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Sports Summer Camps: How to Pick the Best for Your Level

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young woman in blue uniform playing lacrosse on a field

Shining stars are bright and easy to see in a night sky. So, too, are the teenage athletes who excel on fields of play and at elite summer camps. But what about the other players in the game?

Maybe you’re not a blue-chip prospect suited for a five-star summer showcase. Maybe you’re trying to improve your skills and display your potential. Or maybe you’re just getting ready to try out for the team. How do you know what kind of summer sports camp to consider?

Camps come in all shapes and sizes and for all abilities. Nearly 8 million students participate in high school athletics in the United States, but only 460,000 — about 6 percent — will play in college, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. And only 2 percent will be awarded some form of an athletic scholarship. That means a lot of kids are playing for the fun, the camaraderie or the leadership sport teaches, even if they aren’t stars.

We talked about summer sports programs with several high school sports experts who have different perspectives:

Garin Veris, former Stanford football All-American who played seven seasons in the NFL before going into high school and college administration. He is currently the athletics director at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, Mass.

Bob Bigelow, a former Division I basketball star at the University of Pennsylvania and first-round NBA draft pick. Today he is a noted lecturer and the author of “Just Let the Kids Play.”

John Schiffner, a Connecticut high school baseball coach, now an assistant at the University of Maine. He’s the winningest manager in the history of the Cape Cod Baseball League, the country’s top summer collegiate league.

John McCully, head coach of a nationally ranked high school boys soccer team.

Merry James, a camp coach and mother of two daughters who play for a high school volleyball powerhouse.

They all agree on at least one thing: Play for the love of the game, the camaraderie and the experience, not the scholarship. And here are their answers to some other parent and student FAQs about summer sports programs:

How can parents help kids choose the best camp?

Veris: Keep the focus on having fun, not necessarily what he or she might achieve in the future. Too often parents push the kid, but (they should) give them a say, too.

James: You want your kids to enjoy the experience. They should be building friendships and relationships. That should be the payoff.

McCully: For older players, maybe a team camp is best. Everyone attends and trains together, which builds chemistry. For younger players, a camp more geared toward skill development and technique might be what you want.

What should parents and kids look for in a camp?

Schiffner: The best camps will spend time on both individual skill development and games. You need competition to improve. Ask what the ratio of counselor to camper is. For baseball, 1 to 10 would be OK.

James: Based on the experience of my daughters (at volleyball camps), a program with a ratio of around 5 campers to 1 coach is very good. There are drills and skill sessions, followed by games, where you work on teamwork and strategy.

How do we find the best-fit summer program?

Schiffner: Talk to other parents and the friends of your son or daughter who have been to camps and ask about their experiences. Your high school or club coach should be a good resource. A camp that has been in business for a while will have a proven track record. Watch out for places that advertise “personal invitation.” That’s probably a money grab with a lot of kids and maybe only a handful of coaches.

James: There is a place for everyone. Network. Camps and coaches have reputations. If you’re on websites or looking at brochures, they probably all look good, but find out where your friends have sent their kids and would they send them back again. Maybe a town recreational camp is an option, especially for an introduction to a sport or for younger kids. Look at colleges in the region, and sometimes you can combine a family vacation, say in New Hampshire, with a day camp.

How do parents and kids judge appropriate teaching levels in a summer program?

McCully: A good coach who knows the player, and is honest, should be able to help make this assessment.

Bigelow: There’s no magic formula. Parents need to find a coach they trust and one who knows what he or she is looking at. And here’s the important thing: Be willing to listen and hear what they tell you. … There are showcases that’ll provide evaluations, but buyer beware. Who are the evaluators? And are they bringing in a lot of kids for $100, $150 a pop, conducting some drills, and giving you a fancy report?

OK, so what’s the bottom line

Schiffner: Nowadays, it seems, everyone gets a trophy. Kids know who the good players are, and they often know their limits before the parents do. Not everyone is going to be a star. You’re not really doing your son or daughter any good by creating false hope. A lot of parents don’t want to hear the truth, but they need to take a deep breath and do what’s best for their kids.

Veris: Let your kids play, learn and develop. If there is ability, it will come out.



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