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How to Start a Summer Sports Camp

This year I have just started my forth year of running a Summer Sports Camp at CrossFit South Bend. As I look back at the challenges, there are couple things that I have learned along the way that I wanted to share with you all.

Running this camp has allowed me to become a better strength and conditioning coach. Interacting with athletes on a daily basis gives me the opportunity develop my coach’s eye, which is an invaluable tool to coaches. Implementing Power Athlete concepts on a daily basis allows me to see the connection between different movements, understand their purpose, and identify limiting factors. I’ve also been able to utilize and fine tune the components Tex talks about in his series on becoming a Power Coach.

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At CrossFit South Bend, the summers can be a quiet time for us. We are 10 minutes away from the University of Notre Dame, which is a great thing during the school year. During the summer, however, we can see up to 20 percent of a decrease in membership. Offering a specialty program like the Summer Sports Performance Camp allows us to manage the loss of college students. Our first camp also gave us the ability to launch athlete training programs throughout the school year, which allowed us to expand and offer new opportunities year round.

Getting Athletes in the Door

Growing up, I played any sport I could convince my mom to let me play. In high school, I focused on football and rugby. As I entered college, I shifted my focus solely to rugby; it was the sport I was most passionate about. In 2009 I was offered the chance to coach the team at the high school I graduated from, on the very field where I used to play. Coaching gave me the opportunity to reach out to a pool of athletes and build the camp I wanted to start.

Even though I had a full team I’d been working with for three years already, I still found it difficult getting kids through the door. The reasons varied. The price was too expensive, they already had plans to “work out” on their own, or they already had someone else they were going to work with. In the first year, we had only a handful of athletes. Some were more dedicated than others. As coaches, we would love to have a weight room full of athletes. When this doesn’t happen, however, we’re presented with a great opportunity:

Put everything into the kids who are willing to do the work and create monsters that can’t be ignored when they go back to their teams.

That’s what I did in that first year and coaches, parents, and other athletes took notice.  Parents and coaches started asking what the athletes had been doing in the off-season, and the athletes started recruiting their friends. By 2015, we increased our attendance over 100%.

So, what do you do if you don’t have a team you’re currently in contact with? Go through your current member list and make note of those who have kids active in sports or have good relationships with coaches. Reach out to them and tell them you’re going to run a summer sports camp aimed at creating bigger, faster, stronger, more coachable, and safer athletes who are less prone to injury. See if you can get a phone call or set up an in person meeting with them. Phones work better than an email.

Once you have created your interest list, invite parents and coaches to an open house and run the athletes through a sample training day. This is a great chance for you to interact with coaches and parents and establish yourself as an expert who will take their son/daughter/athlete to the next level.

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Now that you've planted the seed and your camp is up and running let's take a look at how you can continue to grow. I decided to team up with fellow Power Athlete Coach Chad Hobbs to put together list of tips. Chad runs the very successful Athlete Factory in Bloomington-Normal Illinois. We fleshed out three things that you need to attack to get your camp up and running.

Leverage your connections!
If you have a gym, you have members who have helped cultivate your gym's community, and your credibility as a coach. This should the first place you look. Also talk to former coaches, friends, family, etc. to spread the word. If you have any current athletes you are working with have them help spread the word that their friends should join them

Get your foot in the door!
Do not be afraid to offer services for free. Contact coaches and offer to do a free clinic on warm ups/cool downs, nutrition, mini testing combines, sprinting, etc. This may not lead to immediate sign ups but it is a chance for you to start getting your name out there. This way people can start to associate you with sports performance.

Speak the language
When talking to the athlete, their parents, or the coach, you need to have an understanding of the sport and the terminology of that sport. This is going to help you create buy in with the strength and conditioning work you are planning on doing. Chad gives a great example of this, “I am confident that I will get more “buy-in” from my athlete if I can create a performance perspective specific to their sport. This is going to lead to more effective development and a longer term client. Why? Because when the other coach is telling the athlete to lunge because it will make them stronger and more explosive, I am telling the athlete how much this lunge is going to help them with their step-back off a defender to create more space, just like James Harden.”

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Programming

The fall prior to running my first camp, I worked with a couple high school rugby players as personal clients. I thought strength was the sole answer to making them better athletes. So I put them on a linear progression, and they rode that out until the season started. After observing them over the rugby season, I realized that while the strength had helped, there were still gaps that need to be addressed. I knew I needed to run the summer program differently. I reflected back on what had worked for me and the answer was CrossFit Football.

I had been following CrossFit Football since 2009 as a way to fuel my own rugby career.  So for the first summer we followed Crossfit Football workouts, and in speaking with and observing my athletes in their field of play, the summer program was a definite improvement on what I’d run in the fall. Later that year, I started my internship on the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff. This opened my eyes to a whole new level of training to work into my own program.

Anyone who has been to a CrossFit Football seminar or switched over to a program like Field Strong knows that the workouts posted on CrossFitFootball.com are only scratching the surface. We call it a "shell" program. There are no warm ups, cool downs, or accessory work. This will need to be programmed with your athlete's sport and goals in mind.

The second year I ran a program with warm ups, cool downs, and accessory work. It was very similar to what you would find with Field Strong. That summer I felt I had a program that was specifically designed to meet the needs of my athletes. Each year was better than the one before as I grew as a coach, and the guys grew as athletes. The secret? I kept what I knew worked, adn ditched what didn't! I knew keeping the linear progression was key to developing an athlete’s base strength. I kept the base philosophies of the CrossFit Football conditioning workouts and added knowledge I acquired through my CrossFit Football internship to round out the program.

