It’s been a long time since I updated but as I’m sure you’re all aware, I recently started in my new role as Director of Women’s Hockey Operations at Colgate. One of my first major projects for the team was to organize our team retreat, so I just wanted to share some details of what we did.
For the retreat, we rented out a summer camp. We wanted it to feel truly secluded – and it did – but to add to that and really force our team to bond, we took the girls’ phones for the whole weekend.
When Coach Fargo and I first discussed the retreat we knew we wanted to do some kind of scavenger hunt, but we thought we’d put a little twist on it and make it more of an Amazing Race / Survivor type of hunt. On the surface, it was a good way to kill a few hours, even though it was going to have a LOT of moving parts. But it became so much deeper than just a scavenger hunt and allowed us to test our athletes in ways that were incredibly telling about their own personalities, how they interacted in a small group, and how they decided to play the game – and how they might translate it to hockey.
Also, while researching for this scavenger hunt, I had a really hard time finding activities I thought would translate well to a group of college-age elite athletes. I found a lot on Pinterest and through Google but what I ended up doing was piecing a lot of stuff together. So if you ever find yourself looking to do something similar, I hope this helps you! Also, Amazon Prime was absolutely key in making this come together. You really can get virtually anything on Amazon.
To kick off the hunt, I divided the 24 girls into 5 teams, totally at random but making sure that there was at least 1 freshman and 1 senior on each team. To make it feel more like a cohesive unit, I gave each team a color and a corresponding bandana. I found blank white flags (thanks Amazon) and ordered 5, and we gave the teams 15 minutes to come up with a group name and a logo on their flag using sharpies.
After they presented us with their flags, I gave them their first clues and a map of the camp, started the clock and they were off. Also, we decided that we would give them clues or a single answer to a question in exchange for a 1 minute penalty off their final time.
For context, here are the team staff roles:
Fargo – Head Coach
Sophie, Stefan – Assistant Coach
Gordo Dennis – Student Manager (also shout out to Gordo for many of these photos!)
Megan – Equipment Manager
Bennett – Athletic Trainer
Bruce Crowley – Colgate alum who joined us on retreat weekend to lead a few team development exercises
- Find a tree at camp with your team color’s ribbon tied around it. Scattered near the base of the tree are coins. Find the coin that coincides with Fargo’s birth year. Bring the coin back to HQ for your next clue.
I asked Megan to choose any trees in the whole camp to tie to the ribbon around and scatter the coins at the bottom. Three teams found their tree in a pretty timely manner, but two needed a little help. In order to keep the game moving we gave them a little help.
- Go to the art center. Make a balloon animal; you may use any and all materials available to you to enhance your project. Present it to the staff at HQ. Choose a staff member to judge, and he/she will determine if your balloon animal passes the test or if you go back to the drawing board. If you pass, HQ will hand you a card with your next location.
The players had no idea that this challenge was incredibly calculated on our part. We had pre-determined who would hold the clues to the next challenge (Fargo and Sophie) and who would have pins (everyone else). Upon presentation of the balloon animal, if they picked a judge with a pin, we’d pop their balloon. If they picked the right judge – they got the clue. Of course we chose Fargo and Sophie to hold the clues – the two people on staff who are the most authoritative – who we knew the players would be hesitant to choose as judges.
The players really got creative with their balloon animals, thinking we were judging them on that, or how the balloon animal’s story related to team building themes we had explored. They spent a lot of time hammering it out when in reality, it didn’t matter at all – it was who they chose to judge their balloon animal that was the determining factor.
It was also very interesting that Gordo was the most chosen person to judge the balloon animals. He’s someone who was more of a peer to the players and the least authoritative – they thought he’d be least likely to pop their balloon. In fact, some teams chose him more than once! He popped their balloons every time.
We popped each team’s balloon animal at least twice.
