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Camp Week - by Lainy Carslaw

In-house gymnastics camps are becoming commonplace in clubs all around the country. They will typically run for one week during the summer but may stretch on longer, depending on the individual program. A well-run, self-produced camp can be a positive, revenue-generating event to bring into your gym. Here are some things to consider when planning your in-house camp:

1. How much to charge
You’ll want to charge enough so that you can pay yourself, your staff, and your business fairly and make it worth the time and effort. But you don’t want to charge so much that camp becomes a burden or stress for your customers, especially those on team.

Sure, making extra money, especially during the slow summer months, is a good reason to do anything, but watch how much you are charging your most valuable team parents so camp is something they support and look forward to, not something they dread. As you know, they already pay a lot of money in regular tuition.

As low as $50-$100 per gymnast can go a long way to paying a visiting coach, a guest speaker, and a dance or conditioning coach for the week. Chances are, if you keep camp affordable, those team parents will be willing to volunteer, donate snacks, drinks, or smores supplies for that team bonfire much more readily.

If you have the space to invite recreational or developmental students, there is some wiggle room to charge more because they are most likely being offered many more training hours and more time with experienced staff.

You can also charge guest gymnasts more than your own students since they have not invested in your staff and your facility. This can make your current club members feel as if they are getting a discount and an added bonus for being part of your program.

2. Who to invite
The more the merrier! Camp is a great opportunity to build connections with other local gyms. Invite their coaches out for a clinic or to listen to your guest speakers. And invite their gymnasts. We all know our gymnasts work harder when they are trying to impress or keep up with their competition. A friendly little push from the gymnast next door will do everyone good!

Working together and inviting local teams is always a fun idea. Just make sure you’re not doing it to try to steal their top gymnast—they may not appreciate that and they certainly won’t come back.

3. Who to hire
Camp is the perfect time to bring in guest coaches, motivational speakers, strength trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists—you name it! The kids will learn from their expertise and so will you! If one of your gymnasts has a parent who works in these fields, they may volunteer to come to your camp for free, which is always an added bonus. Look at the talent you have around you! Chances are, there is some untapped potential already in your gym.

As far as guest coaches go—we all know there are some coaches out there who think they are the only ones, or the best ones, to teach their own gymnasts. But here is a great saying for you: there are hundreds of ways to skin a cat, or, more appropriately, hundreds of ways to do a skin-the-cat, or however you want to say it. The point is, hearing something said a different way or learning a new drill may be just what your gymnast needs to get her over that hump on a given skill. It takes a village to raise a successful athlete and it should be all hands on deck when helping them reach their potential.

Camp is a great way to form connections in your communities with health and fitness experts of all walks of life. You will have the potential to feed off each other to help the gymnasts be their best athletes and their best selves.

If you can bring in a college coach who might take a second look at one of your gymnasts, even better!

4. When to schedule it
The end of summer, as things are winding down is always a great idea. The gymnasts are ready to pull the trigger on many of the skills they have been training. They are excited for the upcoming season and ready for a push. Also, if your gym takes a much advised week off in the summer, you can pack a lot in, knowing the kids are headed for a well-deserved break. Most likely, you’ll be ready for one too!

Try to host your camp at the same time every summer so parents know when to expect it and plan vacations around it.

Keep in mind, you may also need to be flexible and plan around your visiting coach’s availability.

5. Which activities to do
Here is a revolutionary thought: gymnasts learn by doing more than just gymnastics. They learn by doing more than just the same drills or the same exercises every single day. Sure, you want your gymnast to learn her yurchenko, and there are a ton of great yurchenko drills out there (hopefully you’ve learned some from that great vault clinician who came to your gymnastics camp)

But how do you teach your gymnast to be brave enough to try something new? How do you teach her to trust her body and her ability? How do you teach her how to communicate when she’s scared or having trouble?

Well, planning short times for mental training and group discussion is one way. But another way is to put them out of their comfort zones in non-gymnastics activities. Have them try rock-climbing, ninja obstacles, or hip-hop, just to name a few. Have a bravery challenge jumping off the high-dive at your local pool.

I’ll bet the same gymnast who doesn’t want to jump off is the same gymnast who won’t do her series on a high beam. But here is a great chance for her to practice being brave while not on the beam that causes her so much anxiety. Trying brand new activities will increase body awareness, competitive edge, push them out of their comfort zone, and have them working their brains and their bodies.

Team building activities are also perfect for camp week. Participating in group outings is a great way to build team camaraderie. A fun afternoon at the pool, the local mini-golf course, or an amusement park in between workouts is a great way to spend the day as a team! Just be sure not to over do it—there’s lots of gymnastics to be done!

Planning a theme or creating challenges over the week will only make your camp more fun!

Final thought: As head coaches or leaders in our gyms, it is our responsibility to create opportunities for our gymnasts. Living in our own bubbles does not serve them, or us coaches well. The time for keeping our gymnasts hidden from the world, or keeping all of our knowledge to ourselves is a thing of the past. We all learn better together. We must keep expanding our own world view and in turn, opening our gymnast’s eyes to a world of possibilities. There is no better time to do this than camp week!

Lainy Carslaw has been coaching for 20 years at Jewart's Gymnastics in Pittsburgh. She has been running a camp at her gym for over ten years, bringing in college coaches, clinicians, and local teams to share their knowledge with the 12-130 gymnasts who usually attend. She is also a writer with an MFA from Chatham University and is currently working on a novel with strong ties to gymnastics.