#93. If there’s a sport you enjoy, consider going to a sports camp this summer to fine-tune skills and make new friends

IDEA #93. If there’s a sport you enjoy, consider going to a sports camp this summer to fine-tune skills and make new friends

Sports camps come in all sizes and in all degrees of seriousness, from a couple of hours a day for beginners to invitational residential camps at which college coaches scout scholarship prospects. Some are camps with varied programs built around a particular sport, while some are essentially pre-season training experiences for committed varsity-level athletes. Some are inexpensive, even free, while others cost hundreds of dollars a week.

If a child is really interested in a particular sport and enjoys both the play and the camaraderie, a sports camp can be a way to support the interest while providing a positive personal experience. It’s important to be realistic when selecting a sports camp, however. Is the camp only for the super-talented, or is it intended for athletes of all levels? How committed is the child to the sport? Do you want your child to be pushed by drill-sergeant-like coaches for five days, or do you want the child to build on fundamental skills in order to take more satisfaction from recreational participation? Do you really believe that your child is a scholarship prospect, or would everyone be happier at some place a little less intense? How much is the child’s camp experience about fun and friend-making, and how much is it about developing killer moves in the sport? And then, of course, there’s the financial factor: Is the whole experience going to be worth the cost in dollars and time, including travel?

If the parents’ and child’s goals and assessment of needs and talent agree, then the choice of a camp should be relatively easy. Speak to the director to find out how serious the training regime might be. If you can contact other parents or guardians, get a sense of what the camp culture and atmosphere are like. Also check on health and safety: is there a trainer or a nurse on staff? What is the food like? Is there water always available for the campers?

The best part of a good sports camp is that the staff is able to break skills down so that young athletes actually understand what they are doing and how certain tactics and strategies work. Good athletes, after all, are able to envision and think about a game even as they play it, their mastery of basic skills so complete that their conscious minds are free to create new plays. Any experience that helps the truly interested young athlete approach this level of understanding might be well worth the time and effort.

As summer approaches, it’s probably a good time to start exploring camp options–locations, day-only or residential, overall programs, prices. It’s also good to have a couple of months’ lead time`for the child to look for ways–babysitting, odd jobs–to help defray the cost, thus raising his or her commitment level as stakeholders in their own experience.

#49. Find a sports league for younger children in your community and offer to help officiate or coach

IDEA #49. Find a sports league for younger children in your community and offer to help officiate or coach.

If a child has any interest in sports or athletics, one way of “giving back” to a community is through participation in youth sport programs–not as an athlete but as an official or coach. Little League baseball and town soccer in many places could scarcely exist but for the participation of teenage umpires and referees, and the experience of applying rules and making those difficult judgment calls can help prepare the young official for more difficult challenges in other fields.

Officiating presupposes a solid knowledge of both the sport and its rules, and moreover most programs that use non-adult officials offer some form of training; this no doubt includes advice on how to handle the occasional obstreperous player or parent. Even so, these young officials are usually dealt with quite decently by players and onlookers, as after all their presence makes play possible. Well-run leagues will continue to provide guidance for their younger officials throughout the season.

While adult coaching is the norm in most youth sport programs, a younger and skilled “assistant coach” can be a valuable asset to a team’s training regime, running drills or working one-on-one with players on particular skills. While the student-coach does not have to be a nonpareil athlete in the sport, a good skill base and, most importantly, an understanding of how skills can be broken down for teaching are essential.

The young official or coach gains unparalleled experience in exercising judgment and leadership; the fourteen-year-old who can manage a field full of scrumming eight-year-old soccer players is probably ready for most anything. And if that fourteen-year-old can confidently call balls, strikes, and outs, he or she may be set to take on the world.

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