Every summer, basketball camps market to parents of aspiring players by touting the number of hours on the court and implying that these hours will make a player better. I disagree. I think that we need to re-evaluate our expectations and execution of fundamental basketball camps.
First, there are three primary reasons that a parent sends his or her son or daughter to a summer basketball camp:
- Fun or social reasons
- To improve
When parents decide on a camp, they need to pick a camp designed to meet their needs. Ideally, a camp provides all three of these – however, in reality a camp focused on meeting all three needs probably fails.
If a camp focuses on fundamental skill development, players interested in developing their skills should enjoy the camp and meet some new children. However, these are extras, not a part of the camp’s mission. Similarly, a fundamental camp provides some competition in the games played during the camp, but if it tries to incorporate too much competition and exposure, it loses the learning aspect, as players do not improve in an environment where they are focused on their performance.
A camp focused on fun should dispense with the idea of making players better. These camps should focus on young players who are new to the game or who play basketball but unsure whether they love basketball enough to invest the time and energy to become a good player. These camps should be active and expose players to a lot of drills and skills without too much instruction – the idea with the drills and skill is to show things that players can use when they leave camp if they are motivated to improve. Mastery is unimportant in this environment. Instead, make every player feel good about their effort and make them like the game. These camps should be active and playful with lots of games and competitions.
Skill Development Camps
Most fundamental skill camps fall short because they attempt to cover too much. These camps advertise the number of hours on the court and cover each skill generally. The problem is that these camps typically attract players with some experience. Therefore, additional exposure to skills and drills will not enhance their development. Spending 20 minutes per day for four days taking shots in a group of 10 players is not going to help a player develop into a better shooter.
These camps thrive on the myth that more is better and that time equals results. Skills develop through quality practice, not quantity of practice. Sure, it takes a lot of time to develop a skill, but the time must be invested wisely. It must be quality time.
To improve, players need to concentrate on the skill execution. In a camp advertising 11 hours per day of on-court time, how many of those 11 hours are spent with quality practice with concentrated effort and excellent coach feedback?
These camps are like elementary school. Teachers assign a lot of busywork because that is how things are done, but learning does not occur as players race through the busywork. Learning occurs when students have to stop and think about a problem and figure out a solution.
Rather than spend hours on the court putting in time doing the busywork and covering skills generally, successful skill development camps focus on one skill and cover the skill in-depth and in shorter bursts where players have more concentrated effort. A two-day, eight-hour shooting camps will accomplish more than a five-day, 60-hour fundamental camp.
For development, receiving coach feedback over a longer duration of time has a greater impact than a short burst of instruction, which is why I believe that money is spent more wisely hiring a good individual skills coach to train the player once or twice a week for 10 weeks rather than spending one week at a summer camp.
Learning does not occur during the teaching; it occurs during the doing. Therefore, if the camp teaches a skill, the learning of the skill occurs after the camp when the player returns home and practices the skill on his or her own. However, once he or she leaves the camp, there is no follow-up or additional instruction or feedback. What if the player has a question? What if his memory of the teaching is not 100% correct? Without the follow-up or feedback, his skill acquisition is less than optimal. Instead, when working with a trainer over a longer duration, the player has a week to practice and learn the skill. When he has his next session, the trainer evaluates his progress and offers feedback to keep the player moving in the right direction. When the player masters the skill or drill, the trainer challenges the player with a new drill or skill – once the player leaves the camp, there is no additional progression.
For older players who have automated their skills, exposure events or competitive camps provide an opportunity to test their skills against other players from other areas outside their high school league. However, the competitive environment is not the best environment for skill development because of the performance pressure.
As a counter to the current exposure events, some trainers have started exposure events marketed as skill development clinics too. These goals are mutually exclusive. However, they benefit the trainers because the players who look the best doing drills will be the ones who have the most experience doing the drills (i.e. the trainer’s clients). Evaluating players based on performance in unfamiliar drills gives a huge advantage to those who train with the trainer. Players do not focus on moving beyond their comfort zone when in an exposure or performance environment – this is the problem with the year-round competitive schedule, as players never have the opportunity to focus on skill development without the pressure to perform. Developing a new skill is a series of mistakes – is a player willing to make a series of mistakes when performing in front of a college scout with the power to grant a college scholarship or will he stick with things that he is comfortable performing?
To maximize a player’s benefits from a camp, the camp needs to be honest about its mission and philosophy and parents need to be honest about their son’s or daughter’s needs and motivations. An 8-year-old needs a fun camp, not a skill development camp; a 12-year-old does not need an exposure camp. With greater honesty (transparency), camps can provide a better experience for each camper.
Note: If you run a camp or plan to start a camp, we want to help you create a better experience for the campers and develop a year-round learning model for your camp. We designed our tools to assist coaches and camp directors without adding any additional time expenditure, while enhancing the experience and development opportunities for all players. Contact us for more information.