7 Best-practices for a Successful Summer Sports Camp
For one week this summer, the Panther Volleyball Academy (PVA) delivered more than tips to young volleyball players on how to dig, spike and serve; it delivered experiences that they want to repeat as soon as possible. For many of them, next summer just can’t get here soon enough.
Camp Director Tom Ackerman knows that skill building is key to his model camp program, but he also knows that repeat customers are essential to the program’s growth. His summer camp debuted on the campus of Greenville College in south central, Illinois nine years ago with 40 participants; this year, it enrolled 375. Here are seven tips youth camp directors can learn from this successful program.
1. Know Your Customer
The PVA welcomes girls from middle school through high school. The broad range of ages brings a broad range of skill levels, interests and reasons for attending. Camp organizers split their “clientele” into two groups. Fifth through eighth grade players attend the first four days of camp, and ninth through twelfth grade players attend the second four days.
2. Communicate Safety
Parents, as decision makers, ultimately approve their kids’ camp choices. They need assurances at every step along the way that their children are in good hands. Ackerman attributes the popularity of the PVA, in part, to the safe environment of an inviting campus with “kid-friendly” distances between the dorms, dining commons and gym.
3. Create Family
At the start of camp, each girl becomes part of a team of about 10 campers under the leadership of one or two coaches who function as skill-builders and relationship-builders for the duration of camp. “We spend direct time with the girls the entire time that they’re here,” explains coach Jenna Marcotte. “The girls have someone keeping watch over them in everything they do; someone getting involved and making their week special.”
4. Understand Camper’s Needs
The younger players at PVA enjoy a full slate of entertainment, dorm activities and contests when they are not on the courts. High school players have a different agenda, though. They are more focused on competitiveness, sharpening specific skills, and learning what it takes to draw the attention of prospective recruiters. Ninety percent of their camping experience is the game. “It’s pretty select volleyball, and we go pretty hard at it,” says Ackerman. “We train them just like they were college athletes.”
5. Maximize Resources
Expect a growing program to bring growing challenges. “Two years ago, we were turning kids away,” said Camp Director Tom Ackerman, citing space constraints as the culprit. PVA arranged with the local high school to use its facilities, too.
6. Invest in a Great Staff
Ackerman manages a staff of about 50 – many of them, PVA veterans who know the system. This year’s staff included every member of Greenville College’s volleyball team. “We work really hard to train our staff. Our girls – players on our team and alumni – do an excellent job of making every single camper feel special. The people that are involved want it to succeed. Everybody that has their hands on it want it to be great.”
7. Enlist in Marketing Help
The PVA draws campers with the help of data provided by USA Volleyball for the Gateway Region. Because the camp plays a role in Greenville College’s recruitment of prospective players, it also advertises with the NCSA, a recruiting service.
It’s hard to underestimate the value of a great camping experience. Ackerman and his staff see the same campers returning year after year – a little taller, a little more mature, a little more capable. When they end up joining the staff and blocking off time in their busy summers to coach up and coming volleyball players, he knows the camp has been a success.