As many of you know, one thing that drives me crazy is people who tar an entire segment of something based on the bad behavior of a select few. Lest we forget, not ALL parents of kids in sports are ‘Sports Kids Moms and Dads‘. So, lets just say I wasn’t thrilled to see Jamie Trecker talk about summer soccer camps and decree

the idea that these soccer camps help kids become better players is a very dubious proposition at best and at least unproven by the performances of current American soccer players. They also can be harmful.


Speaking purely about soccer (we can’t comment on other sports), the majority of these summer soccer camps don’t seem to provide much benefit. It’s clear that the vast majority of them are NOT developing better players

Wow. What have I been sending my kids to?

Jamie’s post is an across the board thrashing of summer soccer camps and was in response to a recent New York Times article that talked about the growing number of sports summer camps and how some camps (and parents) were going over the top. The article has a reporter talking with some parents who just have to send Johnny to camp to ‘gain that edge’ and ‘make varsity’. Cue the sports doctor worried about kids aggravating injuries. No kid should go to camp hurt and any parent that does needs to be smacked, but you don’t do away with camps to prevent a few overzealous parents from doing the wrong thing. Jamie adds to it with a reference to an earlier post where kids at camp were found to be dehydrated:

research conducted by University of Connecticut professor Doug Casa (you can see the full piece in our archive for June) indicated that 75% of the players his team tested at youth sports camps were dehydrated. Twenty-five percent of them met the clinical benchmark for "serious" dehydration, which can lead to long-term organ and cardio-vascular damage.

Jamie. Dude. Sensationalize much? And by the way, you do not have to "make stuff up" to sensationalize. You simply leave out important context.

Am I the only one who read that passage thinking that the summer camps were abusing the kids and not giving them enough to drink? You too? Well if you read the actual study report, you find the kids were dehydrated before they got to camp and even though the camps provided plenty of water and sports drinks as well as frequent water breaks and encouragement to drink, the kids simply didn’t didn’t drink enough:

Casa, who studied children at summer soccer camps in Pennsylvania, found that two-thirds of the campers were significantly dehydrated before they even started practice.

This puts them at risk for serious heat-related illnesses, he says.

"Even though water and sports drinks were readily available, frequent rest breaks were provided, and coaches encouraged the kids to drink, the children didn’t drink adequate amounts of fluid," Casa says. "They were more focused on having fun, socializing, and relaxing during their rest breaks.

Paints a somewhat different picture, no? It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed by all summer camps, no question, and should serve as a heads up to all coaches and parents that kids aren’t getting enough to drink. But let’s keep things in perspective. (I will give Jamie a hat tip for linking to a recent US Soccer hydration guide in a previous post about hydration – all coaches and parents should read it.)

Beyond the hydration issue, Jamie includes a quote about the lack of benefit and the financial incentive of coaches to run camps.

some coaches (we ran a piece quoting University of Connecticut’s Ray Reid and former Manchester United player Gordon Hill back in January of this year) feel that some of these camps do little to help breed any sort of talent. Reid, who also runs camps, said to us in January: "I think too many people look at camps as a way to make money but they don’t take care of the product."

The problem here is there is no data to back ANY of this up, just anecdotal quotes from a coach. Look at this statement again:

the majority of these summer soccer camps don’t seem to provide much benefit. It’s clear that the vast majority of them are NOT developing better players

How does he know that? Can you really look at the performance of the USMNT, like he did in an earlier passage, and extrapolate that summer camps aren’t teaching core skills? How do you even reach that conclusion? Common sense would say players exposed to high school or collegiate coaches for a week are going to benefit from it.

Since we’re going to go the statistically insignificant route, let me share some of my experiences with summer soccer camps.

My eldest son attends two camps during the summer, one at Duke University, and another run by Challenger Sports where they bring college age players from Britain to the US to run a well honed program at camps across the country. My daughter also attends two, one run by Rainbow Soccer, and then the Challenger Camp.

First, the main incentive for us as parents is not for the kids ‘to get better’. It’s to have some fun doing something they love. It gets them out of the house, away from things like the TV, GameBoy, etc. and onto a field for some exercise. Beyond that, of course, you want your child to get better and in our case, these camps have done wonders for them. Maybe we just got lucky.

Just like anything else you pay for, if you don’t do your research, you’re liable to end up with an inferior product. One of the nice things about Duke’s camp is it is not all soccer all the time. The kids swim, watch movies, and do other activities during the day to break things up. They have trainers on hand all day to ensure the kids are taken care of, from cuts and bruises to proper hydration. To cool the kids down they had huge water cannons that used to be used to water the fields that they would crank up for a bit. As for the soccer training, our son responded to it with gusto. His core skills improved each day and they got them doing fun moves like the helicopter or the Cruyff turn as well. He absorbed and learned more in a week at Duke than I could teach him in an entire season. He is exposed to both collegiate coaches and players who can provide insights his volunteer parent coach (me) never could.

