Traditional Sports Camps vs Small Group Clinics – A Coach Perspective

Amazing, summer is upon us and after a really busy sports season, coaches, parents and players are now preparing for summer camps! Camps have traditionally provided athletes a way to improve their skills and conditioning in a large group setting. Kids participate in soccer camps, lacrosse camps, basketball camps, tennis camps, football camps, volleyball camps, speed and agility camps….. The list is endless.

But are camps worth the money? Are parents just placing their children in camps because it is what they have always done, it gives them something to do, and removes the child’s boredom at home?

I am a coach and also a co-founder at StriveFar. I believe that small group sport training/clinics are more effective if your child wants to improve at the their chosen sport.

Camps have traditionally been an integral part of the summer experience. Kids looking to improve at their sport and build their strength and conditioning now have a better option – Small Group Training.

Small Group Training:

  • Group Size: 2 – 8 athletes
  • Duration: 1 – 2 Hours
  • Focus: Specific sport, curriculum based on athlete’s needs

Note: Many coaches will also incorporate strength and conditioning

Small group training is the same price per hour as camps. So what are the differences and which makes the most sense for your athletes?

Let’s explore the sporting camp world from a coaches’ perspective and see how it compares to small group training.

(1) Big Camp Atmosphere

There’s no doubt that camps are fun for the kids and coaches. They’re high energy, lots of activity, lots of socializing and plenty of great memories. I’ve always enjoyed coaching camps as I get to meet lots of new children and families.   Seeing the kids have a lot of fun is very rewarding.

(2) Curriculum

As a coach I’m often given a curriculum to work from and activities to demonstrate and to teach. This makes my life super easy and lets my mind turn off to a certain extent as I’m being told what to do each day. The curriculum does not change or vary, so throughout the summer I am teaching the exact same drills. Easy for me, not so great for the kids who master the drill or concept and want to progress to the next level.

(3) Opportunity to Coach

One frustrating part of camps is that I often feel like I’m baby-sitting, not coaching. Sometimes the kids don’t want to be there and I’m not sure how much proper coaching is going on. Often, it is more organizing children to go from one activity to the next.

As soon as I talk about how to improve a technique or skill, I often get the look of ‘Why are you telling me that? I’m just here to play!’. Having said that, some kids look at me and love that I’m coaching them, but the surprise on their face tells me that this hasn’t happened before – which is very worrying! A classic case of coaches organizing (telling kids what to do), and not coaching (telling kids how to improve).

This is the nature of the camps market, which I understand. To a certain extent coaches realize they’re going into summer camps knowing they’re glorified babysitters. And so do the parents and kids.

THE ALTERNATIVE: SMALL GROUP TRAINING

In small group training, your child gets some friends together and employs a coach to actually coach them for consecutive mornings/afternoons. Price is usually anywhere from $10 – $20 an hour for a very experienced coach.

Here are the main differences between camps and small group coaching:

(1) Tailored Curriculum

Most camps have the same curriculum each year. It has to be a very general curriculum because there will a huge spectrum of abilities within the camp. This means there will be a lot of children that find the activities either too easy or too hard. Also, it means that each year they come back to the camp, they do the same things every single day. Am I coaching or organizing?

With small group coaching you’re dealing with one coach. You tell the coach what the groups wants to focus on and because the children will likely be the same ability level, there will be no child who has it too easy or too hard. The activities and drills are specialized for the personalities and abilities of the players in the group. Not one size fits all.

(2) Accountability

I’ll be completely honest. When I do summer camps, there is no way that I put in as much effort and thought, as I do when I do small group trainings. Partly because I’m the only coach and it’s on me to make it as good as it can be, but also because at the camps I’m told what to do and I don’t have as much ownership or accountability as I do when it’s just me.

Small group training there is nowhere to hide! I HAVE to make it as good as it can be when I ‘m on my own, so this improves my coaching performance. Result for the players – more enthusiastic, energetic and motivated coaches. My purpose is to improve each athlete in the group, make them a better player, and if I am successful it translates to 5 star reviews and more bookings.

