore, some youth exhibit unproductive responses to failure at camp which may obstruct opportunities for growth. Implications for practice are recommended to help camp staff support young people through failure experiences and to maximize the positive developmental potential of both failure and success at camp.  



productive coping; appraisal theory; perseverance; recreation programming

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