Another aspect of the challenge was watching their reactions to us popping a balloon animal they had spent so much time on and put so much effort into. For some, there was just an absolute look of defeat in their faces. That was a test from us: What are you going to do? Wallow in it, or adapt? We also saw a few teams heading all the way back to the arts center to come up with another balloon animal, while other teams simply repurposed their previously popped balloon animals and got through to the next challenge faster because in reality … the animal didn’t matter.
This challenge was really fun and also a great character building piece. We overhead some of their discussion after we popped their balloons – “Guys, we are so far behind,” negativity which we thought was a pretty good indicator of how that might translate to a game situation.
- Go to the southernmost area of Camp Echo Lake
There you will find scattered puzzle pieces. You must gather pieces with your team’s color on the back. Once all pieces have been collected, your team may begin to assemble the puzzle. Unscramble the letters on the back of the puzzle pieces to find your next location.
For this one, I found some 20-piece puzzles on Amazon – they were all maps of the United States. I asked Bennett and Gordo to hide the puzzle pieces somewhere in the wooded area. Most of them made it to their next spot in a timely fashion, except the Blue team, who went into the challenge dead last. After getting their balloon animal approved on their second try (they were VERY behind and we had to pass them at that point), we gave them their clue and they went the wrong way to the southern area of camp. They went east instead – even though another team was on their way back to HQ from that challenge, and was coming from another direction!
- Welcome to the roller hockey rink. The team must find an envelope with your team’s color ribbon on it. Your task is to match country, state and/or provincial flags to the right location using the bank at the bottom. Return the paperwork to HQ.
Because we gave them a bank at the bottom, we wouldn’t pass them to the next round unless it was all correct. After they passed that, each team got a Detour card.
- DETOUR: each team will go to the green space for their next challenge.
Each team must map out and draw, with as much accuracy as possible, the solar system. Do not forget details such as size, color, rings, etc.
Your team may not advance until an HQ staff member checks it for accuracy.
This was actually a huge struggle for some of our teams. I mean, I get it – as adults, how often do we think about the solar system? But I also chose this challenge because it’s a subtle reminder that we are actually very small in comparison to the universe. It’s a reminder not to get caught up in the little things in life. Anyway, clearly a few teams weren’t aware of My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Going into this challenge the yellow team had a clear lead but this one really tripped them up – and they were the last team to leave this challenge.
After this challenge, each team is given a music riddle sheet as a ROADBLOCK in which teams must fill in the name of the song and artist. Each team must solve the sheet to learn their next location.
I’m a huge fan of 90s music so of course I did a 90s music trivia sheet. I chose pretty well-known songs I thought they’d know, but I gave them a certain number of blank spaces for each letter so they had an extra hint. Naming either the artist or the song title, I put a (___) around one of the letters. They had to use all the letters in the (___) and unscramble them to find out their next location, which was the lake shore.
While doing this challenge, one of the players on the pink team had an epiphany: “Guys, what’s the only other location on our map we haven’t been to yet?” She looked at her map and looked at the few letters they had gotten from their answers. “It’s the lake shore!” And they were off. Talk about adaptability!
- All teams proceed to the lake shore where they must solve a combination lock. Teams choose which lock they will solve upon arrival.
The lock’s combinations are:
Lock 1. The year Colgate first got a Division I varsity women’s hockey team
Lock 2. The year Starr rink was built
Lock 3. Krista’s birth year
Lock 4. Stefan’s birth year
Lock 5. Sophie’s birth year
Once solved, teams open the box and find they must go to the wooded area behind cabins 22-42.
The teams had to figure out the combinations to each lock, (the combinations were 20001, 1960, 1987, 1987, and 1986 respectively), which I think went pretty smoothly. After that, they were on to the next challenge. The game started to move VERY quickly after this, whereas in the earlier part of the game, there was a lot of waiting around for the teams to get moving into the next challenge.
- Ball game. There are 10 ping pong balls in each team color and numerous other multi-colored distractor balls scattered across the wooded area. One “caller” from each team will lead the remaining members of the team, who are blindfolded, to their team’s colored balls. The caller cannot touch the ping pong balls; only her blindfolded teammates can. Gather the ping pong balls in your team’s bucket. You must collect all 10. There will be a 1 minute penalty for any incorrect balls in your bucket.