Once you have a solid program established you will have a workable template going forward that you can hang your hat on.

As your knowledge increases and the athletes change, minor tweaks will need to be made, but the foundation is still there. Tips: make sure that you take good notes on the program you’re running, what works and what doesn’t. Note what you learned throughout the year that can be added to make your program more comprehensive. Watch your athletes in their field of play and get their feedback. This is the ultimate test. Did they feel like they were prepared? Do you think they looked prepared? These are things you should thinking about and taking notes on so you can start to fine-tune your program.

Things to take into consideration

Span of Control
How many athletes can you effectively coach? The last thing you want is to do a great job of filling the program and have 20 kids show up, when you feel you can only handle 12. This could leave you overwhelmed and significantly reduce the quality of your program. Set a cap on the class and be conservative, you want to grow into your comfort zone. If you want to increase the cap be sure to have a second coach that is qualified to assist you when the number of athletes exceeds your abilities.

Programming
Are you going to follow something like CrossFit Football, Field Strong, or The Basics, or are you going to program your own summer template? How many days week will you be offering the class and how long is each training session going to be? How many athletes can you run through your program at one time? The less time, and the greater amount of athletes you have - the simpler (yet still highly effective) the program may have to become. It may look like going from something that looks like Field Strong to The Basics.

Equipment
If you are planning to follow one of the programs offered by Power Athlete, do you have the necessary equipment the program requires? How many athletes can your equipment accommodate? Are you going to have to purchase new equipment? Do you have the wherewithal to figure out substitutions?

Training Time
What is going to be the optimal time of day for you to run the your camp? There’s a good chance a lot of your athletes aren’t going to be able to drive and will rely on parents for rides. Older athletes may have jobs they need to work around. Will you run the camp during a free time at the gym – or at the same time as an existing class? This could be a great way to make use of time where nothing is going on. Conversely will you have to run at the same time as a current existing class? This could greatly affect the amount of space, and equipment you have available to run a specific program.

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Summer Sports Camp Action Steps

  1.     Go through every contact you have and start compiling your list of those who think would be interested. Let them know you will be putting on a Summer Sports Performance Camp developed around creating bigger, faster, stronger, more coachable, and safer athletes who are less prone to injury.
  1.     Decide what your programming will look like. Are you going to follow one of the Power Athlete programs, such as Field Strong or The Basics? Or will you be trying your hand at creating the program? Whichever you choose, make sure it is a program that involves a linear progression, has violent hip extension and is full body, requires movement through multiple planes and change of direction, and follows the mantra of Heavy Hard Fast.
  1.      Make sure you take into account the small details. Nothing can be too small. Things like how many athletes your equipment can accommodate, your span of control, and optimal time of class may not be at the forefront of your concerns, but they are just as important. You won't be able to predict everything, but analyzing it as best as you can will ensure you minimize the bumps along the way.

Carl Case

Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Crossfit Football as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the CrossFit Football program since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.

After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.

Posted in Blog, Coaching, Featured, Programming | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

7 Responses to How to Start a Summer Sports Camp

  1. El Conando

    Fantastic advice dude. How often do parents or siblings of your athletes come in and observe your sessions? Do you encourage it?

    • @ElCondo, when I first start sit down before working with an athlete I will usually mention to the parent that they are welcomed to come in and watch a session. This can be tool for establishing more credibility with them. However, I will say most don’t take up on this offer. Some when they come to pick up their kid will watch the last 10 minutes or so. I would be cautious about extending that offer pass one of the initial sessions. You don’t want to have that parent who is trying to micromanage everything you are doing with their kid. I’m sure @chobbs has some feelings about this.

      Having a sibling come in and watch could also be a useful tool. This could be a helpful tool in recruiting them, and taking advantage of a connection that you already have established with their sibling.

  2. Good stuff Carl! Oh and by the way….”GOOD TO SEE YOU!”

  3. Great article, we have been thinking about doing something like this for a while. Now we currently run classes in the summer specifically for teens that’s one hour long. Now with the camp do you have it running a little longer (2 hour sessions)? If yes how do you fill the hour? During the the session of the We are thinking of doing sport and/or sprint session, strength session, then a nutrition and/or being an athlete session followed by more strength conditioning stuff that would be like crossfit football workout or strongman style.

    • Bob good question. The camp that we run is around 75-90 minutes. If you have followed Field Strong, or looked at it the program it looks very similar. It can very day to day, but the basic format is Pre-Warm Up, Dynamic Movement Prep, 2 Strength Components, 2 of the 4 Days will consist of Intensity/Volume Sprint with the other 2 CFFB Conditioning Style Workouts, and then a good Cool Down.
      With the softball team that I worked with we shortened a lot of this focused on the basics and got it done in an hour. Hope this helps you out.

  4. @ElCondo. Most parents don’t elect to watch although we allow it. However, those that do we make it very clear that they don’t say anything to their kids during the session. Also, with our set up they don’t have a lot of room to stand and since we don’t let them move around and follow their kid through the session they don’t get a whole lot out of watching anyway.

  5. I am glad that you mentioned that you should understand the terminology used in whatever sport your camp attendants play. My uncle wants to start a sports camp but needs to know what to do to get started. I think that he might need to find some insurance first before doing anything else.

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