Over the past ten years, I have spoken to hundreds, maybe thousands of parents. Typically, I speak to moms who either are the driver behind sending their children to camp or they are the implementer of the decision that both parents have made. So here is a typical conversation. My son, he is the oldest of three, is 9 years old and he is an amazing ….. fill in the blanks. Let’s use tennis as the example because since I am a tennis player, it is easy to talk about, and familiar to many families.
The conversation continues… I really want him to focus on his tennis, he is showing tremendous strength in the sport, and I don’t want him to lose his skills over the summer by doing arts and crafts and wasting his time on other sports. If we wait any longer for him to concentrate on his tennis, he is going to be left far behind. What do you think?
Well, now that my children are in their 20′s, I was that parent many years ago wondering what to do with my “talented” children. I was also that child who had parents that directed me and my siblings through the summertime investment of camp, BOTH general and specialty. So our story…
In 1995, my two boys pictured at left, were die hard tennis players. For career day, Shane dressed up as Agassi and Adam dressed up as Sampras. Their uncle toured the world playing on the pro circuit and their mom (me) was a competitive tennis player. So “going for it” in the tennis world was not so far-fetched in their minds. I sent them to one week specialty camps, they played after school several times a week, and Adam was invited to participate in an intense USTA youth development program. At the time of this picture, Adam was the ripe old age of 9 years old and really believed that he could be the next Pete Sampras.
And yet, when it came time for them to go to sleep away camp, I opted for a camp that had good tennis instruction but had every other sport, activity, and gave them exposure to as many different activities as possible. At camp, they did play a lot of tennis. But they also played a lot of flag football, went on long distance mountain biking trips, learned to water ski, kissed a few girls, and shot a rifle (I know not everyone is into that). The three boys (the youngest was 5 at the time of this picture) all played high school tennis, all have tennis as a part of their lives whenever they choose to pick it up again, and have great memories of their camp days and camp friends.
When my brother and I were kids, however, we went to general camp when we were 9-12 years old. But when we turned 12 and 13, we then went on to specialty camp and spent 6 weeks playing tennis at a very intense level. We both competed in tournaments and at 16, I rediscovered other sports and other things, and my brother began to focus more heavily on his tennis. He traveled the world playing professional tennis in the ’80′s and I on the other hand, still hope to be a competitive tennis player into my 80′s.
There are many roads to take for your children, and many sacrifices we make for our children. There is no correct answer as to when and/or if it is the right time to help your child focus. But know that 9 years old is very young, and the aptitude they show at 9 does not necessarily mean they will have the fortitude to stick it out for the long haul. Single-minded dedication is hard, long and often times, lonely. Only the very few can handle it. And those who choose the path of focus are those that we get to watch, for example, at the Sony this coming week.
If you are still searching for a summer camp for your children, or want to discuss the pros and cons of general vs specialty camp for your family, now is the time to start the conversation. Let me know your thoughts and we can work on it together.