When it comes to athletic camps, there are as many types to choose from as there are sports. From golf and swim to soccer, fencing and beyond, the choices can be overwhelming. Day and overnight athletic camps offer kids the chance to get extra playing time on the field, develop new skills and bond with fellow athletes. Whether you’re looking for a serious athletic experience or a more traditional camp with a focus on sports, you’ve come to the right place.
IS SPORTS CAMP RIGHT FOR MY CHILD?
Alicia Skovera, executive director of the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ, says a child’s excitement for sports camp can inform parents about whether or not it’s a good fit. “You don’t want parents to push and then they’ll not like the sport,” she says. “Just like choosing a college, it’s about finding the right fit.”
STARTING YOUR SEARCH
When it comes to what type of program is right for your kid, there’s a lot to consider. Athletic camps operate as both day and overnight camps and there are programs as short as one week or up to seven.
“If a child has a deep passion for a specific sport or activity, I think a specialty camp is a great option,” says Katy Kreiner, director of Berkshire Soccer Academy in East Otis, MA. If your child is playing a specific sport three, four or five times a week, that’s a great reason to consider an athletic camp, Kreiner says. “The camper will get immersed in training in their sport throughout their time at camp. Our Berky campers can gain almost a season’s worth of training during their stay at a 2-week camp. I also think specialty camps are fantastic for kids to build quick relationships because they are all coming in with a common bond of being an athlete as well as loving a specific sport; in our case our campers are all soccer-loving girls. The friendships that develop in just a few days are remarkable.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Skovera says your first step should be to make sure you’re dealing with an ACA-accredited camp. You want to know that the camp is regulated and there are background checks done on the people working with your child. “Know who the camp director is,” she advises.
Skovera also advises parents to ask what staff training looks like at any camp they’re considering. “Who is the staff? Who’s caring for them on the field and in the bunks? Are the coaches people who work with kids when they’re not at camp?”
Since there’s an inherent risk of injury with sports (some more than others) it’s essential to ask questions such as: What happens if my child gets injured? Where is the nearest healthcare facility? Is there someone on call 24/7? This is especially important if it’s an overnight camp. “Any good camp director will be happy to answer these questions,” Skovera says.
Also important is to know what your child will get out of attending an athletic camp. “Are you looking for a camp that focuses on a specific sport or lots of sports? Is your aim for your child to walk away a better athlete or focus on other things like building community?”
“For kids who are passionate about a specific sport they will likely get many more hours of training and get to train alongside other kids who have the same love of the sport,” says Kreiner.
If your child is ready for an even more immersive experience, an overnight sports camps can be a great option to consider.
“Just as any other residential camp does, kids get the chance to be away from their parents and family, step outside of their comfort zone and try new things. It helps them become more independent and build deep relationships and bonds with their bunk mates,” says Kreiner.
PLAN A VISIT
The best way to get to know an athletic camp is to visit in person, either in season or during an open house. “Visit a camp to find out the culture,” says Skovera. “See how kids are feeling – most of it depends on the culture of the program. Do kids compete against each other or is it more collaborative?” Parents can also ask about each coach’s philosophy to see if a camp would be a good fit.
“I like to tell parents, if your daughter is excited to be on the field for four hours a day and work hard, athletic camp is a good fit!” says Kreiner. “I believe mindset and motivation play a big role in a camper’s success.”
If you’re looking for advice before making a decision, Renee Flax (director of camper placement, ACA) offers free one-on-one guidance and can help you figure out next steps and give suggestions. Parents can also visit acanynj.org for more info.
For a list of sports camps in and around NJ, go to njfamily.com/sportscamps.