Not all youth runners are excited about heading off to running camp. Many parents are faced with a dilemma. They have the good intention to help develop their son or daughter into the best runner they can possibly be. And summer running camp is an ideal way to stimulate their running, kick them into gear to prepare them for the upcoming cross-country season. But, not all runners are ready to head off to a camp. Some youth experience a bit of anxiety with the prospect of heading off to camp. Parents are left to debate, convince or soothe their youth runner over the whole camp idea.
Below I cover the top two common youth concerns and specific actions to take to eliminate or reduce these concerns. Those fears or anxiety producers are related to one’s running ability and fitting in to the camp or with other runners.
1. Am I good enough?
A common myth about running camps is that only the best runners attend or if you aren’t “good enough” you shouldn’t go. One approach is to fight fear with logic since most fears are not based in sound logic.
Reality: No one wants to be last. Yet someone will be. But that also means, everyone else will not be! If there are 70 campers the odds that you are the slowest is one-in-seventy. The fear in youth often goes beyond this however. It is blown out of proportion.
Reality: If you are in the middle of the pack at your school, you will probably be in the middle of the pack at camp.
Reality: Everyone wants to be faster – from the first gal or guy to the last gal or guy out there! How you get better is by doing the extra things – like going to a running camp to learn how to improve!
· Contact potential camps and ask about the abilities of the runners who attend. If they accept “beginner” or “intermediate” runners, ask for examples of times past campers have run so you can have a logical comparison to your youth.
· Find camps that will have a low counselor-to-camper ratio (9:1 to 10:1 is my standard at Arizona Running Camps) to be sure your youth will have the attention necessary.
· Find camps with very large attendance (100+). It’s a matter of statistics. The more runners there are, the broader spectrum of abilities there will be. (Balance that with less personal attention you may get.)
· Find out how camps accommodate differing abilities such as grouping runners, assigning counselors to groups of similar abilities on various workouts, tailoring workouts to the capabilities of the runners (instead of having everyone do everything which can get under-trained runners injured very quickly!)
2. Will I fit in?
It is common to wonder if you fit in. It is even more common for teens to be concerned about cliques, friendships, lack of friends, being left out, being different and the like.
If your youth has attended any types of camps in the past it will offer you insights into how they will manage a new environment.
Encourage teammates to attend the same camp. Attending with others offers a “social security” if you will. It’s a great way to build camaraderie in a team as well. This has been the number one remedy in my experience.
· Talk to other parents from your team and get them on board!
· Talk to your team coach to coordinate bringing the whole team! Often coaches attend for free or there are discounts for multiple runners to attend the camp.
· Find camps that are smaller (50 or less) with more personal attention.
· Look for camps that have a balance of activities aside from the running. Does the camp site have basketball courts, volleyball courts, or tennis courts? These encourage other ways to interact. And it offers opportunities to demonstrate other skills other than running.
· Find out how the counselors interact with campers. Are they assigned to smaller groups within the running camp? What are the housing arrangements? How accessible are counselors to the campers? Having low ratios, sub-groups, pods, etc. encourage interactions. The larger the group, the more intimidating it is. Large groups have been shown to decrease individual participation.
· What kind of group games or activities are conducted? Some camps have runners do skits or create and sing songs. If this isn’t your youth’s cup of tea it’s better to know up front than to put them in a situation that increases their anxiety and puts them in the position to be “different”. On the other hand, some unstructured down times between running, lectures, activities is an excellent way to create opportunities for connections on a smaller scale. That can be magic in making someone feel welcomed and fit in!
· Look at past camps and what campers have had to say about the camp. Look at pictures to give you insights into what goes on and how other youth runners have reacted and interacted while at camp.
I would be remiss if I did not clearly state that on the other hand if your youth is truly not ready for camp, do not send them. Not everyone is ready. Maybe next year will be the year. It’s amazing the changes that can take place in that time.
Parents, while doing all these things will not guarantee a great experience at camp they will go a long way towards opening that special opportunity not just to run better, or meet new friends; but to expand horizons and learn about themselves.