Sending a child to a sports camp used to be so easy. Pick a camp that's affordable and convenient, drop your kid at the doorstep, come back in a week.
Those days are over.
Choosing the right sports camp for your child is a much more involved process. Camps have become more specialized, there are more choices to sift through, particularly on the internet, and safety has become a much bigger concern in today's world.
To find the right camp for their kids and budget, parents have to decide if they want a fun-based or more intensive camp. They also need to check into the backgrounds of the camp director and instructors, safety, facilities and teacher-to-camper ratio.
Only then is it time to drop their child off at camp.
"You want to make sure the dollars you're investing in your child are serving your purpose as a parent in what you're trying to achieve," said Steve Pence, president of US Sports Camps.
A few things to look for:
If fun is the main goal, there are multi-sport camps where kids can learn the basics of several different sports without the pressure of competitive games. Many local park and recreation departments have camps like these.
Specialty skill camps help young athletes home in on specific aspects of their sport like pitching, throwing a football or swing mechanics.
Some camps are sort of like training camps in professional sports, where drills and games are designed to prepare athletes for competition. Team camps are similar, only the entire team attends.
There are even camps run by celebrities, though those tend to be a bit pricier. One tip: Check to see if the celebrity will actually be at the camp or is just lending his/her name to it. If you're sending a kid to Shaquille O'Neal's basketball camp, it would be nice for Shaquille O'Neal to actually be there.
Instructors and directors
Checking the backgrounds of the camp director and instructors is key. In a director, you want someone who is organized and has good judgment and a strong track record of running successful camps.
At specialized camps, look for instructors who are certified to teach children. The higher-level camps tend to have professional and collegiate coaches, sometimes with collegiate athletes as well.
Look for engaging instructors who can stay calm amid chaos at recreational camps.
How does the camp keep track of kids, what are the drop-off and pick-up rules, and can someone other than a parent pick up a child? Also, ask what type of safety measures are in place and what the medical procedures are if a child is injured.
A big question: Does the camp do background checks on its counselors and instructors? US Sports Camps does background checks for camps it's affiliated with, so that could be a good place to start.
"As a parent, who can I provide for my child so I can put him in that safe environment where when I drop him off, I know I can go do what I need to do, go to work, whatever it is, and I don't have to worry about my child," Pence said.
The lower the ratio of instructors to campers, the more attention the child gets.
A ratio of around 5 to 1 is better for individual sports like golf or tennis at competitive camps. At team camps for sports like basketball or soccer, a ratio of eight to 10 students per teacher is ideal.
Anything with a ratio of 15 or 20 to 1 is more for kids who are there to have fun and not get specialized training.
Of course, the smaller the teacher-to-student ratio and the more specialized the training, the more the camp usually costs.
"Parents have to look at what's best for their budget, convenience and what's best for their child," Pence said.
The key to all of the above aspects is research. Don't pick a camp just because you saw a flyer or like its flashy website. Check the camp's reviews and history, and ask friends and family who have sent their kids there.
It can be a lot of work, but it's worth it to get your kid into the right camp.