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Summer Sports Camps: Worthwhile for All Student-Athletes, or Just the Elite?

With schools out for the summer, many young athletes end up attending sports camps (if only to give mom and dad a much-needed break every day). But are these camps worthwhile for all student-athletes, or just the elites who hope to compete at the intercollegiate and professional levels?

The Deseret News attempted to answer that question yesterday while profiling a few local athletes. One of the athletes mentioned, BYU sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps, first attended a sports camp at age 11, where he later started drawing the attention of college scouts.

With more than 1.1 million student-athletes playing high school football each year, and only a little more than 66,000 football players competing in college, it's not difficult to see why these athletic camps succeed in drawing in prospects. "It's an investment with a hope of return," said Kelly Heaps, Jake's mom, to the paper.

The major benefit these camps provide their athletes is exposure to college programs. While college coaches are often banned from attending these camps to scout prospects, the camps will often film prospects and send those tapes to major college recruiters. (For what it's worth, specialized recruiting services exist for that same reason.)

Unless a high school athlete completely stands out from his peers during his/her sport's regular season in the school year, said athlete runs the risk of going unnoticed by college scouts. Jake Heaps' parents told the paper that they've seen talented players get looked over for college scholarships, largely because those players didn't participate in skills camps.

But the camp costs can add up, as Trent Hatch, the father of a 13-year-old boy who's going through the football-camp circuit, told the News.

"[Camps have] cost me my retirement," said Hatch. "It's cost me not only financially, as an investment, but emotionally, physically, and a lot of time. It is important to take what we've learned from these camps and practice them and learn from them to improve with your kid in the offseason and over a period of time."

Day sports camps can cost upwards of a few hundred dollars per week; add an extra hundred or two if the campers stay overnight.

So, are camps worthwhile for all student-athletes, or just the elite? For the elite athletes in a given sport, there's little question: Camps provide unique value that can help them land a college scholarship and continue their athletic career.

For the student-athletes who don't plan on playing their sports past high school, the payback may not be great enough to send them to a high-intensity camp environment like Nike's The Opening, which only the top athletes across the country attend.

That said, there's likely not much harm in sending most student-athletes to camps sponsored by local/professional athletes, such as the Kevin Durant Basketball Camp or the LeBron James King's Academy (unless, of course, you don't want your kid to be dunked on by a two-time NBA MVP). How many chances in life do you get to learn from the absolute best at something? Imagine your kid learning to shoot a jumpshot from the 23-year-old two-time scoring champion Durant. Try replacing those memories.

There's typically no shortage of pro-hosted camps in most major metropolitan areas. Being a Philly guy myself, I know Thaddeus Young of the Philadelphia 76ers hosted a basketball camp in late June (see this list for more pro-hosted basketball camps), and the Philadelphia Eagles hosted its annual summer football camps for 6 to 14 year olds.

Being a veteran of many years of choose-your-own-sport day camp, I'll also vouch for their effectiveness. While I never did go on to a successful professional athletic career, I did run around a lot. And in the summer heat, that many hours of physical activity trumps hours otherwise filled with video games, TV screens, and computers any day of the week.

Kids, you'll have enough time in your life spent staring at screens. Expect to do it for all of your 40-plus-year professional careers. Go out and run around in the summertime while you still have the chance.

And parents, as long as you aren't burning through your retirement funds just to get your children out of the house in the summer, you likely shouldn't hesitate when asking yourself if you should send your kids to sports camp this summer. It's tough to imagine many better ways to promote physical wellness.

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