What’s Your Summer Plan?

So I just realized that it’s been a month since I’ve written anything.  Between Mother Nature controlling our spring game schedules, hosting a couple post-season tournaments, handling the usual volume of communications, cramming in my grad school work, and trying to keep track of the three little boys in my own house, writing took a seat on the back burner.  Even though I’m out the door to set-up for day #2 of our regional softball tournament shortly, I wanted to take a couple minutes to fire out some brief thoughts on summer camps…or at least as brief as my English degree will allow me to be.

I’m often asked by kids/parents/coaches what kids should be doing in the summer.  It’s a tricky question that really doesn’t have a right answer.  My first thought always revolves around strength and conditioning.  If a kid is going to choose one activity for the summer, it should be strength/agility/flexibility/conditioning.  Those translate to all sports.

Beyond that – what should the limits be for kids?  As a football coach, I used to ask my guys to attend our skills camp (two-three days, 2.5 hours a day), and one three day team camp out of town.  I felt like that was a fairly minimal and reasonable time commitment for the kids who wanted to play a little in the summer.

The problem for kids is that even that minimal time commitment can become a major undertaking.  We had a lot of three sport athletes in our small school.  If all three coaches asked the same time commitment of the kid, he/she would be tied up for three 2-3 day camps and three team camps, which could total up to 18+ days of the summer gone for what is ultimately a small investment in the sport.  Unfortunately, I now see many coaches asking for more than that in a summer.  We have summer-long leagues in addition to individual and team camps, often in multiple sports throughout the entire summer.  In North Dakota, our association rules don’t allow schools to be involved in summer activities, so it becomes a bit of a free for all for camp directors and coaches while we, as ADs, stand on the outside watching.

So, where do we draw the line?!?

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice:

Coaches – keep your commitments simple and always voluntary.  Respect the fact that most kids want to do other stuff in the summer beyond your sport, and that’s ok.  The harsh reality is that if your team isn’t talented enough to hang a banner, doubling your team’s commitment time in the summer probably won’t change that fact.  And if you’re a coach that’s pushing out the “not mandatory but actually quite mandatory” message; shame on you.  Kids don’t need that kind of pressure.  Beyond that, go do something for yourself during the summer.  I know our district isn’t paying coaches enough for them to tie up their entire summers with camps and leagues.  Go golfing; go fishing; go read a book; go say hi to your spouse and kids; do something else.  It’s a nice little reset before the next school year.

Kids – ask yourself why you’re doing all of these things, and be realistic about what these camps and leagues can do for you.  If you’re a fringe varsity player, additional skill work *might* help you make the varsity team next year, but it also might not.  If you’re a returning varsity starter, additional skill work *might* make you good enough for all-conference, all-state, or all-whatever, but it also might not.  What I tell kids who ask me is to ask themselves if they’ll enjoy the camp or league.  If you enjoy it, then have at it.  If you aren’t going to enjoy the extra time and effort, then find something else to do that you’ll enjoy!  That’s supposed to be part of the beauty of being a kid in the summer.

Parents – it’s ok to say no.  You can say no to your kids, and you can say no to your kids’ coaches.  If you think the time (and/or money!) commitments are too much, say no.  Much like what I advise kids, your son or daughter’s athletic ability is already inherent; summer camps won’t make him or her more athletic.  Again, he/she might improve his/her skill level a little bit, but will that possible/potential skill improvement be worth the time and cost?  I can’t answer that for you, but it’s a good conversation to have with your kid.  Beyond that, please ask your kids if they WANT to do this stuff.  I hear from kids all the time about the summer camps that their parents have signed them up for then force them to go to because the money has been spent.

I already know the response that I’ll get from some folks to this.  I’ll be told “Yeah, but if our team doesn’t do this, then we’ll never compete with so-and so”…or some related form of that argument.  I respond with the same two comments every time.  (1) If you aren’t as talented as so-and-so, it’s probably not going to matter anyway; and (2) so what?  One of the aims of our athletic department is to teach the kids how to compete, which of course includes commitment and dedication to improvement, but that doesn’t mean commitment and dedication at the expense of everything else.  At the end of every season, only one team gets to win a state championship regardless of the number of kids who spent their entire summer preparing for it.  (And, in a little known secret, kids don’t get hired for adult world jobs because of the number of high school championships they won.  They will, however, lose their opportunities to be a kid regardless of the time they spent in summer athletic leagues.)

Apparently my English degree still hasn’t succumbed to my attempts at brevity.  So it goes…

Let me know what you think I got right, got wrong, or missed altogether!  Polite and informed comments, discussion, and debate are always welcome

**Updated – Post #2 in response to some questions and comments I received since initially posting these thoughts.

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