Monday, March 07, 2011
While I am celebrating the thermometer's rise to 41 degrees, I have to do so amidst snow and ice covering the major portion of the landscape. So it's difficult to think about filling out the summer camp applications. But they are already arriving. I have had three come via email and another two come in snail mail, so the floodgates should be opening soon. Even if you are experienced in sorting through the possibilities, they seem to multiply exponentially. Suddenly that simple decision that you based on cost and dates now explodes into manifold factors from skill levels to friends attending to coaching levels. We don't want our kids to miss out on that "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity that might mean being scouted by an English Premier League coach or recruited by a top college program.
The first thing anyone should do is decide on a budget then rule out any camp that exceeds that budget. It's so easy to be seduced by a glossy brochure with pictures of happy players against a rich green pitch gazing fondly at a silver-haired coach who looks like he comes from central casting. It makes us wish we could go to camp and let the kids stay home. Declaring a budget also makes it clear to your children that they can't ask for pipe dreams – camps in Argentina or becoming a youth soccer ambassador to New Zealand. If an international camp appeals to your family but you can't afford it now, those options are available every year, so make a plan about how to save for this goal. Decide how much your child will be responsible for. You could do a matching fund where every dollar your kid saves you'll match. You also could involve grandparents to pledge some money towards this opportunity. However you choose to finance the expensive camps, it's not a bad idea to ask your child to invest in the expense as well.
Once you have the budget, then you can start deciding on the type of camp you want to attend. The options are overwhelming. Besides the opportunity to play soccer out of the country, there are camps dedicated to specific field positions, camps for boys only, camps for girls only, camps directed by famous coaches, camps sponsored by local clubs, camps sponsored by colleges, high schools, and civic organizations, overnight camps, day camps, camps offered by professional teams, camps that provide the opportunity to be looked at by overseas coaches, camps run by former National Team players, camps promising college scholarships, nutrition camps, camps sponsored by sportswear manufacturers, camps sponsored by sports drinks and camps that focus on fitness. You and your child need to decide what you want from a camp in order to narrow down where you apply. Make a list of what your ideal camp experience would be, and then pour through the options to find the best matches.
For those in elementary and middle school the local camps usually offer the best matches. You can use summer camps as a way to check out other clubs in the area or keep a strong tie to your present club. Most US Youth Soccer Association state association websites will provide a list of camps offered by member clubs. This is a great resource to begin your search. You can also use a search engine to locate local camps by searching your city and the phrase "summer soccer camps." If you are lucky enough to have a professional soccer club in your area then check out their camps. These camps are usually staffed by high school and college age soccer players, but include one or two professional players. It's great fun for a young player to have an idol teaching her how to dribble a ball! These camps can provide a T-shirt, ball, and water bottle emblazoned with the team logo, so there's some long term bragging rights attached to the experience. Both my boys grew up spending summers at the Milwaukee WAVE camps, and now my grandkids have continued the tradition.
The other factor for the youngest campers will be friends. Check out with other families where they are considering sending their kids. It's always the most fun to share a camp with good buddies, plus it helps with carpooling! Some parents also may have some good advice on camps based on experiences with their older kids. Use the sideline time this spring to find out what camps they liked or didn't like and why. Personal testimony beats the marketing blurbs in the brochures.
Check out some of the intangibles with camps as well. For example do the camps have contingency plans for bad weather, especially thunderstorms? What process do they use to contact parents in case of emergency? What is the ratio of staff to campers? What insurance do they carry for both liability and injury? How long has the camp been running? What is their policy on weather-related cancellations? Do they address the issue of differing skill levels at the same ages? Is the camp a member of any recreational organization or licensed by any organization? How is their staff screened? What safety does the camp provide at its site (i.e. fences separating fields from busy roads or water features)? Do they offer any credits or reimbursement for unforeseen reasons to miss the camp (death in the family, extended illness)? Can they deal with medical conditions such as asthma attacks and allergic reactions?
For older campers the situation becomes less about finding a camp that offers fun with friends and more about finding a camp that can advance a player's abilities. The big question for most high school players is whether or not they should attend a college camp in the hopes of being recruited. College camps can be very expensive and are filled with hundreds of campers hoping for the same brass ring. My experience has been that few if any kids are "discovered" at a college camp. Most coaches rely on watching players at tournaments in the context of their teams to make decisions on players they want to recruit. Often players who have contacted a school receive an invitation to their camp. Don't read too much into this. Every player who has ever emailed a coach has had his or her email placed in a mailing list for camp. On the other hand, if a player has been in serious discussions directly with a coach, initiated by the coach, who asks the player to attend the camp, it might be worth attending. You'll have to judge how serious the coach's interest is and how the expense fits into your family's budget. On the other hand, I do encourage good players to consider attending college sponsored camps because they can give you exposure to the level of play necessary to succeed at college and if the camp includes more than one college, then you'll get a bigger bang for your buck.
Older players should also consider camps that focus on fitness training. While developing skills and improving on team tactics remains the primary reason for going to a summer camp, players can benefit from training that isn't soccer centered. Most coaches will agree that teams that have the best fitness have the best chance to get that late game goal or prevent one. It's the players who falter over time due to lack of conditioning who hurt a team's ability to be a winner. Therefore, a fitness or conditioning camp may be a good idea. These should be reserved for older players since younger players don't have the muscle development to endure and benefit from intense fitness training. But supplementing a skills camp with a fitness camp could be a great way to prepare for an upcoming high school or club soccer season.
No matter what you decide to do about camps, just be sure that you select a camp that fits the needs of your child. Don't pick a camp that demands too much from your player. The younger the child, the more the camp should focus on fun and spending some carefree time with friends, new and old. Older players will want to use camps to advance both their skills and their chances to play soccer at a higher level. So decide what benefits the camps offer and how those benefits justify the costs. Most importantly make sure that your child is comfortable with the camp choice. If kids have fears of being away from home, you might not want to leap into an overnight camp right away or if they do better with shorter bursts of instruction consider half-day camps. Use the internet, the parent's network, and brochures at your local soccer store to discover the variety of camps available in your area. Investigate the college, club, and professional club camps that number in the thousands. After all your considerations the most important one will be is the camp enjoyable for your child. The rest will all fall in place.