Are Sports Camps Right for Every Young Player?
Get can’t-miss family activities sent to you!
Get the Best Family Activities
Making a Decision
Given the pros and cons of sports camps, making a decision can be difficult. Here are some factors to consider:
First, go slowly – introduce your child to sports camps in small doses. Many park recreation departments run low-key, affordable, and, sometimes, free sports camps for children for one to two hours a day. This is a great way to get started. You can see how your child likes focusing exclusively on one activity and how well he or she adapts to the physical demands. More importantly, your child has a chance to decide if sports camps are enjoyable and helpful in gaining skills he or she wants.
For longer day programs and overnight camps, assess whether a sports camp is right for your child. The knowledge that you and your child have from participating in shorter programs will be invaluable.
Will your child benefit from a sports camp or will the rigors be inappropriate? Not every child is up to or even wants to play a single sport all day.
Is your child in good physical condition and well acclimated to the sport? Her first experience with a sport should not be at a sports camp. Also, ask yourself if your child is sufficiently committed to the sport and if she understands what a sports camp entails. If you have doubts, step back to a less demanding program. Because of the rigors, Ralph Ferrigno stresses that the right attitude is essential for a successful sports camp experience. Children have to want to be there.
If you do decide on a sports camp, consider the following: what is an appropriate length? Camps run from one-hour sessions to half-day to full-day day camps to three-week overnight academies. Your decision should consider the child's age, his ambitions, his commitment to the sport, his overall physical condition, and his ability to stick with something demanding.
How intense is the training? Some camps are more low-key than others and offer kids free time or a chance to swim in the afternoon. Some also continue training after dinner, while others do not. Ask to see a daily schedule. Pay close attention to bedtime and wake-up time to be sure your child will be getting adequate sleep. You can also get a feel for the rigors of a camp by visiting when it is in session and talking to the camp director about his or her philosophy. Ferrigno stresses that a good camp paces children through each day and
through the entire session. If children overdo in the first days, they may not make it through the session. Ferrigno also emphasizes that coaches need to be flexible in their demands, making adaptations to the weather and the physical and emotional needs of the children. He says coaches should provide a variety of activities and that it's okay to do something "weird and wacky" occasionally.
Health and safety considerations: is medical help available from trained personnel? Is there a trainer on-site at all times who can deal with minor injuries? Is ice always available to soothe minor injuries before swelling sets in? Is drinking water stressed and readily available? Coaches should emphasize that children should be fully hydrated before they play. Are camp personnel aware of the special physical and emotional problems children may encounter in an intense athletics program? Does the camp get children out of the heat and sun in the middle of the day? Is all the time spent working on the specific sport or is time allowed for stretching and warming up, general conditioning, and even strength training?
Dr. Guttman stresses that the more varied the activities, the less likely a child will be injured because she won't be using the same muscles constantly. Orthopedists also stress that moderate and properly supervised strength training can help a child reduce stress injuries by strengthening the surrounding muscles.
Does the camp insist that children wear proper protective gear? Are the facilities and campgrounds safe and appropriate?
Is a healthy attitude toward the sport maintained? Camps should emphasize a relaxed atmosphere of competition, physical development, personal growth, and fun. If camp is not enjoyable, it's time to reconsider. As Ferrigno says, "We want them to have a good time and come back."
Sports camps are a terrific experience for many children. However, the best way to approach them is gradually. Start slowly, moving to more rigorous camps as appropriate. If you're not sure, go for the shorter, more low-key camp Your child can always move up the following summer. And, most of all, be sure your child is having fun in a relaxed, safe, and happy environment.