(3) Amount of Feedback

When I coach at camps, I usually have a group of around 15 players. This isn’t a terrible coaching ratio and I can still get some individual pointers in there now and again, but with a small group session of 2-6 players, the amount of feedback that I give to each person quadruples. This has a huge impact on the players and you’re able to affect their performance much more positively than you would with 15 players.

My feedback is constant. I don’t have to worry about group organization and shepherding, as my proximity to each player is much closer and the thoughts of behavioral issues/motivation issues will never come into it. A private coach is so on top of every child in the small group. With 15 or so, you just don’t have enough eyes!

Overall, I would suggest the following pro’s and con’s for camps and small groups:

CAMPS

Pros

  • Social
  • Fun
  • High Energy
  • Make new friends

Cons

  • Coaches not as motivated
  • High Group numbers (basically same as team coaching)
  • Little individual feedback
  • General Curriculum
  • Repetitive Curriculum year after year
  • Lack of creativity

SMALL GROUP TRAINING

Pros

  • Pricing per hours is similar to camps
  • Motivated and accountable coaches
  • Triple the amount of individual feedback
  • Tougher drills and skill progress as the athletes progress
  • Tailored and varied curriculum
  • Playing with athletes with the same skill level & ability

Cons

  • There is not the ‘Big Camp’ atmosphere and environment

In summary, as a coach who has run and coached both camps and small group sessions, I would suggest this:

  • If you want a fun, social environment where the child will be playing the sport of your choice, then camps offer a great opportunity for that.
  • If you want a personalized curriculum, individualized attention and want to see a huge and quick improvement in the athlete’s ability level, then small group training would be better suited for you.

At roughly the same price per hour, a camp vs. small group coaching is certainly something to think about for this summer!

Here is an example of a basketball camp in Colorado. What defines advanced player? How many coaches will be at the camp? How does your athlete progress if the other athletes are not as “advanced”?

$200 per player

12 Total hours = $17.00/hour

40 players at the camp

Nexxt Level U and Just Play Sports will present the Colorado GameChanger Skill Development Camp at Gold Crown Field House on August 7th & 8th, 2017 from 9:00am-3:30pm.  Open to both boys and girls in high school and advanced 6th/7th/8th grade boys and girls.  Limited to only 40 players.  Cost is $200. 12 hours of intense basketball and athletic performance training to enhance complete basketball skill set, basketball IQ & athleticism

Played with Coventry City F.C. in the English Premier League and England Under 18 Schoolboy Football team. 13 years in the Sports and Education industries as an Athletic Director, Head of Physical Education, Teacher and Coach. Extensive international experience in Europe (UK), Africa (Tanzania), Asia (Singapore) and now permanently based in USA (Denver, Colorado).

Nick is co-founder of StriveFar, an online marketplace that connects athletes with private coaches. StriveFar’s goal is to eliminate the headaches and help coaches grow their private coaching business by finding athletes, scheduling the sessions and collecting the money so coaches can focus on what they love to do, developing the athletes.

Nick’s passion has always been to develop and inspire young people through the medium of sport. He loves to share and promote his commitment to all things sport. Nick always tries to motivate young people to be their best and tries to exemplify a positive, healthy, driven and energetic lifestyle.

He has developed Athletic and Educational programs from scratch for private international schools, combining clear objectives with a strong use of strategy, planning, organizational and communication skills.

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1 thought on “Traditional Sports Camps vs Small Group Clinics – A Coach Perspective

  • I think I tend to agree with you regarding how we look at camps. I a lot of cases it was a way to get the kids out of the house and keep them busy. But that really does not help the child that much. Having shorter duration training and smaller groups that really focuses on how to improve their skills would seem like a much better solution. Only problem, parents don’t get the break they need (but we all should sacrifice for you children). Thanks for this refreshing look.

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