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The Score: Sports Camps

Local camps build skills in young athletes

Not every kid can be a phenom, Mo’Ne Davis–style. But the breadth and depth of the area’s dedicated sports camps let every kid be a team player, expanding the field of possibility for young athletes of all levels and abilities.

With their committed focus on football or baseball or tennis or lacrosse or golf or cheerleading or hockey or name-your-physical-pursuit, these camps laser in on a given sport in a way traditional camps with a wider activity roster can’t. While beginners learn the basics to figure out if a specific sport piques their interest, intermediate and advanced players use the experience to develop their talent and see how the activity fits into their future.

Beginner athletes: Rookie reasons to go

Summer, camp directors say, is an ideal time to try a new sport because it lets kids focus all of their energy on the activity — and gauge how they feel about it afterward. “Campers get a chance to eat, breathe, live and sleep it,” says Kate Thomas, owner of Delaware Valley Fencers Club in West Conshohocken, PA, which offers weeklong day sessions for 9- to 16-year-olds. Coaches break down each aspect of the sport into several small games so newcomers can understand the motives behind each move.

Another incentive to testing out a new activity in a camp format is that sessions for beginners typically put more focus on learning the game’s fundamentals than on winning. “The important thing is that campers are in a league with kids who are competitive but not overwhelmingly so, making it a fun, positive experience,” says Todd Landrey, executive director of Sixers Camps, which hosts beginner-oriented basketball day sessions throughout the Delaware Valley, as well as an overnight camp for more advanced players. Coaches, Landrey explains, enforce several rules that ensure all kids get equal playing time.

The minimal commitment of a dedicated sports camp is advantageous for parents, too: Summer sports programs tend to run in brief increments, spanning just a few days or a week. So the enrollment fee and equipment costs are often much lower than those required by teams or leagues that last several months.

Intermediate athletes: Rec leaguers step up

For kids who want to get more involved with a sport, practicing at camp can fortify their bond with the activity. “What really happens for us is that kids who already have knowledge of fencing come out of camp with a much stronger understanding of it,” Thomas says. “Feeling like you’re good at something is a great way to want to keep doing it.”

The experience may also help kids decide if they want to commit more seriously to the sport. “Campers who are in that middle-age range see players who are really into it and committed, and they can consider, ‘Do I want to be like them someday?’” says Joanna Johnson, director of NXTsports summer camps at the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA.

Many sports camps employ pro and collegiate coaches who have firsthand experience training talented players. “They know what to look for in kids, what to point out, so they can give them a good sense of what it takes to get to that next level,” Johnson says.

Advanced athletes: Varsity players face off

One of the most vital aspects of sports camp for skilled athletes is competing with other players at their level — or higher. “To improve their game, kids need more competition,” Landrey asserts. “They need to be challenged and play with athletes who are older than them or outside of their community.”

Thomas agrees: “It’s a good opportunity, because bigger kids are going to have to know how to hit small targets, and smaller kids need to know how to be fearless against bigger competitors.”

Besides skill development, she adds, camp emphasizes the importance of collaboration in sports at any skill level. “Kids learn how to work within a group. You want your teammates to be better because that’s how you get stronger.”

Freelance writer Cheyenne Shaffer contributes frequently to MetroKids.

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