Would my child benefit from a wrestling camp? And how might I choose the right one for them to attend? Those are two big questions many parents are pondering this time of year. The not-so-easy answer to both, however, is: it depends.
"It’s important to understand where your child is at in the sport," says Steve Glassey, founder of the C.O.C Elite Wrestling Camps (formerly Camp of Champions). "Is your child new to the sport and need to focus on the fundamentals? Is he or she more advanced and experienced and at the point where they need to take the next step in development to get to the next level? Would they benefit from the physical and mental training of an intensive camp? How do they need to be challenged?"
Ty Eustice, Director of Operations for J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camps in Minneapolis, says every wrestler has strengths and weaknesses, so it's important for parents and wrestlers to take the time to sit down and discuss their development what they want to get out of a camp.
"There are camps geared towards every skill level, from a newcomer to the sport looking to learn technique to the experienced wrestler looking for an intensive camp that can challenge them like never before," says Eustice.
A technique camp is a great way to focus on the basics, learn the fundamentals and develop skills that will help you improve your overall wrestling ability, says Mark Perry Sr., Camp Director for John Smith's Wrestling Camps at Oklahoma State University
"I always recommend a technique camp for those under the age of 12,” says Perry. “If you can learn and practice your stance and positioning, learn how to sprawl, learn a single leg, a double leg and a high crotch, that's going to help you if you want to take your wrestling to the next level. Start with the basics and go from there.”
Wrestling camp is a great way to improve as a wrestler in lower pressure—yet still high intensity—environment. At camp, the stakes aren't as high as during a youth or high school season.
"It's not about winning,” Eustice points out. “The entire camp experience should be about learning how to deal with putting yourself in the different wrestling positions you are going to encounter when it really matters. You can go through ups and downs and adversity in camp and work on ways to overcome those challenges without putting pressure on yourself to win."
It's important that wrestlers appreciate that camps are learning environments—most encourage attendees to take actual notes—and then go back and apply to lessons in training once they return home.
"What we can do at camp is help change bad habits, we can teach them the right way to do things and get them kick started on the way to improving and having a successful wrestling career,” Eustice says.
Glassey says it’s also important to keep up with physical conditioning prior to camp, so it’s a good idea for the child to stay fit and get some mat time prior to attending. This can help them get the most out of the experience and help avoid injury.
Another key point parents should consider: for many younger children, wrestling summer camp might also be the first time they face the prospect of being away from home for an extended period of time. Gauging when your son or daughter is ready for that will vary from family to family and even from child to child.
"We get a lot of calls from worried parents wondering how their child is doing,” Glassey explains. “But we see it every year, kids come into camp from all over the country and they don't know anybody. (At first), they are shy, timid, not really sure what to expect. But when they leave, they are like brothers, they've made new friends and had an experience on and off the mat they will never forget."
How can a parent or wrestler determine if a camp is right for their wrestler and their budget? Consider these tips below:
- Ask Questions: Call the camp director to talk about the camp and see how your wrestler fits in. Ask other parents about their experience at certain camps. Go beyond looking at the camp web site and brochure.
- Every wrestler is different: What might be an appropriate camp for your son or daughter's best friend on the team may not be the best fit for your child. Call a variety of camps and talk to the directors to ask questions that fit your wrestler’s needs. Also consult with the local club or high school coach to get thoughts on where they feel your wrestler could benefit most.
- Will there be workout partners: If your child is a lighter weight or a heavyweight, make sure there are workout partners attending the camp so they can drill with some weight-appropriate. There is nothing worse than a heavyweight not having anybody to drill with because they are bigger than the rest of the kids at camp.
- Experience something new: If you are from the Midwest and want to learn what kids out east or west are doing, how they train, or just want a completely unique environment, consider attending a camp in a different part of the country than where your child usually competes.
- Can they handle being away from home?: For some kids a week-long wrestling camp could be the first time they ever stay away from home for an extended time. Are they ready for it emotionally and psychologically?
- Don't dismiss the small local camp: Camps through the local high school, club, or even small college can offer great learning opportunities in a more familiar environment. There are a lot of excellent coaches and teachers ready to help your child have a great camp experience.
- Know your budget: The small local camp can also be a less expensive way to get mat time and additional training, especially for parents/wrestlers who are newer to the sport.
- Be realistic: A camp sets the foundation for the future. It won’t automatically make a child a state champ. Learn at camp and apply after camp to succeed.
- Expect the unexpected: Camp is completely different than your youth or high school practice. Coaches are different. Camp members are different. Soak up this opportunity to learn from others in a new setting.
- Have fun: Camps can be educational, intense and hard work. But they should also be a fun experience. Don't send a child to a camp that will discourage them from competing or enjoying the sport.