Choosing the right summer sports camp

Sports campBy Cathy Ashby

When it comes to summer sports camps, the name of the game is participation.

At most sports camps, every player plays. That's not the case in many school and youth sports programs, where the best of the best frequently clock more game time than their average and below-average teammates.

Summer camps level the playing field with specific skill-building activities, drills and practices for all kinds of athletes. Whether your child is superstar material or just so-so, sports camps offer opportunities for athletic development — and a whole lot of fun

How to pick a winning sports camp?

When it comes to choosing a sports camp for your children, many of the factors you'll consider are the same involved when choosing other kinds of camps:

  • What is the staff to camper ratio? Does it allow for the kind of individualized instruction and supervision your child needs or wants?
  • What are the program philosophies? Does the program's attitude toward competition, sportsmanship, and teamwork match yours and your child's?
  • How experienced are the instructors, coaches, and counselors?
  • Do safety regulations and medical facilities meet your standards?
  • Are the facilities (ball fields, cafeterias, dormitories) well maintained?

But there are other questions you'll want to ask and factors you'll want to weigh when choosing a sports camp.

Look for a program that makes fun a priority. Such a program will motivate campers to strengthen their skills and improve their performance. If they don't enjoy the game at introductory levels, they won't want to grow and develop as players and athletes. Be wary of programs that focus too heavily on performance or competition. Unless your child exhibits extraordinary talent, summer sports camps should offer more than hard work and skill-building.

Parents should consider the overall size of the program, as well. If your child wants training in specific skills, he or she may need one-on-one attention possible only in smaller programs.

What are the benefits of sports camps?

One obvious answer is improved play. Dedicated practices and performance drills have turned many an average player into a highly effective athlete during the hot summer months. Often, the camp experience is a child's first brush with tournament play.

This introduction to competitive athletics is one of the primary benefits of summer sports camps; it gives campers a taste of what the life of an athlete is like. Working with coaches from colleges and universities packs twice the punch.

But sports camps can help children develop more than just physical skills. Athletic programs help children develop important life skills, including self-discipline, self-motivation, teamwork and proper manners.

Also critical to the personal development of campers is the positive role modeling provided by camp staff members. Sports camps tend to employ athletes who excel at the sport and coaches who have a passion for the sport. These people can help young athletes envision a continued pursuit of athletic excellence well into the future.

Cathy Ashby, a writer and editor, is a former camp director and counselor.