25 years ago sports camps were little more than summer diversions for kids who had too much sugar. Today, they represent not only a huge part of the youth sport landscape–with camps and clinics devoted to nearly every phase of the major participation sports–but can drastically impact a young player’s ability to attract attention from college coaches and eventually capture an athletic scholarship.
We spoke to Ronald Baum, co-director of GM Sports/Homerun Softball Camps and Clinics, to get the inside scoop on this million-dollar industry, to learn why he thinks sticking to one sport isn’t always a good thing and find out how parents and players can get the most out of a sports camp or clinic.
What’s the difference between a camp and a clinic? Camp is usually more than a day or two–like a summer camp. Whereas a clinic is a day or maybe a couple hours on a specific topic. (Such as hitting, pitching, etc..)
Have you seen camps and clinics change over the years? Definitely. Camps and clinics, like anything involving athletics, have become more specialized. You have more kids going to their own instructors for one-on-one hitting instruction. You have camps devoted exclusively to hitting, pitching, defense, etc.
Do you think it’s a good thing for kids to be that specialized? Yes and no. My philosophy has always been that kids should be playing more than one sport to enjoy themselves and avoid burnout. They should be playing sports because they want to.
There are times to specialize in one sport, but hopefully they’ll continue to play the other sports as well. They shouldn’t be pushed to not play a specific sport. Sometimes it’s good for them to play something they are not necessarily wonderful at. It’s good for them to see what their other teammates go through, when they’re not the best player on the field.
Like many camps, yours offers instruction to a wide variety of skill levels and ages. How do camps such as yours accomplish this without sacrificing individual attention? We do a lot of the same stuff with the little kids that we do with the older kids, we just alter the intensity. A lot of the skills we teach are important from the beginning to the end. In softball, you use a lot of the same drills with the training clinics that you use for the college camps. Fundamentals don’t really change.
Same thing when I used to work the basketball camps. A pick and roll is still a pick and roll. A jump shot is a jump shot. If we can teach them the same skills, but at a younger age, we can help them avoid mistakes. It’s a lot easier than trying to break a 15 or 16-year-old of those flaws.
How does a typical day at your softball camp break down? (Is there a certain amount of time devoted to individual instruction–a certain amount of time devoted to scrimmaging?) Unless it’s a summer camp, all of our camps are technique and training-based. If I’m doing a summer camp, we’ll do training in the morning and in the afternoon we’ll usually let them get into games. The reason you do so much training with baseball and softball is because it’s tough to get kids into games. In soccer and basketball, you can get into games pretty quickly. You can’t get eight and nine-year-olds throwing a ball that quickly in a camp setting.
For parents and players choosing a camp, any tips on how to decide what kind of camp would be best for them? Depends on what they’re looking for and what kind of camp they need. There are camps that are just babysitting camps and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got other camps, where kids will be trained specific skills in a given sport. If that’s the case, you want to find out about the instructors. Who will be in attendance? What sort of background do they have? Will they be actually be instructing–or are they just lending their name to particular camp?
If you’re looking for a camp that is specifically designed to help the player get noticed it’s important to realistically assess a player’s skill level. It’s the toughest thing for a parent to do. Every parent thinks the highest of their son and daughter. One of the best things they can do is get out there and watch some college sports. It’s easy with basketball and football, but it’s important that they check out the college level for a given sport. It’s a whole different level of play out there. How does your son or daughter match up? It’s tough, but important.
What’s one misconception parents and players have about the effect a camp or clinic will have on a player’s ability? That it’s a quick fix. Camps or clinics are there for a bunch of reasons. They are there for the player to have fun, to learn something new. They can also be there to reinforce a principle the player has heard before, but from somebody new. Players don’t walk away with 10 different things all the time. We hope they do but it doesn’t happen all the time.
You mentioned principles a player might have heard before. How do your instructors work within the framework of instruction a player has received from their own coach? We don’t want to change the players and contradict what their coaches back home are telling them. If you’re here, please be open to what we’re trying to show you. Hopefully we’ll give you something to think about, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do something. You still need to do what your coaches tell you to do.
What homework would you recommend a parent/player do to ensure they pick the right camp for their kid? Check with people who’ve gone to the camp. Word-of-mouth is huge. Look at the camp’s website, get as much information about the camp you can. Call the camp. They should be happy to give you as much information as you want. Another thing you want to check out is the ratio. Find out how many players will be there, and make sure your kid will get enough attention.
What about college camps? If you’re looking at a college camp, with the hopes of being recruited by that university, make sure that college is still looking at you. They might be done recruiting that year. Check out the school’ s website. You can get all kinds of information now. If you’re a pitcher, you can see that they’ve got four pitchers coming back next year. Chances are they’re not recruiting a pitcher for the following year.
What’s one thing you would recommend to players to get the most out of their camp/clinic experience? Come there with an open mind and be ready to learn and work. Want to be there. Don’t expect it to just happen. Enjoy yourself and get ready to work hard.