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Choosing the right sports camp

Sports camps are designed to provide a fun and healthy environment for kids, but the competitive nature of sports is unavoidable. When choosing a sports camp, both parents and children should consider long-term goals: Do you want your child to become the next Tim Tebow, or do you just want to keep them away from the abysmal depths of Facebook and YouTube for the summer? Matching the right level of competitiveness for your kid with the right sports camp helps keep everyone happy — and hopefully off the bench.

And it’s a choice that can have both immediate and long-term effects on your child’s mental health and development.

“Depending on [children’s] perception of the importance of competitive outcomes, a losing outcome could have a negative effect on their self-concept and selfesteem,” says Brian D. Butki, a health and exercise science professor at Colorado State University and the director of the school’s summer sports camp.

“If losing is kept in perspective, it can be a positive developmental feature, but we often have trouble keeping losing in perspective,” Butki says. “Losing builds character, sure — but only in moderation. No one wants to be a loser. That has very lasting and very negative lifetime consequences.”

Most camp directors, including Butki, will tell you that competition should be the by-product, not the focus of the camps. By emphasizing skill development and a fun environment, Butki says that “we’re going to boost their self-esteem, we’re going to boost their confidence, and we’re going to make them a little bit healthier because they’re going to enjoy what they’re doing.”

According to David Vaughan, director of FC Boulder Summer Camps, “kids are competitive by nature,” which enables camps to focus on improving players’ skills rather than trying to create a competitive environment.

However, for kids who already think they’re the next Carmelo Anthony, Vaughan says well-managed competition can keep players’ egos in check.

“If [competition] is not managed correctly, if you have a top player who is always winning and always succeeding, then they can become complacent and they expect to win all the time,” Vaughan explains.

Whether you’re the dad who sends his kids off to camp with a Band-Aid-filled fanny pack or you’re the mom berating the refs from the bleachers, an important thing to keep in mind is what your kids want for themselves.

Chris Coker, president and CEO of the Boulder Valley YMCA, says that kids should consider whether they want to maintain their skills over summer or improve them because they are going to be playing again on a team in the fall. That distinction determines whether a kid should attend a recreational, love-of-the-game style camp, where half the day is spent playing a sport and the other half doing fun activities and going on field trips, or a competitive, intensive camp that is going to advance skills to the next level, Coker says.

Parents who are concerned about placing their children in a competitive environment should move beyond the brochures and ask some questions. How does the camp divide groups between skill level and age? What is the camp director’s philosophy on competition and fun? But most importantly, parents should ask themselves about how hard they want to push their kids, why, and in which direction.

Five ways to help afford summer camp

• Look around for scholarships – Many camps offer scholarships to kids with good grades and exemplary behavior in school.

• Shop around for half-day or halfweek options.

• Negotiate a payment plan – Many camps do not advertise but still provide a payment plan option.

• Check for hidden costs – Is there any additional gear or equipment you need to buy? Does the price include the costs of lunches and field trips?

• Avoid gimmicky and flashy advertisements – giveaways and special guest appearances can raise costs without adding much value.

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