As our league has grown, we really wanted to be able to provide our kids with some soccer opportunities in the area. Last year we held a weekend mini camp for our registered players that was run by some local school coaches and officiating folks for the county. We had a great turnout and the kids had a lot of fun. But looking ahead, it was clear the parents were looking for something longer term (i.e. a week) and with more intensive instruction. So we wanted to explore what it would take to do a longer camp.
Late last year, by pure chance, our league president met someone in a local restaurant who was involved with an outfit called Challenger Sports. They organize soccer camps nationwide which are run by players and coaches brought over from Britain. Its a nice setup for smaller leagues like ours which may not have the depth of coaches available to put an entire camp together. They also do camps in bigger cities as well where the administration can be daunting. So after checking with some area leagues that had already used Challenger for their camps and had been very happy with them, we reserved a date.
They take care of registration (which can be done online or via a local coordinator) and every camper gets a ball and T-shirt. They have a set price per player and the league can set a slightly higher price to use the camp as a fund raiser. Players who register online more than 45 days before the camp also get a British style soccer jersey which the kids really liked. The coaches they bring in stay with host families for the week, and take care of all the soccer related activities. The ratio they seem to shoot for is about 1 coach for every 20 players, though it also depends on the breakdown of campers to camp sessions. Our local league provided some organizational support (registration tent and table, air compressor to blow up all the balls, first aid kits, water coolers for kids to refill water bottles, etc.) Kids are expected to brown bag lunch so we got a couple large coolers to store the lunches in. We also decided to provide lunch a couple days. We had pizza the first day and are having our coaches association, which runs our concession stand, do a hot dog lunch on Thursday.
They have 4 different types of camp which run in parallel. A First Kicks program for 3 and 4 year olds, a Mini Soccer program for 2 hours in the morning, morning and afternoon half day sessions, and a full day advanced session. This gives parents some options for their child based on their skill level, interest, ability to handle the hot sun, etc.
So its the second day of camp and I can say we are very happy with the camp so far. The kids they brought in for us are wonderful and have really gotten the kids excited about soccer. The kids love their British accents, of course, and the coaches try to work in tidbits of information about various aspects of European soccer and the teams. They group the kids with team names like Manchester United, Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea, etc. Last night they asked the kids to go home and Google for information on the team they were a part of and to find unique tidbits of information about their team. The kids loved it – some even wrote little half page reports about them. So its more than just drills and scrimmages. And after each scrimmage, they rest for a bit and the coaches point out players who did a special thing, worked extra hard, and talking about what they learned, etc.
So overall we’re very happy. We had 120 kids sign up with almost 50 staying for the full day, which was way beyond our expectations for a town our size and this being our first major summer camp. The kids are having a ball.
So we’re happy we were able to give our kids a local camp opportunity much earlier than we thought we’d be able to. If you’re looking for some help to offer a camp in your area, check out what Challenger Sports has to offer. I’m sure there are other groups doing similar things, we just happened to encounter Challenger first and have been impressed by their program.
UPDATE: Just a little followup. As I noted above, we let parents drop their kids off up to an hour before the camp started to ease the burden on working parents. We generally had 20 or 30 kids show up early each morning. The first few days of camp, the early birds would run to the playground, chase each other on the fields, sit and chat, throw mulch at each other, etc. But a clear indication of how much fun they’ve been having was apparent this morning (Thursday – Camp Day #4) When about 20 kids had arrived early on, they started playing a scrimmage. Not just a ‘chase the ball’ scrimmage, but a real, ‘you play this position’ and ‘lets try these new concepts we learned’ scrimmage with absolutely NO intervention or encouragment from parents or coaches. They just did it on their own because they wanted to play and try out what they had been learning. And it wasn’t just the older kids – EVERY kid who showed up early was on that field from the 6 year olds to the 12 year olds and all were having a ball. I thought that was just outstanding and a testament to how well the camp had been going so far.