Sports Camps 101: Ultimate Guide to Running Successful Sports Camps

Guide; Coaching, Business Management

Take your camps to the next level with these 13 tips that will bring athletes and parents back year after year.

sports camp guide

For many sports organizations, camps are a primary revenue stream for their business. Knowing what to teach athletes at your training programs, lessons, and classes is where you excel, but how prepared are you when it comes to the logistics of running those programs?

Whether you are planning a community day camp or a week long overnight camp, there are consistent trends in how successful sports camps organize and structure their events.

Comprised of learnings from over 25 years of camp experience, we’ve created this guide to get you thinking about how you can plan and execute your next camp.

By offering 13 must-do steps to get you started with registration, curriculum, staffing, and evaluation, we hope this guide allows you and your team to take your upcoming camps to the next level.

13 Best Practices for Successful Sports Camps

1. Simple registration & friendly check-in

The first experience athletes and parents will have with your camp begins long before they arrive at your site, with your online registration. Ensure that your registration process is streamlined and simple by using user-friendly scheduling software.

Once athletes arrive to camp, use clear and direct signage to give parents the best impression you possibly can before they drop off their kids. Make sure that signage offers clear direction as to where parents and athletes should begin the check-in process, and take time to plan out a structured check-in system to minimize confusion.

Make sure your staff members are clearly identifiable and wearing similar uniforms. In addition, ensure that they have been informed of their assigned duties before the check-in process begins. Each staff member should be interacting with athletes and their parents!

If it’s an overnight camp, there should be staff directing traffic, helping parents with luggage, and in the dorms helping with the move in process.

The check-in process is one of the most important parts of the camp experience (and usually the most overlooked). Make sure parents feel comfortable leaving their kids with your staff. Remember, first impressions are everything!

2. Camp-wide welcome meeting

After the athletes have completed their first session and have settled into their surroundings, hold a camp-wide meeting to go over basic guidelines, rules, camp timelines, and additional details.

Introduce the staff, go over the week’s agenda at a high level, and get your athletes excited for their camp experience.

Provide a hand-out with camp rules so you can always refer back to it in case of any behavioral issues.

A welcome meeting is a simple way to bring the entire camp together so everyone is on the same page. It builds the groundwork for a successful and united camp experience.

3. Implement training rotations

Whether day or overnight, most camps will break the days up into three to four sessions. The morning is the typically the most important session of the day and should be structured with shorter, 30-minute rotations.

Rotations have many benefits. Not only is it fun for the campers; it also allows them to learn from different coaches. All coaches have their own coaching and communication methods that may connect with one athlete more effectively than with another. It also helps keep your staff engaged!

Make sure the stations all relate to a predetermined topic or theme to create consistency. The afternoon and evening sessions should then take those topics learned during rotations and provide execution opportunities in game-like situations.

4. Start with the fundamentals

It might be tempting to throw out a ball and tell the kids to start playing, but it is crucial to start with the basics first.

Teach athletes the proper techniques and mechanics for better shooting, throwing, passing, defensive stances, tackling, batting or pitching. The last thing you want is for athletes to build on bad habits and improper techniques.

It may not be the most exciting part of camp for either campers or staff, but it’s crucial because it gives you a solid foundation to build on in the following sessions.

5. Continually evaluate the athletes

Just because you have assigned athletes to an age group or division, it does not necessarily mean they should stay there throughout the entire camp. In fact, it’s a red flag if you do not have to make any adjustments after the first few sessions.

Since athletes are typically placed by age group, you may notice that one kid is really good and bump him or her up an age group, or vice-versa.

There are a lot of different talent levels that attend camps. Some young athletes may be there to be seen by college coaches or to make their varsity high school team, while others might be there because their parents needed “a babysitter” for the week!

Make adjustments to ensure kids are placed in the right competitive environment by using activities and drills that focus on the fundamentals of the sport. The best way to do this is by evaluating their technical abilities in practice sessions, as well as in small sided games. Coaches should continue to reevaluate throughout camp to move athletes to new groups as their skills advance and make adjustments when appropriate.

Keep in mind, when playing in teams it is important to create teams that are as even as possible so everyone enjoys camp!

6. Invest in your camp staff

Your staff is the single most important part of your camp, and whether you have five staff members or 50, your staff is certain to have a variety of experiences and a wide range of athletic expertise. Use this to your advantage.

