Does your child aspire to be the next Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky or Vince Carter? If so, attending a sports camp may be a good way to hone skills during the summer months. These camps encourage physical fitness and improve athletic skills, enhance coordination and self-esteem, and teach valuable lessons in teamwork, sportsmanship, self-discipline, and hard work. And for many kids, spending an extended period of time doing the sport they are passionate about is sheer bliss.
But sports camps are not right for every child. The focus on a single activity can be quite intense with several hours of training at sleepover (residential) camps on top of watching sports videos or learning techniques such as visualization. Day camps often follow a similar, but shorter routine. For some children, the physical and psychological intensity is too much. Consider the following points when making a decicsion:
The Benefits of Sports Camps
The benefits of sports camps are many; children focus on a sport they love, improve skills and get into great physical shape. Many of these children develop into superb athletes and get to share their love of sport with equally passionate children and adults.
These camps also help children develop mental and physical stamina, discipline, confidence, and leadership. They also emphasize the importance of seeing a difficult task through to the end.
Foresight Solves Most Problems
The focus on one activity can lead to certain problems, many of which can be alleviated with some foresight.
- Overuse Injuries. One of the biggest concerns is repetitive overuse injuries. Because these children use the same parts of the body over and over, they may develop tennis elbow, jumper’s knee, or swimmer’s shoulder. These types of serious injuries are particularly troublesome for children because their bodies are still growing. Children’s skeletal and muscular systems are not fully developed and growing muscles, ligaments, and tendons are prone to injury. Growth plates (where bone growth occurs) are also susceptible to injury and can result in serious disability if not properly cared for. Make sure that coaches at the camp are aware of these problems and have comprehensive programs that address these issues.
- Poor Physical Condition. Children who are not in good physical condition may find the sudden demands of a full-time sports camp overwhelming. Not every child is prepared for the rigors of training and this could result in injury. Children should be in good physical condition and be well acclimated to the sport before they go.
- Exposure to Sun and Heat. Since most sports camps take place in the summer, heat, dehydration, and sun exposure can affect a child’s health. Children’s sweat glands are not adequately developed, so they cannot release heat efficiently from overworked muscles. Hydration is extremely important and many children tend to drink only when thirsty, which is not adequate. Remind your kids to hydrate before they start to play, to constantly drink liquids all day long, and to wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
- Overzealous Coaches. Most adults who run sports camps love kids and sports and create comfortable, constructive environments where kids thrive. However, some coaches are occasionally overzealous and create a stressful environment where children do not feel comfortable telling adults they need a break. Some injuries occur because coaches put too much pressure on children to perform at high levels, win at all costs, and to keep playing, even when hurt. Be sure to ask coaches if they will respect your children if they are experiencing pain, exhaustion, or dehydration. Avoid camps where coaches emphasize winning at all costs and “playing through the pain.”
Making a Decision
It might be a good idea to initially try a sports day camp. You can see how they enjoy focusing exclusively on one activity and how well they adapt to the physical demands. More important, it will give them an opportunity to decide if sports camps are helpful in gaining the skills they want to develop. If you are considering a sleepover camp, ask yourself the following:
- Has your child shown an interest? Not every child is up to or even wants to play a single sport.
- Is your child in good physical condition and well acclimated to the sport? His first experience with a sport should not be at a sports camp. Also, is your child sufficiently committed to the sport? Does he understand what a sports camp entails? If you have doubts, revert to a less demanding program.
If you do decide on a sports camp, consider the following:
- What is an appropriate length? Camps run from half-day sessions to three-week overnight stays. You should take into consideration the child’s age, his ambitions, his commitment to the sport, his overall physical condition, and his ability to stick with something demanding.
- How intense is the training? Some camps are more low-key than others and offer kids free time or a chance to swim in the afternoon. Some also continue training after dinner. Ask to see a daily schedule. Pay close attention to bedtime and wake-up time to be sure your child will be getting adequate sleep. You can also get a feel for the rigors of a camp by visiting when it is in session and talking to the camp director about his or her philosophy. A good camp paces children through each day and through the entire session. If children overdo it in the first days, they may not make it through the session. Coaches need to be flexible; compensating for weather and the physical and emotional needs of the children. They should also provide a variety of activities that let children know that it’s okay to do something weird and wacky occasionally.
- Is medical help available from trained personnel? Is there a trainer on-site at all times who can deal with minor injuries? Is ice always available to soothe minor injuries before swelling sets in? Is drinking water stressed – especially before they play – and readily available? Are camp personnel aware of the special physical and emotional problems children may encounter in an intense athletics program? Does the camp get children out of the heat and sun in the middle of the day?
- Is all the time spent working on the specific sport or is time allowed for stretching and warming up, general conditioning, and even strength training? The more varied the activities, the less likely a child will be injured because he won’t be using the same muscles constantly. Orthopedists also stress that moderate and properly supervised strength training can help a child reduce stress injuries by strengthening the surrounding muscles.
- Does the camp insist that children wear proper protective gear? Are the facilities and campgrounds safe and appropriate?
- Do camp personnel respect a child’s right to stop playing if he or she is experiencing pain, not feeling well, or is stressed by sun and heat?
- Is a healthy attitude toward the sport maintained? Camps should emphasize a relaxed atmosphere of competition, physical development, personal growth, and fun.