May 6, 2013

The Hockey Mom on camp selection: Get input, trust instincts

By April Bowling

Choosing a camp is no time for hasty decisions. While a great camp inspires and recharges children, a poorly run camp can ruin a precious week of summer. In the case of hockey camps, the last thing I want to do is diminish Sam’s desire to play come fall with unnecessary and unhappy summer ice time. So here is the process this time-crunched but slightly neurotic hockey mom recommends.

Read New England Hockey Journal

OK, that’s a shameless plug, but it’s true. There are pages and pages of local and regional camps, which can give you a great starting point to see what is out there and begin the process of thinking about what will work best for your family, no matter what age or level of player you have. 

Ask your child

Here’s my advice. Don’t ask your child if he or she wants to go to hockey camp. Tell them you aren’t going to let him or her go to hockey camp this summer and see what their reaction is. Does their mouth drop open right before they launch into a bitter protest? Then sign them up! Do they jump for joy? Then consider waiting until the end of the summer and doing a brush-up camp or a few lessons when they’ve had some time away. If their reaction is more ambiguous, sit down with them and ask a few more questions.

How much hockey do you want to play this summer? What did you like about last year’s camps if you did any? What didn’t you like? Where are your friends going? This is an important question because some children are OK with going to a camp where they don’t know anyone well, but many others need to be surrounded with buddies to have a good time. Only you and your child know what will work best for them.

Ask their coaches

The first thing I did when I realized camps were filling up and we had made no plans was to shoot an email to Sam’s coaches. I asked them not which camps they would recommend, what types of skills they felt were most important for him right now. They had great suggestions that gave me a researching shortcut. Within an hour I had a short list of camps.

Ask their friends

Sam does great with one or two friends but is more interested in playtime than practice if he’s with a pack. However, it’s a non-starter if he doesn’t know anyone going at all. So reach out and see where teammates and friends are going, and if you’ve found a great camp, do some active recruiting if it will help your child succeed. 

Ask yourself

What does my child really need? A break from structure? A chance to reconnect with interests neglected during the school year? If hockey camp is a go, what type of skills do they need to work on the most? What about the parents? How much childcare coverage do you need over the summer? How much structure do YOU need or want? What’s the budget? 

* * * 

Here’s how my process worked with Sam this year. As you’ll see, the more organic you keep it, the better.

Step 1.  Ask Sam

Me: “Sam, even though most of your team is doing one, I’m not sure we are going to send you to hockey camp this year.”

Sam: “Why?”

Me: “I think you need a break.”

Sam: “OK. Can we get some Oreos at the store?”

Apparently Sam didn’t have a driving need for hockey camp. But then again, two days later, he asked me what camps he would be doing.

Me: “Probably sailing camp. Maybe some Lego robotics camp. Why, what kind of camp do you want to go to?”

Sam: “Hockey camp. I wanna learn to deke people out and carry the puck through traffic. I’m tired of always losing it.”

Me: “OK.” See how easy that was?

Step 2.  Ask his coaches

Sam has gotten a lot better as a skater, but a popular recommendation was for a skating-only clinic to learn techniques there are not time for in practice. That didn’t jibe with Sam’s wishes to work on puck-handling, but a coach found one for us that was only a couple of hours for a few days, hardly a major impact on the summer schedule. 

To fulfill Sam’s request, I took the advice of several coaches and friends and signed him up for a particular end-of summer stickhandling camp, which several of their own kids had attended.

Step 3. Ask his friends

Still in progress as we try to nail down the exact dates we are away on vacation and which camp session we will do. But as soon as that’s complete, an email is going out to his team.

Step 4. Ask myself

Not a lot of questioning was needed here. We need a break this summer, so we are keeping most time for free-range play. We were in complete agreement to limit camps to less than four weeks of the summer, and no more than half-day. I’m lucky that my work is flexible and I can do that, but there are an incredible variety of camps with schedules, fees and curriculums to satisfy every family. In fact, you’ll find a lot of them in the pages of New England Hockey Journal.

My final piece of advice? You need to do what is right for your child and your family. Don’t let other parents, coaches, friends or well-meaning family members make the camp decision for you. If you take your time, listen to your child and honor your instincts, you can’t go wrong. Instead, you can go to the right camp and then go to the beach.

April Bowling is a mother of two, including one avid little hockey player named Sam. Owner of TriLife Coaching, a multisport training firm in Essex, Mass., April also co-founded the TriROK Foundation.