Summer Camps – Sorting Through the Weeds

Two years ago, I wrote an article on the various options available to kids for the summer.  I felt as though I’d revisit that topic, but specifically focus on Camps.  In my previous article, which you can read here, I focused on additional options like Games, Showcases, etc.  But, I feel that I need to help parents, and players, get a better understanding of how camps work.

Before diving into this any further; if you are the parent of a young player (age 6-12), and you are only interested in registering your son for a camp to keep them busy, then stop reading now!  This article is not for you.  I think, as a parent, we are always looking to keep our kids busy during the summer.  And if a camp serves that purpose, then have at it.  This article is for helping those parents or players that are looking for Baseball camps with the purpose to improve a player’s skills.

There are several key elements that I want to address regarding camps, which I outline below.  Please keep in mind that I have run, or been a part of Baseball Camps for the past 16 years.  So, these recommendations come with a vast experience from the other side, the Coach’s side.

Who are the Coaches

This one is HUGE!  You don’t need someone that has a great background in playing the game.  You need someone that has a great background in TEACHING the game.  A great player doesn’t always translate into a great teacher.  Unfortunately, you’ll see camp brochures tout a Coach’s playing background.  Look for a camp that has a coach, or coaches that have a successful resume in coaching.  If the brochure is speaking too much about the coach’s playing background, they simply haven’t done much on the coaching side.

Kid Coaches

Many Camps will employ High School, or College age kids as coaches.  I am not opposed to this; but don’t expect any great words of wisdom from these coaches.  They are typically there to fill out a supervisory role; maintain a respectable player to coach ratio; and are a cheaper alternative than hiring an adult coach.  Hopefully these “kid coaches” do their job, which is to keep players organized and actually working on their skills.  Unfortunately, you find MANY “kid coaches” that don’t know how to keep campers in line; so they decide to play around with the kids and forget about what they were brought into do, which is to keep the kids on task.  However, you don’t have this problem if your Camp Organizer, or senior level coaches do a good job of bouncing back and forth between stations.  And if the main coach is serious about their job, then they will make sure the “kid coaches” stay in line and enforce the rules of the camp.

Camp Agenda

One of the biggest challenges for Summer Camps, if not the biggest, is to fill 6-7 hours a day for 5 days.  The agenda of the camp really says a lot about the true meaning behind the camp.  A camp filled with competitions and games are camps that aren’t truly geared towards improving the skills of the players.  They are simply looking to get through the 6-7 hours as quickly as possible.  Having a competition of who can throw a ball into a bucket provides no real value.  I can have the worst throwing form but still get lucky and hit a target.  I’ve seen this happen and I’ve seen coaches reward the player.  They are then reinforcing bad habits.  Competitions aren’t all bad; just as long as they are done in a way to promote good technique.  Playing games each day is also another “go-to” for Camp Organizers that are trying to pass the time.  And kids usually love playing games.  So, it helps both sides.  I’m not completely against games; but games should be organized in a way that teaches the players.  Start with runners on particular bases.  Stop the game when a teachable moment comes up.  There are plenty of ways to play games while incorporating proper training.

The Eye Test

I’ve seen a LOT of lessons, camps, clinics, etc over the past 16 years.  And it has become quite easy to see when coaches truly care and when they are simply there to collect registration fees.  Let’s not beat around the bush, coaches/organizations make a LOT of money off camps.  For colleges, it is the main source of income for most Assistant Coaches around the country (and for many Head Coaches as well).  I’m always looking at a Coach’s energy.  Are they jogging from station to station?  Are they moving quickly to make sure equipment is set up?  Are they spending time making small talk with the players?  Does a 9:30 camp start at 9:30, or does it start at 9:45?  The truly great coaches stand out.  You look at them, and you know they care.  They want so badly for kids to learn the technique that you see the excitement from them when a kid finally executes a skill.  You see them helping the kids pick up balls to make sure everything gets picked up so they can move on to another drill.  You see them make a point to start on time because they have a plan; and starting even 5 minutes later will throw them off.  You can simply see that they care.

There are so many options out there for parents that it is too difficult to do your research prior to enrolling in a camp.  My recommendation is to simply reach out to your friends or even your son’s current coach to find out what they recommend, and why.    Ask plenty of questions and be sure to ask the most important question, “Do the coaches at the camp have a genuine interest in improving every player?”  Don’t be surprised if the person you ask gets stumped because its a question not enough people ask.  But, think about it, why would you ever sign your kid up for a camp if the coach doesn’t have a genuine interest in improving the skills of your son?

Best of luck to you all in your search this summer; and we’re always interested in hearing about player experiences at camps, both good and bad.