The Value of Soccer Camp
Soccer camps are as diverse as youth soccer programs. Some camps are development driven and measure their success through the accomplishments of their players (Cliff McGrath’s Northwest Soccer Camp, MLS Academy Programs, Eurotech Soccer Camps). Other camps (mostly local) measure success by how much money they make. There are also a few that focus on developing and nurturing a soccer culture that benefits the organization through a broader fan following, resulting in ticket and merchandise sales (college/university programs).
So what are your needs or goals for your child’s soccer education?
- Skill Development?
2 things to consider when choosing a soccer camp are:
- Who will be coaching your child?
- What will they be teaching?
The Daycare camp is little more than a day-camp with a soccer theme. These camps can be run by anyone, but are usually run by a local club coach or gym teacher who employs a couple of high school or local college kids to run the day-to-day activities. The “coach” to player ratio is about 15 to 1.
If you stay and watch, you’ll notice a little warm-up in the morning and then lots of free play. The kids usually divide up into teams at the beginning of the week and play tournament-style “games” all week long, with a little awards ceremony at the end.
The up-side is that this is a great environment for the kids to have fun while getting exercise and making friends. The down-side is that there is very little QUALITY instruction, and a likelihood that the camp director will be selling your child candy and junk food to supplement their income even more.
At the end of the summer, you will have spent just as much money as you would have spent sending them to a better camp, and you’ll see very little improvement in their ball handling or game vision. They will have had lots of fun, though.
College camps are hit or miss. The key to understanding the real value of a particular college camp is to ASK question #1 – Who will be coaching your child?
College hosted camps will usually provide a great experience at quality facilities with good food in a professional atmosphere, but the downside can, again, be very little quality coaching. There are usually college level coaches directing the camp’s day-to-day operations, but college players are usually directing the camper activities. While this is potentially a great opportunity for the college players to get some coaching experience, college soccer players are, well, college KIDS, and very few college kids are interested or qualified to teach your child the nuances and techniques of the game. Most of them are more interested in girls and mobile technology. Beyond the beautiful surroundings, the environment can look very similar to the daycare camp, and you may rarely see exercises or skill drills beyond the morning warm-up.[quotes]
The question of quality regarding college soccer camps can’t be answered here. You have to make the call and ask the questions to really know, but the majority of college sponsored camps (mostly Florida) appear to be more interested in building a fan base, than developing players to be quality soccer athletes.[/quotes]
T-shirts and theme days may be part of the curriculum, and everyday will usually include a lot of play in a tournament-style environment. No referees, no coaching from the side, no stoppages except for water breaks – and there are lots of water breaks. One thing about College and University camps is that they are VERY protective of their campers when it comes to hydration. When they’re not playing games on the field, they’re in classrooms or lecture halls learning about the culture of the school, the fight song and how to chant at the games.
However, like at the daycare soccer camps mentioned before, the kids will have lots of fun.
Professional Soccer Camps
The most effective and best way to get a concentrated soccer education as a player is to attend a professional soccer camp. Professional level soccer camps are those camps that feature and employ professionally qualified and experienced coaches to run the camper activities. Many of the coaches will be ex-professional players from Europe and nationally licensed by US Soccer or other national organizations. The camps may be affiliated or have relationships with professional clubs here and abroad, and measure their success through the development of their campers. Player development and education are the sole purpose of professional soccer camps.
What can be confusing to the average parent is that many professional soccer camps are held or sponsored by universities or colleges, but they’re not run by college players. Since professional soccer camps are rather elite, they’re usually mobile and conduct camps all over the nation (or world), with only an office for a home base. Groups are usually smaller with a coach to player ratio of about 6 to 1. The fees are a little higher, but professional camps are so intense that most of them limit sequential, weekly participation; meaning that campers cannot participate 2 weeks in a row, in order to let their bodies recover properly.
Every day features challenging instruction, excellent competition, first class facilities and the finest national, collegiate and international coaching staff available.[/quote]
Getting what you paid for…
The truth is that EVERY child can benefit from going to soccer camp, whether it be socially beneficial or developmentally. Playing soccer everyday will definitely help them improve, but the quality of the camp will determine how quickly they improve. The key to development is repetition. The rate of repetition will determine how fast they develop.
For every example above, there are lots of exceptions. I’ve witnessed some high quality, college sponsored camps (ex: 2004, Michelle Akers Camp at UCF) that were very affordable, and some camps that were so bad that they were actually counter-productive. The best thing you can do is research the camp on the internet and make calls to find out who will be actually instructing the kids, and what their credentials are.
Soccer camp websites can be very deceptive, are probably outdated and won’t tell you everything, so call and ask questions. If player development is your concern, inquire about specific skill sets that will be taught during the week and ask if they will be teaching campers about player nutrition.
So, is soccer camp worth the money? The RIGHT camp is well worth the money. If you’re interested in your child having fun, then a local camp is probably best. If you seek quality development, then a professional camp run by nationally licensed coaches should be your choice. Regardless, pictures are very telling, so at the very least go through the camp website’s photo gallery to help you determine whether or not this is the best camp for you and your child.
*Note: For more information on the state of the American youth soccer system, read: Pay for Play Paradox, and Why Your Son CAN Be a Professional Athlete.
Mike Slatton is the Chief Editor of the Soccer Mom Manual and a 25+ year nationally licensed youth soccer coach.