With three decades of experience, National Academy of Athletics founder Aaron Locks offers parents ten steps for choosing the right camp for their child.
Summer camps should be an incredible experience for all children. The focus should be on fun, education, and being active. This year will be my 35th year working and managing youth sports camps, clinics, and training, and I’m excited to offer these tips.

When selecting a summer sports camp, or any summer camp for that matter, it is essential that you do your homework. The following information will be beneficial to parents attempting to find the most engaging programs for their kids to participate in this summer.

Many of these topics may seem to be common sense, but I know how important it is not to skip any of the steps as a father of two active kids.

  1. SAFETY FIRST
    With the challenges associated with COVID 19, many parents will want to do anything to get their kids back out playing sports ASAP. Remember, there are some simple precautions that sports camp providers can take to help with health and safety. Check to be sure that the camp has protocols in place. You should review their COVID 19 guidelines and make sure you and your child feel safe and comfortable participating. Also, be sure and have their direct contact number in case of any emergency.
  2. TAKE TIME
    Figure out your family needs. Is the camp or camps going to serve as a daycare, be instructional, or be just for vacation fun? If you are working parents and your kids need a safe place to go, do the scheduled weeks and program timeframe accommodate your family’s needs? Many of us parents feel our kids can play sports for long periods when they’re very young. Although that is true on some levels, putting your child in a not age-appropriate camp can cause significant challenges. Look to see that the age range listed for the participants is age-appropriate for your child.
  3. TALK WITH YOUR KIDS
    Once you know what you are looking for, it’s a good idea to be sure it’s something your kids will enjoy. Find out what your child is interested in or what they may want to learn. It can truly help to get buy-in and keep their interest the entire week. Many of us parents like to expand our children’s horizons by offering them the opportunity to try something new. I am a big fan of doing this in the camp environment. That said, I do believe that a one-day clinic is a much better place to try something new than a commitment to a five-day camp.
  4. THE FAMILY BUDGET
    It does no good to find out about expensive camps or extravagant adventures if your family budget cannot handle the cost without adding stress to your household. Figure out if going to a one-week camp for $600 is better than going to three different camps at $200 per week. The old saying, “You get what you pay for,” does hold some weight here. However, Parks and Recreation’s, YMCA’s, and other nonprofits often offer some pretty cool unit programs at very affordable rates.
  5. GET SPECIFIC
    Once you have decided on the type of camp (or camps) that are right for your child, you will need to sift through the many available options. Not every sport-specific camp is the same. Does it offer competition, instruction, or just fun and games? Be sure to ask questions and do your research online to find out precisely what the camp offers. Let’s face it, most of our kids want to attend a sports camp to have fun and compete where we parents might want them actually to learn some sport-specific and life skills.
  6. WHO’S RUNNING THINGS?
    It is imperative to know who will be working with your child. Don’t be concerned with just the name attached to the camp. Find out who will be there coaching or teaching every day. Make sure the coaches have been background checked and trained on first-aid and safety. Also, find out what the camper-to-coach ratio is. Most quality camps offer a maximum 10-to-1 camper-to-coach ratio. This number allows for ultimate teaching and supervision for safety.
  7. HISTORY OF THE CAMP
    There are many camp companies. Some have been around a short while, and others have a long history. For COVID safety, many camps have limited the number of children that can be in each program. This limited space means parents need to register their children early to secure a spot. If you will put a deposit down or pay for a camp that is two or three months away, be sure the company is reputable and find out their refund policies. You can check with Yelp, Google, or other online ratings. Another tip is to check if the camp provider has a Facebook page. Look for feedback from other parents. This feedback will help give you a better idea of the experiences others have had at the camp.
  8. LOCATION
    It’s essential to make sure that the camp’s location has quality facilities and nearby your home or office. Are the facilities in a good neighborhood? This one is personal to me. I remember when I signed my son up for a basketball camp at a local college. On paper, it looked like everything would be great. Unfortunately, when we got there, he didn’t get to play in the big gym featured in all the brochure pictures. He played half of the time outdoors and in the school’s auxiliary gym the rest. Part of the experience my son wanted was the opportunity to play on that big beautiful gym floor.
  9. GO TIME
    Once you have registered your child for camp, you should receive a confirmation that includes the equipment or other essential items your child may need. Find out if they provide meals, equipment, or supplies you may need to purchase separately.
  10. THE DROP-OFF
    Be sure you feel comfortable when you drop your child off at the camp. Often, the child might be uncomfortable because they are new to the sport or activity, but we should always use our gut for judging as the parents. Parents will often sit and watch the first 10-15 minutes to make sure things seem organized, running smoothly, and the child has a good experience. Be sure to double-check that the camp has your IWS Number – I Will Answer (Cell) number or any other emergency contacts. Also, be sure that you have a number you can use to reach the camp if needed. Finally, confirm the time for pick-up and who is authorized to pick up your child.

Whether you decide on one of the National Academy of Athletics camps or another, I truly hope your child has a safe, fun, educational experience.

-Aaron

About Aaron Locks
With over 35 years of programming experience and over 300,000 campers, Aaron is a leading expert in the youth sports industry. Utilizing his first-hand training from legends like John Wooden, Pat Riley & others, he has developed a unique curriculum maximizing the youth sports experience for all involved. Aaron has authored over five books & two different CD packages available on the subject. He is the CEO & Founder of the National Academy of Athletics.