May 7, 2015 • Coaching

A twist on summer camp

Summertime is fast approaching and one question that constantly passes through a parent’s mind is, “What dates are the high school’s sports camps?”

A prepared parent always stays on top of these situations so they can go about the business of planning their summer. For the most part, these junior high children have been doing the same ritual since second grade. I believe that junior high kids need more variety. They tend to not perform as well when they do the same thing and compete against the same people every year. It’s with this thought that I knew there needed to be a change or possible improvement in the way kids spend their summer camp hours.

sports campF.A.S.T. stands for Fitness and Sport Training, and we at District 90 in O’Fallon, Illinois, believe that the two activities must go hand-in-hand for a student to reach their true potential. I believe that we have come up with the right formula to challenge the advanced athlete or, should I say, the athlete that wants to get the most from their abilities.

Nearly five years ago, some fitness trainers at the local YMCA approached me, and they wanted me to recruit some kids for their summer boot camp. They also wanted me to work with the program. After doing this for two years, I noticed that some of the kids would head to another camp as soon as this one was over. I thought to myself, I could offer this same product and, with the help of our fellow junior high coaches, we could add the sport training aspect to it. After bouncing ideas off of my fellow physical education teachers, I felt like we were ready to launch this new format of summer camp.

Before we started the camp, I talked with my other physical education teachers and asked them about the obstacles I might face. I let them know that this was not going to be your typical P.E. class from a fitness standpoint, so naturally we were worried about burnout from students. Would they be able to sustain this type of workout three days a week for six weeks?

We decided that we would essentially hand pick most of the students to begin with to reach our goal of 40. We left a few openings so other students could apply and this type of selection process worked very well.

I had to make sure that we had the right coaches in place and it would fit into their summer schedules. I asked them, “Are you ready to make that commitment that the kids would be making?”

I was very fortunate that the coaches were more than willing, as they knew it would be helping out their teams. They knew that the kids who went through this camp would come out being leaders for their teams the following year.

The last thing we worried about was the logistics of the program. We decided that we would offer a six-week camp that meets for two hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the first 50 minutes of camp will concentrate on different types of fitness activities. That includes agility and quickness drills, TRX, kettlebells, plyo-box training, and numerous other activities that strengthen our core and upper and lower bodies.

After a 10-minute break, kids get to choose what sport they would like to improve their skills. We have coaches for track, cross country, volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball, soccer, etc. The exciting thing about this is that the coach-to-student ratio is very low. For most of the sports, you see about four or five students per coach. Some of our two-sport athletes choose one sport one day and a different sport the next.

On Fridays, we do things a little bit different. For the fitness part of the camp, we bring in fitness professionals from the YMCA and other personal fitness trainers to lead our workouts. I believe that these are the people who really know their stuff and we, as instructors, benefit from their knowledge. Plus, the students need to hear the lessons from a perspective other than that of the physical education teacher.

The second half of Fridays is dedicated to fun activities for the kids — Frisbee football, dodgeball, etc. However, the Friday that energizes me the most is when we have our annual mini-triathlon. Our students, in coordination with the local parks and recreation department, swim 500 yards, run 2.2 miles and finish with a three-mile bike ride. We invite all of the parents and they typically get more excited than the kids.

There are many other benefits to this type of camp. First of all, our high school students love to come back and help us run the drills. I believe that there is a considerable amount of pride involved here and they want to keep our excellent tradition going. We also work with different businesses in our community, and the YMCA instructors, nutritionists, personal trainers and physical therapists are just a few of the people that our campers get to hear from. We have guest speakers on Fridays and it can include anyone from our high school athletic director talking about leadership to former athletes who moved on to compete at the collegiate or professional levels.

This is our third year running this camp and we have seen excellent results in different areas. Physical education classes, athletic teams and, most importantly, the athletes’ mental abilities and confidence are at an all-time high. I have watched the slightly overweight seventh graders come into our camp and by the end of our second year they are performing at a higher level both physically and mentally than most of our students.

This type of experience goes hand in hand with our summer camp motto. It’s a phrase from legendary coach John Wooden saying, “The best competition I have is against myself to become better.”

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