As we roll into the hockey offseason, many of you have probably already registered your son or daughter for a hockey camp this summer, but some of you are certainly still thinking about it and trying to plan your summer! There’s always been about of debate about summer camps (are they worth it, does your child need one, etc.) Since I’ve worked at a ton of camps during my coaching career, and now run my own, I figured I could give you a bit of advice on this topic.
I also waited to write this until my kids camps are full (well, ok, I have one goalie spot left open in each camp) so that I could seem as unbiased as possible. So here I go!
1. Should you send your kid to a summer hockey camp?
Yes, If THEY want to go. The THEY here is super important: some kids may just be interested in doing other activities during the summer; that’s totally fine and should be respected as long as their out moving about. If you kid isn’t super keen on going to a camp, don’t send them. You’ll just be wasting your money. But if they want to go, and you can afford it, then by all means, send them! The camp experience is a special one; something hard to achieve in regular club training. The kids hang out together the whole day on and off the ice, new friendships are made with players from other cities, new coaches are met from whom you can learn different skills- it’s the overall experience that makes camps so cool! But PLEASE, do not worry if you can’t send your child to camp that they will „fall behind“; one week doesn’t make a hockey player!
2. How many camps should you send your kid to?
One, maaaaaybe two at a maximum. Again, it’s the experience that makes a camp special; don’t ruin it by going to 3-4 camps and turning the summer into a grind. More is not necessarily better: Christmas four times a year just wouldn’t really be very special anymore.
3. What is the most important thing that you should get out of a hockey camp?
Fun! Sorry, I know some of you wanted to hear „improvement“, but let’s be honest, in a week of camp, nobody is going to get a lot better. That would just be too easy. The best you can expect is some small improvements. HOWEVER, if you kid had fun and learned new things at camp, then they will probably be coming back motivated to keep on working on everything they learned, and that motivation will lead to big improvements in the long run. Although I always incorporate different types of games in my regular team practices, I tend to play a bit more in my camps because the focus there is slightly more tilted towards fun.
4. Which camp should I send my kid to?
Honestly, the best camp that you can/want to afford. Camps aren’t cheap, so if you’re going to be dishing out a lot of money anyways, then shoot for the highest quality thatis financially feasible (this definitly doesn’t mean though that the most expensive camp is alos the best one). Do some research, and ask teammates about which campst hey have gone to and enjoyed. As well, if money is tight, save on things that are not that important: going to a good camp close to home is usaually going to be more cost-effective than going to a camp that is 400km away simply because of hotel/lodging costs. Also, know your child: some kids can go like the Energizer Bunny for a week; some kids can’t. Everyone is different. If your kid is bagged and has lost focus after Day 3, then sending him/her to a week-long camp is not a great idea. Find a shorter camp that they can get the most out of. Generally a 13-year old will handle a longer camp better than a 6-year old.
5. What should I be looking for in a camp?
1. The experience of the coaches. Obviously the coaches have to be good, but you could be a great NHL coach yet not necessarily be a good coach for a 7-year old. Coaches with experience dealing with the age groups at the camp are generally going to do a better job than coaches who usually coach a different age group. Also, great players do not necessarily make great coaches: they COULD be great coaches, but it’s not a given that somebody with 1000 NHL games is going to be a better coach than someone who never even played pro. Don’t be influenced too much by big names. Where do the camp’s coaches regularly coach?
2. The quantity of coaches. While having quality coaches is key, having two great coaches on the ice for 30 kids is not going to make a great camp. No kid is going to get the indivual attention they should be getting. I think 5 players per coach is good; fewer players per coach is a real bonus, and once you start getting into around 7-8 players per coach they won’t be getting the attention they need, and often also not the repetitions that they need during drills.
3. How active the coaches are. You will unfortunately only find this out when you are at the camp, but having 10 coaches on the ice is only great if they are all actively involved. I want my coaches moving, demonstrating, giving quick pointers and motivating! Better off having 5 active coaches on the ice than 9 assistant coaches leaning against the boards all watching the head coach. They need to be talking to the kids, giving them feedback and high fives!
4. The overall experience. I know, I already said this but it’s worth repeating. My opinion has also changed on this over the years: I used to be a „maximum ice-time“ type of guy, but I’ve come to realize that anything more than about three hours of ice time per day is just overkill. Yes, the ice time is still the most important, but the entire package of off-ice, other activities, hanging out and maybe getting to try out some new gear or other cool add-ons is what makes a camp great as a whole. I will be trying over the next few years to incorporate some more of these „extras“ into my camps to make them even better!
Well, that’s it for now. If you aren’t sending your son or daugther to a hockey camp this summer, don’t worry about them „falling behind“. If they want to go to a camp and you can afford it then that’s awesome, just make sure you do your research so that they can have a great few days or week! Have a great summer and see you soon back on the ice!