As predicted, this challenge started as an absolute shit show. However, many of the teams strategized on this one, with the caller taking one teammate at a time into the woods to gather the balls. This was a smart move and prevented a lot of chaos (and injuries).
- Once all balls are collected, teams are given envelopes with a picture round. Your team is to ID who or what is in the pictures and return it to HQ. Once you have at least 15 of the 20 correctly you may move on to the next location, which will be handed to you in an envelope. You may buy an answer for 1 minute additionally added to your finish time.
Here is the picture round:
And the answers:
Most teams couldn’t get the 15 of the 20 required to pass onto the next round without taking penalty minutes, but I thought this was actually a good thing because it made the game really interesting.
After they turned in their picture ground, all teams got a U – Turn card which told them to return to the lake shore for their next challenge.
- At the lake shore, teams must do an Endurance challenge: Planks.
Each team member must choose who will forearm plank for the following increments. Some team members may have to perform more than one plank. You may attempt each time as many times as you need.
With each successful time bench mark reached, the team will earn a letter. The team must unscramble the letters to earn its next location.
The letters we gave them after every successful plank unscrambled to spell ARCHERY – though we found most teams figured it out after they got a few letters and didn’t have to do all those planks.
- At the archery field, find your team’s Mental Challenge worksheet. It be solved and returned to HQ staff members. Once it is 100% correct, the first team to return to HQ with the sheet entirely correct, will win (with the addition of penalty minutes).
Here was the sheet I put together:
This was an interesting one because we wouldn’t let them finish, officially, until it was 100% correct. It was definitely a race to the finish and all teams were trying everything as quickly as they could in order to finish first. Megan, Gordo and I corrected their answers sheets until the teams came back with everything 100% correct.
I was correcting the green team’s sheet and heard one player say something like, “Who cares what the answer actually is let’s just mix around the answers until they’re all right.” In other words, stop putting so much thought into the answers, and just keep experimenting with the order of them until they are correct.
The red team finished first with the best raw time, and green shortly after that. The whole thing took just about 2 and a half hours to complete. We marked every team’s finishing time, and their order in finishing was: Red, Green, Pink, Yellow, Blue.
But after the penalty minutes were applied, the Green team came out with the win, followed by Pink, Rink, Yellow, and Blue.
After the hunt we had a post-mortem: why did the green team win? The answer was that they played the game to a T. They strategized in that if they didn’t know an answer they didn’t waste time thinking and instead just took a penalty minute and moved on. This team also HUSTLED the entire time the hunt was going on – they ran literally everywhere.
We also spoke about how red had a solid five minute lead at one point in time, but fell behind when yellow passed them to the solar system challenge. We asked the players how that felt, and they said it was frustrating, they felt defeated, etc. “We had to take a deep breath and just get back to it,” they said. We equated that to how it feels in a game situation when we give up a lead. The red team also had a back and fourth lead in the beginning, but said they didn’t really strategize, and they felt as if they were all on the same page when it came to decision making. However, that non strategizing landed them third.
It turns out the pink team had strategized in determining they were going to really figure out the answers to the challenges and NOT take penalties.
We talked a lot about riding the highs too high and the lows too low.
But what did our team learn from this challenge? It was about events happening to us – positive or negative – and what we bring to the team in terms of our emotions and our thinking. We can be what we think we can be, IF we allow ourselves to do it. Sometimes we have to remove our emotions and just allow our skill and ability to take over in our games.
This activity was just one in a jam-packed weekend of learning more about each other on a personal level, bonding as a team, and establishing our goals.
It was an unforgettable weekend for everyone and I like to think I had a big role in that 🙂 HUGE thanks to all the staff for helping me with the hunt (Gordo, Bennett, Megan) and to the coaches for their assistance as well. We all had a lot of fun and learned a lot about each other in the process.