Youth basketball camps are a great way to build your basketball program into the competitive juggernaut you've always dreamed of it being. This long-term approach is what keeps kids interested in playing basketball and dreaming of one day wearing your school name across their chest. If you're looking to build a program that competes at a high level every year then a fun and competitive youth basketball camp needs to be a part of your basketball program.
Filling Your Youth Basketball Camps
If your youth basketball camps have a low number of kids participating in them something is wrong and it needs to be fixed right away. If you're the varsity coach or the camp director you need to take a serious look at three things: format, coaches, and competition.
The format of a youth basketball camp has a lot to do with how fast paced the camp is. Kids don't like sitting around for too long and they don't like listening all of the time. Now you can't get rid of the coaching aspect where kids need to sit and listen. You can make sure they're moving and interacting with each other and the camp coaches frequently. (I'll cover this in more detail in a second.)
Who is working your camp? I've been to camps where there is one coach and a bunch of kids and the one coach gives all of the instruction first, and then all the kids perform the drill that was just explained. This is tough on the coach and the kids. You need to have your high school players as your assistant coaches in camp. They need to be interacting and joining the kids in the drills. Kids look up to these players and get excited when they get to interact with them. If you don't have your high school players helping coach the kids aren't going to tell their friends who they talked to and they won't be excited to come back the next day, week, or year.
Kids love competition. If you're not teaching a skill and then allowing kids to compete using the skill you need to start doing this right away. Competitions can be as simple as relay races when dribbling or making a certain number of shots while shooting. More advanced competitions would be to use small-sided games where kids are playing against another player. They don't necessarily need a winner or loser, just something that pushes the kids in a fun way.
Youth basketball players like a fast pace schedule, interacting with high school players as their coaches, and competing against each other. If you focus on these three criteria in your camp all you'll need to do is encourage your campers to invite a friend for day two. You'll be amazed at how fast the number of participants grows in your camp.
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How Much Should You Charge?
One of the first things to do is to answer a few questions about your camp. Each answer will be a piece of the puzzle as to how much to charge.
- What ages/grades will camp be for?
- How many days will camp be?
- How long each day is camp?
- Will you pay workers or use volunteers?
- Do you have any equipment needs? (balls, cones, pinnie jerseys, awards, etc)
- Will you give out camp t-shirts?
- Will you need to rent a gym or pay for custodians to be on site?
- Does the school take a cut or will the money go back into your program?
- Is the camp a fundraiser for your basketball program? (If yes, how much do you need to raise? Do you have other fundraisers?)
Finally, you need to do a little homework on what others in the area are charging. One piece of advice, don't compare your price to a college/university or professional player running camps. The price for these types of camps are inflated because of the name attached to them. They're typically trying to filter out kids by charging more. You're trying to get kids in the gym to build your program. After you've done a little homework on the cost of running a camp and checked out a few camps similar to yours its time to decided on what you feel appropriate to charge for your youth basketball camp.
Don't Keep Your Future Players Out Of The Gym
It's important to recognize that I'm coming from the mindset of building a program through a youth basketball camp and I'm not worried about the bottom line like a private camp. I have nothing against private camps or making money off of your expertise. It's just important to know the end goal of both types of camps - one is teaching players while making a profit, the other is teaching players while building a program.
1. Do You Have A Plan For Families Who Can't Afford Camp?
Over the years, I have had parents who just couldn't afford camp. It didn't matter how inexpensive it was there wasn't money in the budget for basketball camp. My stance has always been that I will take a hit on the bottom line if it means I get kids in the gym. This was true when I ran my own private camps and now as I run my basketball programs youth basketball camps. If a parent ever brought up cost as a reason their child couldn't attend camp I removed the barrier. At different times I've asked, "How much could you afford?" and at other times I've said, "Don't worry about it, just bring them to camp." You'll have to decide what works best for you.
2. What About Families With Multiple Kids?
If a family has three or four kids the amount it costs to send their kids to camp goes up extremely fast. Do you have a limit for families with multiple kids? I've seen camps say the first two kids are full price and all other siblings are free. Once camp did a half-price discount for two or more kids. It doesn't matter what you choose, you just want to have a plan in place so you're fair to each family and you're not keeping kids out of the gym.
3. What If A Camper Can Only Attend Part Of The Camp?
This one can be tricky and gets hard to be consistent with. Once word gets around that one family got a discount because they could only attend two days but another family didn't get a discount and can only attend for three days it looks like a coach is playing favorites when this may not be the case at all. To stay out of the drama I didn't offer discounts. If family vacation conflicts with our youth basketball camp it just didn't work out this year. I know exactly why parents only want to pay half price for attending half the camp but it opens a can of worms I didn't want to have to deal with.
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Two Camp Formats To Choose From
There are two types of camp formats you could use. Neither is right or wrong, it's all based on what your comfort level is with delegating responsibility and recruiting camp coaches to work under you. Camps that decide to use the Camp Coach format tend to have multiple sessions with different age groups scheduled at different times and they may take longer to run each day or need to be broken up into different weeks. The Camp Director format usually has multiple grade levels together with students broken down into groups by grade. More players can attend from different age groups in a shorter period of time using this format.
Type 1: Camp Coach
As the camp coach you're the person in front of campers giving all of the instruction and any players or coaches you have helping are there to reinforce what you're teaching. If you have four camp coaches one day you may break down kids into groups of four. If it is just you then you'll keep the kids together as you run them through drills and games.
