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The sports camp decision

Which type of program is right for your child?

Courtesy of the American Camp Association, New York & New Jersey

 “Sports camps” can range from places where kids of all ages enjoy physical activities to intense boot camps in a specific sport. Research is the key to choosing the right sports camp for your child, and the sooner you start, the better. Camp directors advise parents and campers to investigate several camps before choosing.

What is the goal?

“If they want to spend their entire summer playing tennis every single day, that’s great and there’s a camp for that,” says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. “If they want to have a more general experience but they are very sporty, there is also a camp for that.”

Introducing younger kids to many sports allows them to find out what they like best. “Our day camp for 8- to 12-year-olds has 35-minute sessions where they are going to get tennis lessons, swim, play basketball, Wiffle ball, soccer and other sports,” explains Dave Szaroleta, director of Sanford Camps in Hockessin, DE. After an introduction, many campers join one of the weeklong Sanford programs devoted to a particular sport.

Questions for sports camps

• How much time will be devoted to a particular sport?

• What other activities will be offered?

• Will games be played during the day and at night?

• Will all campers receive equal playing and coaching time?

• Are parents allowed to visit or attend games?

• What is the quality of the coaching staff?

• What are the facilities like?

• What happens in rainy weather or excessive heat?

Area colleges offer a variety of sports camps. Some appeal to varsity-level high school athletes. “Most of our coaches are going to run at least one camp during the summer where they might find a diamond in the rough or the type of kid they may be interested in recruiting down the road,” says Mike Mahoney, director of athletic communications at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to camp type, you must decide how many weeks to enroll your child and whether a day or residential camp is best. Costs can range from $200 a week to $10,000 for the summer.

Talk to the directors

It’s best to visit the camp the summer before your child will be enrolled, so you can actually see it in progress. Talk to the director about your child’s interests and abilities. When you find the right fit, don’t delay. “There are limits on how many people can get into the camps,” Mahoney points out.

If you aren’t able to plan a year ahead, “many directors will come and do a home visit,” says Lupert. “They will show you a slide show and speak directly with your child about what the expectations are of the camp.”

Mistakes parents make

Be sure your child is included in the decision-making and knows what to expect. Lupert cautions, “We have spoken to families who sent a child to a certain camp because they thought their kid was really into sports,” but the camp was more competitive or difficult than the child expected.

It’s also important to think about how independent your child is and, especially for residential camps, how comfortable he will be on his own. For some children, going away with a friend is an easier experience than being alone. “Age is irrelevant,” says Lupert. “It really is about the maturity of your child.” 

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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