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How to choose a summer camp when money is tight?
By Mark Hellenack

As a camp and league director in Minnesota for over 20 years I have seen the camp options more than triple each year. I can only imagine the clutter a parent has to weave through in more established areas of the country where the options are overwhelming.

Camp Selection Criteria:
The first step in the process is finding camps in your area. Check your local youth association or high school website, US Lacrosse Chapter and retailers. To look for camps outside your area check Lacrosse Magazine and their website www.uslacrosse.org. Inside Lacrosse Magazine also has a national list of camps and does www.laxpower.com. Once you have a few camps in mind, here are six (6) basic criteria in order of importance that will help parents gage the value of a camp for their son or daughter.[private]

1. What skills do you want to learn?
You can go to camp for many reasons. Here are some of the more obvious:

a. spend time away from home (also known as babysitting with a lacrosse stick)
b. to improve your general skills and knowledge of the game (instructional/learning camp)
c. to improve a specific part of your game by position (position game camp)
d. to be seen by college coaches and possibly recruited (game/team camp/recruit showcase)

2. What age/grade and skill levels are offered?

This can be one of the biggest complaints we get at a camp. The better players, regardless of age don’t want to play with the new or beginning players, so make sure the camp offers 2-3 levels of play. There will always be beginners mixed in with experienced players during skill building drills, but what you want to hear is that an effort will be made to separate the players by level when there is competition. If you have a beginning player make sure the camp offers a beginner level, otherwise your son or daughter might be a little overwhelmed.

3. What is the ratio of campers to staff and what is the size of the camp?
Some camps can be a cattle drive with little personal instruction due to the shear mass of campers.

There is no magic number but a 7-1 ratio is good and 10-1 is average. The key is what individual and or small group time is spent with each player. Another thing to look for is having the same counselor work with the position group (Def, Attack, etc) or team that your child plays on during the camp. This allows them to bond with a staff member.

Recruit Camp Note: If you are looking at a team camp or recruit camp try and get a feel for the number of college coaches that attend (especially the colleges you are interested in) and more importantly will they be watching your son or daughter’s game(s). In addition to recruit camps every player (especially those in non traditional lacrosse areas) should use an online recruiting service to get exposure, advice and video footage so coaches can see them play. There could be a whole article written about this part of the recruiting process. However, in the interest of time here are just a few of the services available: www.lacrosserecruits.com, www.thecoacheseye.com, www.BeRecruiteed.com.

4. How experienced is the staff

Just because pro players run the camp or college All-Stars does not mean your child will have a great experience. Again it all comes down to expectations. Some of the best learning camps for younger players are run by and staffed by high school coaches. Also ask how prepared the staff is for emergency services, and how they handle dehydration. I know I always have misters running and water fountains nearby at my camps and it really helps especially on Astroturf where the temperature can be 10 degrees hotter then on grass.

5. Do you want a day or overnight camp and what is a good price?

An Overnight Camp is going to be $100-$200 more expensive then a Day Camp due to food, lodging and the additional costs to run it. So, a day camp is your best value. However, an overnight camp gives your child an opportunity to be immersed in the game for 3-4 days, see what college is like (food, dorms and location) and make new friends along the way. There is more down time during an overnight camp, while a day camp is usually all business with a break for lunch and a couple of water breaks. The high price of a camp is not the way to gage the value. Understand that getting a free stick and autographs from pro players do not come cheap. Again you have to ask yourself what you want from the camp.

6. What scholarships or family discounts are offered?

Camp directors usually have scholarships or discounts they can offer to those who request it. There are also discounts to families with more than one child participating in the camp. The key to finding out about these discounts is to simply ask before you register and act quickly, as they are limited on a first come, first served basis.[/private]

By Mark Hellenack
Mark is the founder of Lax Loons.com which runs boy’s youth and HS clinics, camps and leagues in Minnesota. He is now a lacrosse official, and former head coach at Saint Johns University and Hopkins HS in Minnesota and founder of the Minnesota & New Jersey Chapters of US Lacrosse.

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