Sports: Team, individual camps teach similar lessons

Both build skills, community

Photo courtesy of Singletrack Mountain Bike Alliance

There’s a potential, fencing coach Scott Permer acknowledges, for parents to see individual sports camps as a little lonely.

“Fencing would look like, well, jeez, me versus everybody else,” says Permer, a coach at Northern Colorado Fencers’ summer camps in Boulder. “There are times in the day when we do that. But we have group warm-ups where they all get together, play games. When we’re learning, there are lots of times when it resembles a class, where kids are listening to an instructor and watching a demonstration. Then there’s a lot of time where they’re fencing, but fencing’s kind of conducted within a group. You fence somebody, then you find somebody else to fence and keep cycling through all the people there.”

Deciding between a team and an individual sports camp isn’t really picking between constant companionship and total isolation. At Boulder Indoor Soccer’s camps, for example, the team sport gets an individual makeover, Director of Coaching Peter Ambrose says.

“Our focus is on individual skill work and control of the ball, so that the kids become confident with the ball,” he says. That means lots of individual practice and one-on-one drills, which Ambrose says takes the emphasis from building team rapport and places it on developing skills.

“There is no team idea involved,” he says. “By the end of it, they hopefully have enough confidence … to apply it to a team sport. So then it really doesn’t matter what team they’re on.”

And Jessica Vogt, program director for Singletrack Mountain Bike Adventures (SMBA), says mountain biking camps specifically try to emphasize teamwork, including “work with team camaraderie and working together and cheering each other on.” And camp participants aren’t isolated, she says, mentioning outreach like trail-building and volunteering at Community Food Share.

At team camps, participants sometimes show up hoping to play with their friends. Ambrose says there’s a place for that, but the social interaction isn’t constant.

“They’re going to be together, but they’re still going to do the one-vone, they’ll be learning the individual concepts,” he says. “Then when it gets to be game time, sure, they’ll play as a team. That’s the fun part of it. So that they get the best of both worlds.”

Vogt, an alumna of the mountain bike camp herself, says the individual sport made her self-reliant.

“When I grew up I went to both kinds of camps, and I guess what SMBA gave me is a little bit more of a sense of independence and pushing myself on my own,” she says. “I had to learn to challenge myself and make goals for myself. That was probably one of the best parts.”

Permer says kids’ preferences seem to be dictated by their closeness to their circle of friends.

“When the school year rolls around, there are some that seemed like they were very interested in fencing, but they move off because they wanted to be with their friends who are more interested in this other sport — they didn’t try fencing over the summer,” he says. “They’ve all decided they’re going to play whatever team sport it is that season. … Then there are other kids who don’t seem to be that attached to their friends at school. So I guess that would be probably the biggest dividing line I see that way. If a kid is plugged into a group of friends and they like doing lots of things together and that’s kind of their rhythm, even if they like it, fencing will probably be difficult if their friends are doing something else.”