Our daughter wasn’t as extroverted as her older brother, so we looked to find a lower intensity camp and found it at Rainbow. The camp was small and run by a group of youth coaches. Core skills were the focus and our daughter loved the low key atmosphere where they had fun. The small group ensured she got lots of attention from the coaches. She would be so excited to go back each day and she did improve her ball skills, without question.

As for the Challenger camp, we’ve had much success with it. You would think a camp run by a company that runs camps nationwide would be some type of factory. Not in our experience. Again, it is not just a "let’s learn these skills and drill, drill, drill." The kids love the coaches they bring over, from the accents and mannerisms they aren’t used to, to seeing them play soccer with ease. Kids are broken up into World Cup teams and given homework to learn about their ‘country’. After the skills training, the teams play scrimmages as part of the Camp ‘World Cup’, which they really get into on the final day, wearing shirts and waving flags they made. After each scrimmage the coaches give bonus points to individual players who may have given extra effort or shown off a new move. And yes, the younger kids get just as much recognition as the older ones. Oh and the kids improved their core skills significantly during the week via drills many of our coaches hadn’t encountered before (we took lots of notes!) To ensure quality and a smooth camp, our regional director from Challenger was on the phone to me at least three times during the week to make sure everything was running smoothly. As the British coaches loved to say when kids executed a skill, it was ‘Well Done!’

Now in fairness, my kids are younger. I’m sure the overnight camps are more intensive. I expect most kids 13 on up attending them are striving to play on school teams or select teams. If that is their desire, a week of intensive training in the middle of a 3 month summer break seems like a good thing.

So what does all this prove? Nothing, expect that summer camps CAN be excellent programs that kids enjoy and benefit from. Are there bad camps out there? Yes and they should end up shutting down from lack of customers. Are there parents who run their kids ragged enrolling them in too many activities? Yes, but eliminating summer camps won’t change that. Are camps expensive? Many of them are, but many also have financial aid available. Does this mean camps should be eliminated? No.

Touching on that financial aspect a second. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that Jamie felt summer camps weren’t worth going to and in the same breath was concerned that inner city kids couldn’t attend them because of cost. I mean which is it? If they aren’t benefiting the players, why worry if inner city kids can go? There is NO question that summer camps are expensive, especially the better ones. However, all youth soccer leagues should have a scholarship program. Even if it’s just one scholarship, it can make a difference. The financial disparities of youth soccer need to be addressed, but summer camps aren’t the only thing presenting a cost barrier. I think it would be nice to see state and national soccer associations subsidizing camp programs in inner cities. That could have a wider impact.

The right summer camp can be a very significant event in a child’s life. They can learn more than just a sport’s skill and are exposed to very talented coaches who can teach them new things that their volunteer youth coaches may not know about. They can make new friends, learn about teamwork, and above all HAVE FUN. In the end that is the key. If I send my kid to summer camp and they have fun in a safe environment, that’s all that matters. It’s up to me as a parent to find them the camp that will teach them something while they’re having fun.

Believe it or not, US Youth Soccer agrees.

camps are good at a young age is helping develop well-rounded athletes. Going away to camp, away from home, to a University is so important on getting the message across about collegiate athletics at an early age. Far too often parents are afraid to send their kids to camp because they think they aren’t ready to be on their own yet. A well-supervised and run camp is extremely beneficial.

That last phrase is key. well supervised and run. They go on to talk about a number of benefits, including one I wanted to highlight:

In sports, far too many kids become stale and drop out because they aren’t having anymore fun. Camps provide a different environment for the athlete to train in and many times this new scenery can spark their interest and keep them motivated.

This has been my experience. I have had a number of parents talk to me about how their child was a little bored with soccer and after going to summer camp was totally energized and excited about soccer. The real problem needing to be addressed is why the child was bored in the first place, and often it is due to a volunteer coach who hasn’t had enough training in keeping his/her players excited. If you send a kid to camp and they get jazzed about the sport, even if they don’t learn a single new skill, they’ve possibly fallen in love with the game and will work to learn more during the season. How can that be bad?

If we want to talk about why kids get bored with soccer or why they aren’t learning core skills, focusing on summer camps isn’t the thing to do. You need to address the fact that MOST kids below the age of 10 are coached by parent volunteers, many of whom desperately need training. But that’s another article.

The main point here is making blanket statements about how camps are worthless and expensive doesn’t help anyone. A week at camp is not going to turn little Johnny into Pele, but it can teach them new skills while also exposing them to new friends, places, and situations, helping them be well rounded kids. Sounds beneficial to me. The New York Times article tried to balance the crazy parent forcing Johnny into a three week camp to ‘keep an edge’ with the more balanced statements from coaches who said they could clearly tell the kids who had been at camp and how they had improved.

Jamie’s sensational post had none of that balance which is unfortunate. At the very least he could have suggested what type of program he thought would turn out better players.