Date: February 1, 2012
Many young athletes choose to spend part of their summers and school breaks participating in sports camps to improve their skills and work toward the next level of play. Triangle families have access to hundreds of sports camps — from sports-specific to all-sports to agility training — so determining how and where your athlete should spend his time (and your money) can be overwhelming.
Focus on fundamentals
Some children show a natural inclination toward one particular sport early in their development, while others need exposure to several different sports to determine their best fit. This is where an all-sports camp can help.
"At younger ages, exposing kids to a variety of activities is a great way to find what interests them most," says Penny Gordon-Larsen, associate professor of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill, Gillings School of Global Public Health. "Trying a variety of team sports and individual sports is also important to see what types of sports fit best."
Coach Greg Moss, a sports performance trainer and mental training sports coach at a training facility in Durham, encourages parents to let younger kids explore different sports while being watchful of what piques their interest. "I believe the all-sports camps are great for younger players, 10 to 12, which keeps playing fun," he says. "Get them out there to try different sports."
All-sports camps typically expose campers to a wide variety of athletic pursuits that focus on fundamentals in a fun and noncompetitive environment. These camps teach new skills and offer athletes a break from the repetition and rigor of their sport's regular season practices and games.
Max Floyd, director of an all-sports camp for 6- to 12-year-olds on the campus of Wake Forest University, offers campers the chance to try swimming, flag football, racquetball, softball, basketball, archery and more. He and his staff teach the basics of each sport and encourage campers to try everything to determine which one clicks.
"Sports is something for everybody, not just the chosen few," Floyd says. "This is what P.E. class was supposed to be years ago."
Perfecting the game
According to a study by America Sports Data Inc., 69 percent of parents want their children to play only one sport, and that number rises to 79 percent of parents with children between 6 and 8 years old. Once a child does find her niche, the next step is to enroll her in a sports-specific camp.
"For those players who have tried different sports and now have settled on one specific sport to concentrate on, there is much to gain," Moss says.
Kevin Nunley, executive director of NetWorks Basketball in Raleigh, a year-round basketball training organization, offers a summer basketball boot camp for fifth graders to college players, as well as player development camps and year-round clubs.
"We're sort of like a tutor," Nunley says. "You want to get better at basketball, you come see us."
He and his staff work with players of all skill levels — from younger kids who just want to play neighborhood ball to high-schoolers who dream of a spot on the school team. By age 14, Nunley says he sees more kids choosing "the" sport for them and getting serious about it.
"Older kids usually have an idea," he says. "They've decided basketball is something they want to do."
Typically, by the time a child finds her way to an organization that focuses on only one sport, she knows it's something she wants to do and puts most of her energy into improving and competing.
Amanda Brandquist, 14, was part of a recreational volleyball league when one of her coaches encouraged her to try out for North Carolina Volleyball Academy, a year-round volleyball organization in Durham that offers training programs and competitive play in addition to youth, classic, elite and track-out camps.
"She hated it at first. It was working her really hard," admits mom Nancemarie. But after the first hour, she says Amanda got in the groove and has been playing and perfecting her skills there for more than four years through camps and clinics.
Brandquist, a high school freshman, usually plays the setter position and is on the volleyball court almost year-round, donning uniforms for both Apex High School and North Carolina Volleyball Academy. She continues to sharpen her skills by attending camps and clinics across the country throughout the year.
Speed, power, agility and fun
Once kids start participating in sports-specific camps, the intensity tends to go up, Moss says. "The game changes and the competition can create stress and burnout," he says.
One way to help prevent burnout while improving specific skills or fundamentals is by introducing your child to a speed or agility camp, says Jed Hartigan, owner and sports performance director at Velocity Sports Performance in Charlotte. Experienced coaches and former professional players help athletes of all ages — from 8 years through adult — improve speed, power and agility at these day camps.
Hartigan and his staff teach young athletes how to move their bodies in not only the most proficient manner, but also as safely as possible to try to prevent injuries. "We work on increasing mobility and flexibility, and teaching children how to run properly," Hartigan says.
Year-round classes and programs include pre- and post-athletic evaluations and can be tailored to specific goals for most any sport — from improving running or swimming times to lifting more weight or moving more efficiently on the field.
No matter the sport or competition level, getting kids active is always a positive outcome. "Encouraging kids to be active is most important — whatever the sport they seem interested in," Gordon-Larsen says. "Steering kids away from TV and electronic devices and towards active pursuits is important." n
Courtney McLaughlin is a freelance writer in Charlotte.
Before You Choose a Sports Camp
5 questions for parents
Whether your child is trying to decide what sport to choose or aspires to go professional, parents must arm themselves with knowledge about what different sports camps offer. Seth Shambley, camp director at Dreamsports Center in Apex, an indoor sports facility offering multisports camps, leagues and instructional programs, encourages parents to ask themselves these important questions:
1. Is this something my child wants to do, or something I want my child to do?
2. Has my child found a sport in which he or she excels?
3. Has my child expressed an interest in developing skills in one specific sport?
4. What suits our family lifestyle best?
5. Am I listening to what my child really wants to do?