Choosing the right summer sports camp can be tough — there are so many options! How do you narrow them down to find that one great camp experience? Here are a few things to consider as you ponder the vast assortment of camps listed in these pages.
Follow their passion
Let your child’s interests be your guide, suggests Kaiulani Gilbert, a certified athletic trainer with Seattle Children’s hospital’s sports medicine department and an athletic trainer for Nathan Hale High School. Start by asking your child questions such as “What’s your favorite PE activity?” Additionally, consider whether your child likes individual sports (such as swimming) or is more social and likes team sports (such as soccer). “See what they gravitate toward,” says Gilbert. “Do they enjoy kicking a ball, playing on the monkey bars, running or swimming? Based on their interests, you can guide them to the right sport.”
Once you’ve determined your son is into soccer, say, talk to the parents of other soccer-crazy kids, says Sybil Keane, Ph.D., a New Jersey clinical psychologist and parenting expert for justanswer.com. Their advice could send you in a direction you might not otherwise consider. “I sent one of my children to hockey camp after listening to parents speak highly of the program,” says Keane. “It was far away from home — and worth every penny. He had a wonderful hockey experience and made a lot of friends.”
Evaluate the camp
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few camps, take a close look at the programs. “Look for camps that focus on fun, skill development, safety and sportsmanship,” says Gilbert. “These camps should have an understanding of childhood development and tailor activities accordingly. The camps should have short practices, frequent changes in activities, multiple sport interaction and smaller/lighter equipment, increased goal size, and bright colors to help with visual tracking.
“The camps should focus on fun, have an overall goal of creating lifelong active individuals and emphasize self-esteem.”
Gilbert recommends that parents consider camps that offer a variety of sport activities. “Camps that offer a variety of themed activities are excellent for children who have limited attention spans and developmental skills. Elementary-age kids do better with multiple activities and shortened practice sessions.”
Even for kids who have shown promise in a particular sport, Gilbert says it’s best to focus on encouraging the child to learn a variety of activities. “Regardless of age and skill level, children need to experience a variety of sports to become lifelong active individuals,” she says. Remember, the goal of having a child attend sports summer camps is to develop skills as well as an overall habit of staying healthy and active, says Gilbert. Camps that offer a mixture of sports are great for newly active children.
“Pick a camp that has both indoor and outdoor facilities,” suggests Keane. “Day camps for a particular sport are often run by organizations that employ ‘elite’ players. These camps are usually held outside only, which means there is no place to go in case of rain. They may have use of the bathroom facilities in a public area.” Gilbert also suggests parents examine coach credentials before selecting a camp, and make sure instructors have first aid and CPR training.
If you’re looking for camps for multiple weeks this summer, consider signing your child up for two completely different programs, suggests Gilbert. “The key with summer camp experiences is to help provide a variety of opportunities for children to learn and grow,” she says. “The best scenario is allowing a child to pick out a sports camp and an activity camp — such as soccer and painting. Both camps provide opportunities for the child to grow, learn, have fun, gain confidence and become a more well-rounded, healthy individual.”
Don’t overdo it
Even if you’ve done your research, it’s possible you’ll still find that your child’s camp is not a good fit. Rhode Island elementary PE teacher and author Chris Carr suggests parents watch for “red flags,” which may include having too much or not enough down time, not enough equipment to go around, too many injuries, or a child not wanting to return the next day or coming home overly tired or frustrated. Watch out for camps that pile it on too thick for your child’s age and ability.
“Most of these kids need an outlet to reduce stress,” says Carr, “but when kids are overworked, the opposite effect can result, leaving the child exhausted. A half-day camp is a wonderful option, especially in the heat of the summer. Two and a half hours of activity is ideal.”
Remember that kids need to take time off from sports to avoid injuries, says Gilbert, and that includes summer sports camps. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young athletes need one to two days off a week from sport participation and competition to avoid injury and burnout.
It’s a proven fact that kids who play sports grow up healthier, happier and even more successful in school — upsides that go well beyond the obvious boost in fitness, strength and flexibility. “Sports provide an opportunity to increase self-esteem, gain confidence in physical movement and help promote healthy lifestyle choices,” says Gilbert. “Children can learn how to work within a team and become leaders.”
Kathleen F. Miller’s daughter prefers to spend her summer horseback riding, swimming and practicing archery, while her son enjoys soccer and basketball camps.