Oh the lazy days of summer. Pitching a tent, sitting by the bonfire roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories; picturesque summer camp activities of days gone by. How times have changed.
Today's kids attend sports camps where they run, train and scrimmage other teams all before the five o'clock bell.
Basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer, cheerleading, softball, wrestling, tennis, ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding and gymnastics are just a few of the 50+ subcategories of sports camps.
The American Camp Association accredits 211 sports camps, Sports Camp Federation touts 30,000, US Sports Camps has over 400 locations of the Nike Sports Camps, and there are 2,600 YMCA's across the United States with each branch offering sports camps.
It has become so popular that camping organizations aren't the only ones in the game. Most professional sports teams offer camps, and many professional athletes run their own camps during the off-season.
Actually, the sheer volume of sports camps makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact number. According to the Industry Statistics Sampler for Sports and Recreation Instruction, the number of establishments grew 41 percent from 1997 to 2002 and revenue skyrocketed from $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion.
What's in it for you?
There are plenty of reasons a sports camp is created, but many share common goals of lending expertise, community involvement, brand exposure and profitability.
The Boston Celtics have been running the Reebok Youth Basketball Camp for the last 10 years and its popularity has increased so much that the team now runs the camp for five weeks at Basketball City in downtown Boston as well as several weeks at their training facility in Waltham.
"We got in to the camps to keep the Celtics name in the forefront and get added exposure during the off season," said Jeffrey Twiss, vice president of Media Relations with the Celtics. "We compete with the Red Sox, and the Patriots start up during the summer, so we try to keep our name in the forefront and in the future with the kids that will be season ticket holders."
IMG Academies, which started as a tennis camp, now runs a series of camps at their campus in Bradenton, Florida. They currently offer instruction in six different sports and take several factors into consideration when creating a new camp. "Coaching is number one," explains Dan Tierney, Public Relations coordinator for IMG Academies. "We have some of the best coaches in each industry here.All of these coaches have the reputation of developing some of the best players in the world."
Athletes from more than 80 countries have attended IMG Academies. The campus provides 56 tennis courts, nine soccer fields, two professional-sized baseball fields with eight batting cages and a 10,000-square-foot weight room on 300 acres, which is a big factor for the athletes. "Having all of that on one campus for any athlete is out of their imagination," said Tierney. "Mixing it with a global atmosphere allows kids to experience a culture that they may not have ever had before."
The David Wesley Foundation has been running a free two-day basketball camp for the first 100 kids to sign up in Longview, Texas. After 14 years in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers the decision was easy to start a youth camp.
"I wanted to give kids a chance to learn how to play basketball and have fun doing it," said Wesley. "I do camp in my home town so that I can always have ties to where I am from and it also gives me a chance to do something with my father."
What makes these camps successful? Longevity and reputation.
"We try and celebrate the game and teach individuals without having it like a classroom," said Twiss. "We want the kids to have fun while learning the fundamentals of basketball. We are gaining a reputation of being a solid, good camp for kids. We now have a track record which is great."
IMG Academies also attributes its success to both. "People know that we are not a flash in the pan," said Tierney. "We have been here for 30 years."
Whatever the reason, running a successful camp is important to not only the organizer but campers and parents as well, and there is a lot to consider when looking into running your own camp.
Like any other event, it requires extensive preparation and budgeting. Once a plan is in place, you can move forward with venue choice, instructors, vendors, format, pricing and determining insurance requirements.
Community support is also key, "Finding people who have basketball knowledge and also have the same love for kids that want to be a part of what you are doing," suggests Wesley. "My camp is free for the first 100 kids to sign up and the community of Longview makes that happen. They have shown me so much support which allows me to give kids from all economical backgrounds a chance to be a part of the fun."
There are several types of camps that can be broken down into the following categories: day camps, overnight camps, skills camp, multi sport and camps featuring professional athletes. There's no lack of individuals willing to lend their famous names. Cal Ripken, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Wayne Gretsky and sisters and tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams all run their own camps or training academies.
Camps that involve professional athletes or coaches are tailored for individualized training and also provide additional marketing benefits. "It's a great environment to see a first round draft pick (on campus)," said Tierney. "We literally have athletes on campus all the time. It's a really cool experience to train with someone they look up to."
Many sports camps focus on one sport to help athletes improve their skills while others offer the opportunity to learn and play several sports. So, with all of these options, what are parents and kids looking for in a camp and what's going to make you stand out? Is it the famous name or a great program at an affordable price? Maybe both.
Pricing certainly ranks high and with more competition it's important to be affordable as well as profitable.
"Pricing is a pretty big factor," said Dan Rogan, president of the Rogan Group and father of two. "But we also look at the cost as a form of childcare since my wife and I both work."
According to the National Camp Association, costs can run anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per camper for a one-week session based on activities and location.
That's not the only thing Rogan considers. "The kid's safety, available times, the level of coaching of the activities and the proximity of the camp to our home," said Rogan.
Wesley agrees, "Check to see who is running the camp and get a feel for what kind of person he or she is," he said. "But if it's a sport and my kids want to play, I'm in."
But a little name-dropping can't hurt either. The Bolletieri Tennis Academy at IMG Academies, named after tennis legend Coach Nick Bolletieri, remains the anchor of the campus. "Tennis is our most popular sport," said Tierney. "We remain to this day a tennis academy because he (Bolletieri) is such a legend in the sport."
The IMG Academies also provide the IMG Performance Institute that offers programs to help the kids not only on the field, but in the classroom as well.
"Kids can come in and help better themselves," explains Tierney. "There is the Life Skills programs that helps with things like Facebook etiquette and finances, and the College Advantage programs help kids with SAT's and choosing a college, as well as game films and highlights."
Whether you have a big name, an affordable price or a great program, you still may want the tent.