The younger and less experienced staff members shouldn’t be coaching the oldest kids. Place your staff with the appropriate ages and skill levels.

You should always have coaches that provide demos and examples. In many cases, you’ll have excellent coaches who are far removed from their playing days, which is where you can utilize younger staff members to provide the demos.

You can also put them in activities so young athletes can experience the high level of play they provide. They are the “pros” and become role models to your campers. They are whom the campers will remember for years.

Make sure you have a staff that truly cares, engages with the kids, and has fun!

It’s also important to have an individual or team of admin assistances behind the scenes who can coordinate schedules, answer parent inquiries, and relay all the ins and outs of camp processes.

7. Hydration, safety, and medical support

You’d think it’s a no-brainer, but there are camps that have complete forgot about supplying hydration for the athletes at their facilities. Each field or court should have a water station, and be sure to have a medical trainer or action plan in case any incidents arise.

Also make sure you require an athlete waiver during the registration process. You can download a free waiver and release template here!

8. Don't forget the swag!

Let’s be honest – we all love getting free gear, and the same goes for the kids!

Each camp you run should have a t-shirt that athletes receive the first day. These shirts become sentimental objects for these young athletes for years to come. It’s a great marketing investment, as they’ll continue to wear these after the camp, PLUS it allows you to get a great camp photo!

If you have other branded items, set up a small retail shop where parents can purchase items for their young athletes upon pickup to generate additional revenue.

9. Plan for the unpredictable

Make sure to have a backup plan in case mother nature strikes.

If you don’t have access to an indoor facility, have some highlight videos you can project on a wall or plan some trivia games.

We all know how weather and unpredictable circumstances can change plans in an instant. The last thing you want is unhappy parents who feel their kids sat with nothing to do for four hours of the day.

These plans can also be used if it’s extremely hot and kids are fatigued. Make adjustments to make sure the kids have an experience that goes above and beyond the other camps they’ve attended.

In addition, have a staff member or two who can fill in if needed. If something happens – you get pulled into a meeting, get a flat tire, anything – you’re going to need someone who knows the schedule and can coordinate staff and campers.

10. Provide an x-factor

Create an experience that will sell next year’s camp for you.

​​The first thing parents will ask when driving away at the end of camp is “What did you do at camp? Did you learn anything?” Ask yourself that question, and if your answer is “we played soccer,” you didn’t do a good job at creating a memorable experience.

Some added fun experiences like staff demos or giant water balloon fights can make all the difference!

11. Organize a final competition

Typically, on the final day at camp, there should be some type of tournament or competition that brings all of the pieces together.

Don’t limit the players to working on the fundamentals, but instead have your athletes focus on bringing together the skills they learned from all of the drills and rotations they worked on during the duration of camp.

This is the perfect time to go full-sided and let them have fun! If you’re doing a tournament, make sure that losing teams don’t sit out the rest of the day or when their parents come to pick them up.

Be sure to invite parents to the final competition so they can see how much their kids have learned and watch how the staff and athletes interact. This is a great opportunity to show off your team’s coaching skills and get parents thinking about enrolling them in your camps and clinics all year round!

12. Host an awards ceremony

Before the campers head home, bring the entire camp together with the parents to hand out awards by age group.

It’s amazing to see how happy some kids are to win MVP, Best Offensive Player, or Most Improved. You can also give Coaches’ Awards to reward great kids that might have been less skilled.

Awards get competitive juices owing and may inspire your young athletes to come back for the next camp to keep improving their skills!

Related: Alternatives to Participation Trophies in Sports

13. Provide evaluations for continued growth

Hand out camper evaluations to share what athletes should work on over the next year. Try not to give out many low scores. You don’t want to discourage the athletes, but you also don’t want them to feel like they’ve already made it.

Evaluations can be time consuming, but they are extremely important for the athletes and should be done properly and thoughtfully.

The coach or staff member should use this as an opportunity to include your email address. This opens up continued communication so athletes and parents can reach out to ask questions about drills and continue working with you in the future.

While your main goal at camp is to provide a safe and exciting time for kids, it’s no secret how much revenue camps can provide if they’re done right.

Take these 13 tips into consideration when planning your next sports camp for an improved camping experience!

If one kid has a great experience, next year he or she might not only return, but could also bring a friend or teammate.

There are many sports camps out there that parents can send their kids. Make sure you are putting in the work it takes to make your camp stand apart to turn one camper into many!

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