Is Sport Camp Right for My Child?
The ides of a camp that pairs summer fun with skill building in a sport seems like a no brainer. But what if your child isn’t a lifelong gymnast or soccer player? Will they fit in and be happy at a sports camp? Perhaps you want to encourage your child to try a new sport or to consider taking a stab at junior high or high school tryouts. We talk with Sport Psychologist, Dr. Casey Cooper, about how athletic camp can be the answer.
“Evidently, there was a time when high school sport was amateur athletics, a varsity letterman jacket brought with it city hero status, and making it to CIF was THE crowning achievement, “ says Cooper. “Now sports specialization before the age of 13 is commonplace and club sports have become the new standard of excellence across the country. Add in our pleasant Orange County weather that makes year round training so enticing, and the impact to the high school athletic experience has been significant. Thus, the idea of sending an inexperienced athlete who just wants to have some fun and learn something new to a recreation level sport camp for a trial run and to up their comfort level makes total sense.”
Some parents, or more likely kids, worry that a camp dedicated to one particular sport will attract only fanatics or lifelong players with their entrenched teammates. This simply isn’t true. Yes, these camps do bring in kids with a common love of the sport, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a high level of play skill.
Generally, the first day of any non-team sport camp will involve low-stress evaluations where kids will be tasked with different elements of the game (ball handling, running, jumping, hitting or throwing drills) while the coaches and counselors observe. This should not be viewed as a test, but simply a gauge of where a player is starting out. Often, there will be additional adjustments made throughout the week to keep teams even and make allowances for quick learners or kids who might have been nervous on Day One.
These evaluations allow for a fun and relaxed experience for all campers, because they can learn and progress at their own speed with kids on their own level. While individual scrimmages or some drills might be split into leveled groups, all the social fun of camp (movie breaks, lunches, smoothie bar, video game breaks) is had by all, as a whole. This is perfect for the child whose friends are club athletes who doesn’t want to be left behind or miss out on that summer bonding with their buds.
On the same note, some high level young athletes are opting for sport camps over a full summer league to keep their skills on point. Most coaches see the value in their players getting exposure to other pros’ teaching methods (you can always ask your child’s coach for camp recommendations if you think it could be viewed as a loyalty conflict to their home program). This needing to break from year-round league play could be due to family travel plans that conflict with the commitment of a fulltime practice and game schedule, or simply needing a break for both their body and their brain.
“The unfortunate side effects of year around sports professionalization we’re seeing in some kids are emotional burn out and forced retirement due to injury. It’s the ultimate catch-22,” says Cooper.
For the less experienced athlete, this reality allows them an “in” for switching to a new sport or trying out for a team for the first time.
“Believe it or not, many elite youth athletes will not participate in sports by the end of their high school experience!” says Cooper. “Coaches know this, too. In order to fill their program, many high school coaches welcome less experienced athletes because they tend to be more enthusiastic, willing to learn and physically resilient. So encourage the high school sports experience! It’s not just for club athletes anymore.”
This is where a sport camp can be a perfect solution. The idea of going in for a fall tryout among their peers cold, without a firm grasp of the game, can be intimidating. They can get those jitters out in a casual setting, or perhaps even venture away from their home turf so that any embarrassment that comes with trying something new is experienced outside their social circle.
“If your child is worried about fitting in, have them do a little research on their future school’s sports programs to confirm that motivation, effort and interest are welcomed skills by the coaches. Testing out a sport during the summer in a fun and low pressure environment is a great opportunity to get feedback from coaches. Many high schools and local colleges will run summer clinics to give athletes and coaches an opportunity to test if they are a good fit to join next year’s team.”
So how do you find the fine line of encouraging your child and nudging them past insecurities, without forcing them into a situation that could damage their confidence?
“Bottom line, if starting a new sport with the intent to meet new people, get exercise and test the goodness of fit of an activity is appealing to your child, you’re in the clear. On the other hand, if you have a perfectionist prone student-athlete on your hand, it’s critical to their success that they have reasonable, positive and clear goals before jumping into something new. Consider this a teachable moment to create process goals in addition to outcome goals to increase the likelihood of sustainable self-esteem.”
Casey Cooper, Ph.D. has worked with athletes, their families and teams for over 15 years at college counseling centers (USC, UCLA, UCI) and in her private practice. Her clients include professional athletes from many leagues and sports including the NFL, NBA, PGA, and the USOC. Dr. Casey is married to her college sweetheart and has one daughter, who happens to be a competitive, teenage athlete. www.drcaseycooper.com
By Sascha Zuger