May 15, 2014

The Hockey Mom: Proactive approaches make camp decisions easy

By April Bowling

Campers get instruction at Erik Nates Euro Hockey, one of many options for young players this summer. For a full list of area camps, click here.

I started to write my April column for the camp issue by digging out last year’s column. I had to laugh, given that not much has changed. Just like last year, it was almost April 1 and I didn’t have camp settled for the summer. As Sam starts to want more and more skill development, I’m feeling a little more pressure.

Yet as I wrote last year, choosing a camp is no time for hasty decisions, because the wrong camp can ruin a precious week of summer.  So just like last year, I’m going to rely on my tried-and-true approach to hockey camp selection. Even if you are behind the 8-ball like me, I promise you that taking a few short steps will get you signed up (or deciding to take the summer off) in no time.

Grab a copy of NEHJ

Get a sense of what is out there, because the options are myriad, the range of expense enormous, and most are represented in NEHJ’s pages. Shooting camps, stickhandling camps, skating camps, goalie camps, defense camps, even a Battle Camp. For some, the choices are cut and dried. For kids like Sam who alternate between dreams of being Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron, but who have the skills of a typical Squirt, the choices can be a bit more overwhelming.

Ask your child

Here’s my advice and I stand by it: Don’t ask your child if he or she wants to go to hockey camp. Tell them you aren’t going to let him or her go to hockey camp this summer and see what their reaction is. Does their mouth drop open right before they launch into a bitter protest? Then sign them up. Do they jump for joy? Then consider waiting until the end of the summer and doing a brush-up camp or a few lessons when they’ve had some time away. If their reaction is more ambiguous, sit down with them and ask a few more questions.

How much hockey do you want to play this summer? What did you like about last year’s camps if you did any? What didn’t you like?  What skills are most important to you? What are your biggest weaknesses that you think you should work on?  Where are your friends going?  This is an important question, because some children are OK with going to a camp where they don’t know anyone well, but many others need to be surrounded with buddies to have a good time. Only you and your child know what will work best for them.

Ask coaches

This is always one of the first things I do. I ask them not only which camps they would recommend, but what types of skills they feel Sam needs to work on most. If we only have one week, where should I send him? What if he does a second camp? Does he need a goalie camp if he wants to stay in the rotation part time next year? This gives me some material to revisit the list with Sam and narrow things down.

Ask their friends

Back to the buddy thing. In Sam’s case, he does great with one or two friends, but is more interested in playtime than practice if he’s with a pack. However, it’s a non-starter if he doesn’t know anyone going at all. So reach out and see where teammates and friends are going, and if you’ve found a great camp, do some active recruiting if it will help your child succeed. 

Ask yourself

What does my child really need? A break from structure? A chance to reconnect with interests neglected during the school year? If hockey camp is a go, what type of skills do they need to work on the most? What about the parents? How much childcare coverage do you need over the summer? How much structure do you need or want? What’s the budget? 

This year, my process was abbreviated by Sam’s proactive approach. I was still in the data collection phase when he sidled up to me and asked what I was doing on the computer.

Me: “Researching hockey camps.”

Sam: “I already know what I want to do. I want to go to Battle Camp.”

Me: “No.”

Sam: “What? Why?”

Me: “Because that’s the last thing you need.”

Sam: “What do I need more?”

Me: “Your choices are shooting and stickhandling, skating or goalie camp.”

Sam: “I want to go to Battle Camp.”

Me: “Your choices are shooting and stickhandling, skating or goalie camp.”

Sam: “OK. I’ll go to shooting camp. After I go to Battle Camp.”

I appreciate his negotiation skills. And so it was decided, and two weeks of summer were scheduled just like that.

Just like last year, I offer one final piece of advice to hockey moms and dads. At the end of the day, you need to do what is right for your child and your family. Don’t let other parents, coaches, friends or well-meaning family members make the camp decision for you. If you take your time, listen to your child and honor your instincts, you can’t go wrong. Instead, you can go to the right camp, have a great summer and be rested and ready for a new season next fall.

April Bowling is a mother of two, including one avid little hockey player named Sam. Owner of TriLife Coaching, a multisport training firm in Essex, Mass., April also 
co-founded the TriROK Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.