Breakdown By Grades (camp 8am-3pm)
- 1st-2nd grade 60-90 minutes
- 3rd-4th grade 60-90 minutes
- 5th-6th grade 60-90 minutes
- 7th-8th grade 60-90 minutes
- 9th-12th grade 90-120 minutes
Sample Camp Schedule
9:00 Daily Theme / Quote / Split Campers Into Two Groups
9:10 Warm-Up / Stretch
9:35 Drink Break
9:50 Shooting Instruction
10:05 Shooting Games
10:20 Dribbling Games
10:30 Camp Dismissal
Type 2: Camp Director
As a camp director, you set the schedule and allow your camp coaches to do the teaching based on their experience and ability to communicate with the kids. This format allows you to handle any issues that may come up and to take care of tasks that happen behind the scenes. This is the type of camp I run. I think it's great for my players (camp coaches) to be in front of the kids and to teach skills and referee games. This is all part of me helping them grow as young people and as basketball players.
Breakdown By Grades and Stations (9am-12pm)
- 1st-2nd grade Station 1
- 3rd-4th grade Station 2
- 5th-6th grade Station 3
- 7th-8th grade Station 4
- 9th-10th grade Station 5
- 11th-12th grade Station 6
Sample Camp Schedule
9:00 Daily Theme / Quote
9:10 Go To Stations / Warm-Up / Stretch
9:50 Shooting Tests
10:25 Lay-Up Competition
11:05 1v1 Competition
11:25 3v3 Competition
11:45 All Camp Knockout or Free Throw Competition
12:00 Camp Dismissal
Daily Theme For Camp
While most parents and kids look to youth basketball camp as a fun way to build skills it's important to recognize that sports can teach more than just skills. I've used a daily theme for every camp I've ever run. I typically start with a quote that emphasizes the theme and then I give examples of players who have exemplified the theme. Throughout the day I ask my coaching staff to be on the lookout for campers who exemplify the theme for the day. The next time the whole camp comes together, either that day or the next morning, I recognize what the camper has done.
As far as what themes I use, I've always tried to choose something that wasn't already being emphasized in station work or games. For example, the coaches at the stations talk about hard work all the time. I don't feel as though I need to use that as a theme. I like to use concepts that I want to see in my players on my teams, things such as unselfishness, being a good teammate, and honesty, being a competitor. I'm building my program for success on the court and off. This is the first step to getting the kids and parents to know we are about more than just basketball.
Daily Camp Theme Ideas
- Putting Others First
- Any thing to do with being a Good Teammate
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Youth Basketball Camp Drills
Coaches should go through the fundamentals of each skill before having players get into drills. I like to give my camp coaches (remember, they are my high school players most of the time) a packet of drills they can go to for ideas. You'll be surprised how quickly some of your coaches run out of ideas or have campers do the same thing for too long and make camp boring. Here are a few drills you could use in a packet to hand out.
Small Sided Games
Youth Basketball Camp Games
A great way to add some fun and competition to camp is through playing skill-based games. These games can be incorporated into stations or be done as an entire camp. Depending on the number of campers you have you may need to break the camp down by grades to make the drills competitive. Here are ten games to choose from:
- Sharks and Minnows
- Hot Shot Shooting
- Free Throw Competitions
- Lay-Up Competitions
- 3,2,1 Shooting
- Thunder and Lightning
- 1v1 Games and Tournaments
- 3v3 Games and Tournaments
- 5v5 League Games and Tournaments
It's always nice to wrap up a week of camp with an awards ceremony. I've seen both styles of camps I listed above do awards. Some camps do it by station and let a station coach recognize kids a while others bring everyone together and recognize campers in front of everyone. Since I act as the camp director, I have my camp coaches keep track of shooting totals in our shooting tests and who the winners are in the different competitions. We've also done awards for the hardest worker, best teammate, most coachable, and most improved.
Awards are a great way to keep your campers coming back and staying excited about basketball.
One last note on awards. It's amazing to see the camp coaches get excited for the campers as well. This may be the first time they've seen the direct impact they can have on another person. Through their coaching, a camper made more shots, was a better teammate, and did something they have never done before. This is part of creating quality players in your program but more importantly quality people.
Camp Coaches Meetings
It doesn't matter if you have one coach helping you out or you have an entire camp staff of a dozen coaches, you should have a camp coaches meeting before and after each day of camp. Find out what worked, what didn't work, what struggles coaches had, and go over that day's schedule or the next day's schedule so everyone is on the same page. I remember the feeling of walking into camp as a coach and just being given a bunch of kids with no idea what was going to be next. It's a lot more enjoyable for the coaches and ultimately the players when everyone is on the same page.
- Handout a weekly schedule
- Go over that days schedule each morning (things do change)
- Go over the next days schedule after camp each day
- Find out what was a success
- Find out what didn't work well
- Ask for success stories to use with your theme for the day
- Remind coaches of conduct and to be encouragers (remember they are high school kids)
- Talk about how long to do a drill and give new drill ideas
- See if someone will be gone and make sure another coach can cover the station
- Get scores and names of campers who won competitions
As the head of the program, you have a lot to do already. Make the summer camp season a little bit easier on yourself by getting organized early on and by allowing others to step in and help out where they are able. Good luck to you and your campers this summer