How to put on a summer basketball camp
When I became a head varsity coach, I strongly believed it was essential to organize and run a youth summer basketball camp at the high school. Prior to this time, there was not an organized youth basketball camp in the community.
I was 40 years old at the time, and I planned to be a head coach in that community for years to come. I believed an organized youth basketball camp program would pay tremendous dividends in the future years. It will always take a few years when you start something new to get it exactly the way you want it be, so it’s critical to be patient, work hard, stay organized, and have good instructors working your camp. In all likelihood, there will be some trial and error before you’re totally satisfied with what you’ve created.
When I started, these are some of the questions I had to consider:
- How many weeks should I run the camp?
- When is the best time to run it?
- How many hours each day should it be?
- What facilities will I use?
- What will be the cost per camper?
- Who will be the instructors/coaches?
- How much should the instructors be paid?
- What will be the camp’s format
- How do I advertise the camp?
- Will the basketball program make or lose money?
- What’s the real purpose of the camp?
Here’s a breakdown of each question and what I learned along the way.
How many weeks?
After about three years of running the camp, we decided to run it just one week.
I know that some youth camps run two or three weeks, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My coaching staff thought that if we scheduled the camp early enough, and parents knew what week it would be, they could more easily work it into their summer plans. What we found is that many parents would actually plan their vacation around our camp. As a result, we always seemed to have good attendance.
What week is best?
I was fortunate to have been the first coach that ran an organized camp at the high school and, as a result, I usually had my pick of when I wanted to hold it.
There were three junior highs and nine grade schools that sent students to our high school, so I checked their school calendars to find their last days. I also would check with my coaches about their availability, and I would then decide what week to run the camp. Usually, it would be either the second or third week of June. It’s important to do your best to avoid holidays.
How many hours?
After a few years, we decided to run the camp Monday through Thursday. We discovered that if we ran it on Friday, attendance declined significantly since families left town on a long weekend.
Grades four through seven went from 9 to 11:30 a.m., and grades eight and nine went from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Some might think that two-and-a-half hours is too much for grade-schoolers, but it was never an issue. Having the eighth and ninth graders during the early afternoon worked extremely well and gave us plenty of time to cover many areas of the game that we felt they needed to be exposed to.
What facilities can we use?
We were fortunate to have outstanding camp facilities at the high school. During the morning sessions, we had a field house that had two full-sized courts side by side, and each court had six baskets — it was a perfect camp facility.
For the afternoon sessions, we had use of our main gym right across the hallway from the field house. I have worked camps were facilities were not adequate for the number of campers present, and this is a factor you must consider for your own event.
What’s the cost?
We kept the cost of the camp as low as possible. I was not interested in making money for myself. In fact, I never paid myself a penny.
What I wanted was to make our attendance as high as possible. My goal was to have an outstanding basketball program at the school, and that meant reaching the highest number of kids. The community was a low- to middle-income area, so it was critical that I didn’t price them out of the camp. Learn about the makeup of your own community before setting a price.
Who will coach?
I typically had a staff of five coaches, including myself. Most years, I was fortunate enough to have three coaches work the camp who were on my staff at the high school, plus one capable junior high coach. I paid the coaches as much as I could, because the overall quality of a camp is determined by the staff that’s working it.
What’s the format?
When it comes to the format, that varies greatly based on the philosophy of the head varsity coach. The fundamentals taught and the drills used should be relatively similar throughout the program.
For our fourth- to seventh-graders, we set up stations where they worked on shooting fundamentals (jump shot, layups), dribbling skills, passing and catching, perimeter skills, post skills, rebounding, and defense. We then did some full-court group work (passing, catching, dribbling, fast break) before transitioning to half-court games of 3-on-3 and 4-on-4. We would finish with full-court games.
We invited and encouraged parents of campers to arrive with 15 minutes left in the camp. We did this so we could tell them and show them the drills that we completed that day in camp. We received a lot of great feedback from parents on this.
During the afternoon session with eighth- and ninth-graders, we basically ran a typical high school practice. We started with offensive improvement — shooting, ball handling, passing and catching, post and perimeter work, free-throw shooting. We then did fast-break drills, rebounding drills and man-to-man defensive drills. We followed with half-court games and the basic offense of our program against man-to-man defense. We finished with full-court scrimmages.
How do I advertise?
If you’re going to run a basketball camp, it’s extremely important to have multiple ways to advertise or disseminate information to prospective campers.
I was able to get an announcement in both of our local newspapers starting in early April, and I asked them to run it as often as they could. I would run off about 1,000 brochures and drop some off at the junior highs and grade schools in the area. I would take others and drop them off at the park district. The announcement in the newspaper would mention that the brochures were at the schools and the park district. Interested campers also could contact me, and I would mail a brochure.
Once we had run the camp for a few years, I would mail a couple brochures to campers who attended during previous summers. I also contacted the local AAU programs to get names and addresses of potential campers. It was a lot of work, but it’s essential if want to get the attendance that you desire.
Will I make money?
We never lost money on the camp; most years, we broke even. Each camper left with a basketball camp T-shirt, a camp basketball and a packet of drills they could work on during the offseason for individual improvement.
What’s the purpose?
Here’s a shortlist of reasons for why we created a summer youth basketball camp:
- Create interest in the basketball program.
- Provide quality instruction on basic basketball fundamentals.
- Introduce the philosophy of our basketball program to campers and community.
- Have players come in contact with the high school basketball staff.
- Demonstrate to players, parents and the community that the staff is dedicated and willing to put in the work needed to have a quality program.
- Introduce eighth- and ninth-graders to our offensive and defensive systems.
- Create a positive learning experience for the campers.
Before you start running a summer basketball camp, make sure you put in the necessary thought and preparation about what you want to accomplish. I know that each school, program and community is unique, but hopefully some of the ideas help you get off to a fast start.
Don Kloth is the sophomore basketball coach at Warren Township High School (Illinois) and is the all-time winningest varsity coach at Lake County High School (Illinois).