Building Culture, Building Friendships

by | Jun 25, 2013

Preparation for UP Training Camp has reached a fever pitch with campers due to arrive in mere hours. Folks around the campus are scurrying about, taking care of last minute tasks and getting ready to welcome the busses as they roll in through the gate. And there is excitement in the air, the anticipation of all the magic that will begin shortly. Returning coach Dani Glass talks shares her feelings about how one can never be fully prepared for UP Camp and how her experiences here have changed and affected her.

Ultimate Peace is underway once again. This is my fourth summer with UP, but my first training camp, and it is strange feeling as though Iím not sure what to expect. But I guess thatís the point Ė no matter how much we prepare for camp, it will always take us by surprise: the energy, the late nights, the fun, the exhaustion, the excitement, investment, exhilaration, and work ethic all around us from both coaches and campers. Most of all, though, nothing can prepare us for the love that will blossom and grow from the beginning to the end. As I said in our first ďcoach introduction,Ē the relationships are what keep me coming back. Not only my own, but those I have seen form, and last, in what to others might seem to be unlikely places.

I met a friend from school this past year from the West Bank. She lives in its capital Ramallah. When we had talked last semester at school, she told me I should try to come visit her before or after camp. I agreed, wanting to visit and see what life was like in the West Bank, but it was a long shot. However, at the last minute during my stay in Tel Aviv before I made my way to our camp stomping grounds, I was given the unexpected opportunity to spend a few days in the West Bank with my friend and her family. I had a decision to make. I, a white (and very fair-skinned), blue-eyed, Jewish girl going to the West Bank for a weekend to stay with the family of a girl I didnít actually know all that well? Not everyone around me was comfortable with the idea. They werenít being intolerant; they were only worried about me and my safety.

My heart gave me the answer, though. This wasnít a ďsheís just young and rebelliousĒ decision; it was one that I wanted to reflect the person I have worked hard to become and strive every day to be. It was a decision that would allow me Ė a white, middle class, college student form the suburbs of Chicago Ė to gain an understanding (albeit a very low scale one) of what the kids UP works with have to overcome on a daily basis. To me, the decision to go to Ramallah meant putting myself into the shoes of the campers, coaches, and CITs from the Middle East who I admire so much. The truth? I was uncomfortable. I was nervous. I didnít know what it was going to be like to be Jewish in a place that has had so much conflict with Jewish-Israelis. I didnít know what it would be like to be around a society that I thought might think negatively about or dislike me because of my religious and cultural upbringing. I was nervous.

It was this feeling of nervousness, however, that made the decision easy. Was I comfortable with it? Absolutely not. But it was bigger than me. Itís not that I had ever taken this for granted before, but how could I have any expectations for our campers to overcome their trepidations if I couldnít overcome mine? How could I understand their struggles if I wasnít willing to face those same ones myself? How could I teach openness, trust, leadership, and friendship if I didnít embody those myself? Iím American Ė I come to camp every year and encourage the growth of relationships between Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. But Iíve never had to overcome personal trepidations. I wanted to show the rest of the staff and my capers, as well as myself, that I wasnít just all talk. I wanted to put myself out there. I wanted to go, too, but it was my feeling to responsibility to my campers that made the decision before it was really even on the table. Iím proud of my decision. My friendís family was as sweet as can be, and her friends great. I attended a concert with them and heard traditional Palestinian music, saw traditional dancing, ate traditional food. I was able to learn so much Ė about relationships between social or cultural groups and their attitudes towards one another. About the normal friendships that form between my friends and her friends, and between them and their classmates at their various colleges in other countries. I talked to my†friendís mother about UP and she was fascinated, and even had a long conversation with me about the importance of working with kids, our future leaders. I began to understand a perspective I had never had any way of understanding, and I cherish every moment of my experience.

Crossing the checkpoint was the only moment that I really felt uncomfortable. I had been assured by multiple people who know the process well that all would be fine, but it was new, I didnít speak the language, and it is a very non-traditional place for someone like me to visit. I didnít really know what to expect. I only knew that I was stepping outside my comfort zone, and leaps and bounds beyond the comfort zones that a few others had had for me. I didnít really know what to expect, but I think thatís the only way to enter a new situation. Thatís how it seems to be with camp every year. We have new staff and new campers, and we donít know how the coaching teams and players will mesh together until it happens. We only know, because of Spirit of the Game and because of the phenomenon that keeps us playing Ultimate and coming back to camp, that it will happen. That the last day will bring smiles, hugs, and many, many tears. I didnít know what my visit to the West Bank would teach me or what kind of experience I would have; I only knew that it would change me.

We can never really fully prepare for camp. We do extensive training for all walks and aspects of camp life; we talk over scheduling, drills, skills, rules, potential difficulties and their respective solutions, and cultural differences. We prepare as much as it is possible to prepare. But once our campers arrive, it is it goes far beyond drills and scrimmages. Camp is the creation of a culture that we, together, are able to build. That is what keeps us coming back. The relationships that we as coaches form and those that we see form are what creates this unique and incredible and maybe even unlikely sense of community that we all feel. It isnít easy to get there. But we do, every year, because we trust each other to put in the effort, campers and coaches together.

This is what defines pre-camp. Coachesí training is about more than skills and drills; it is about the acquisition of tools and attitudes that will enable us to change the lives of our campers, who in turn have changed us so much that we keep coming back. I didnít know what my experience in the West Bank would be; I only knew that it would change me. Camp will bring many challenges and surprises, but we know that by the end we will all be different. We will all be better for the experiences we will have had. I donít know the specifics yet, but because of the work ethic, leadership, and love I have seen these past few days, I canít wait to see what theyíll be.