Sitting in my small bedroom in Lenton, it’s strange to think that three months ago I had travelled over 6 states across America. It’s even weirder to think that of the past two years, I’ve spent a quarter of my time there. Yet, as cheesy as it may sound, camp is like a third home to me (after London and Nottingham of course) and right now it’s proving difficult to refuse a third consecutive summer across the pond.
Camp America is just one organisation of many that assigns you a placement in an American summer camp. What is a summer camp I hear you say? Your mind will probably flirt with the image of the film Parent Trap. But whilst there is some accuracy in that the majority of East Coast American kids embark on a summer away from home, the whole camp experience is much more than just sloppy-Joe fights and midnight cabin pranks.
I taught tennis in a private-run camp in North Carolina. With about 600 kids and 300 staff (pretty big in terms of camps across America) it was rather full on at first. Although I had a Level One coaching qualification, week one was ‘staff training’ in which our area director standardised our methods of instruction. For 7 hours a day in the sweltering southern heat the coaching did get tough at times. Having fed balls to younger kids who can only just manage a rally, in your next period you may get a 15 year old boy who’s rated top 20 in Florida. But that’s the great thing about coaching- you’ve always got to be on the ball. Whilst counselors take the kids round different activities throughout the day, sports specialists’ main priority is to coach a specific sport. Saying that, most camps maintain the philosophy that every member of staff is a ‘counselor’, thus even as a specialist you can involve yourself with the goings-on around camp. The earliest start to the day was 8am and the latest we would finish was 6pm leaving the evenings to ourselves. This left us able to join in with the other activities, participate in staff-run options, relax in the cabins, go to the gym or go out drinking using our American friends’ IDs. Specialists also had a day off each week, giving us time to go out of camp and get a bit of down time away from the kids. At camp you really do develop great friendships with the kids, and genuinely miss some of the characters you meet. For Americans, a huge part of growing up is summer camp and so you can have such an influence on whether they enjoy themselves, whether they take up your sport at home and even improve to the next level. They look up to you and idolise you, especially as whilst you’re coaching you’re not normally the one telling them off for not doing their cabin cleaning chores…
I’ve had the most amazing last two summers and that’s barely touching on the incredible weather camp was graced with. I’d recommend that every sports player use their skills in order to experience this taste of American culture and camp life. It isn’t the conventional internship, and I am concerned three summers at camp may be stretching it too far. Nevertheless, the rewards, friendships and memories are ones I couldn’t imagine myself without. A few quick recommendations from my personal experience and some I have heard from other camps my friends have been to:
Pick a larger camp over a smaller one.
Pick a camp where the kids stay longer than a day/week at a time.
Pick a camp that is not necessarily in a state you would visit in your travels.
If you’re looking to teach football (soccer), then it will probably be easier to be based at a sports-specific camp.
You can go to a Camp America fair or just apply online, but camps often recruit their staff fairly quickly so don’t leave it until a month before camps start in June and expect to get placed. If you fill out an application online, Camp America sends it off to various camps who get back to you if they want you. You can then go on that camp’s website and see if you like the look of it. Do a bit of research into the camp bearing in mind the things I’ve discussed. It’s a fantastic summer that I would recommend to anyone, and by just having certain sports skills, you are already at an advantage. The skills you gain from a summer at camp are invaluable, and whilst it’s not quite an investment banking internship in the City, having Camp America on your CV is a very worthwhile venture.