TO CAMP OR NOT TO CAMP? THAT IS THE QUESTION! For college coaches, camps are almost always a win-win proposition. At the very least, they make money for their teams. And if they're really lucky, the coach can both make money for the program and see prospective players in action. These days, many coaches are using camps as a major component of their recruiting strategy, and frankly, this worries me a bit.
In and of themselves, camps are great. An athlete can see the college campus and meet the coach and team members. She can work on her skills and possibly show the staff what a strong player she is. When asked, I will almost always encourage players to go to college camps that are within easy driving distance and that don't cost too much to attend.
That said, where camps can become a liability for families is when the cost starts to soar into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars because the player and a parent have to buy plane tickets, rent a car, pay for a hotel, and so on. Given that 90% of college teams are east of Colorado, for west region players the cost of going to camps can quickly add up. And yet, if you're in California or Arizona and you're eager to consider colleges in New England or the Southeast, you may feel you're caught between a rock and a hard place.
A college coach tells you they may be interested in you, but they don't scout out west and they have to see you play. If your travel team doesn't attend tournaments in the east, a camp may be your only way to show a coach your skills. But unless that coach has told you that they definitely plan to recruit you (pending the camp), and that you are someone they really want for your team, going to the camp becomes a big gamble.
While most coaches will assure they have recruited players based just on seeing them at a camp, even in the best case scenario, if you go to a camp and there are 25 or 50 players, the coach will walk away at the end of the day with the intention of pursuing 1, 2, maybe 3 or 4 kids. The rest of the players go home with nothing beyond the camp experience itself. Sure, that's something of value, but add up the cost of traveling to 3 or 4 camps on the other side of the country, and you might be able to pay your first year's college tuition, particularly if you're going to a state school!
I often hear from players that a college coach has told them, "if you're really interested in my school, you'll come to a camp." But many families simply cannot afford to spend $2000-3000 on a trip across the US just to go to a camp...no matter how much their player wants to go to that school. So this trend of camps being the primary way players are recruited could end up hurting athletes from low and even middle income families. That is what worries me.
Fortunately, there are still many college coaches who will respond to written inquiries and who will make an effort to see you play, or in the case of Div. II and NAIA coaches, they'll invite you to visit the school and work out with their teams. This might seem the same as going to a camp, but if a coach offers you an official visit (even if you have to pay the transportation costs as is usually the case at Div. II/NAIA schools), and you're there by yourself or with one or two other prospects, chances are this coach is serious about recruiting you. A Div. II coach may try to see you play, but if he/she cannot, and you can't afford to attend their camp, this usually won't stop them from recruiting you if you are genuinely interested in their school.
I have nothing against the camp as a recruiting tool. I understand both the economics and the reasoning behind this. But I really hope that college coaches will continue to pay attention (and respond) to the player who sends a packet and follows up with a phone call, even if that call simply says, "Hi, Coach! I hope you've had a chance to look at my resume and watch my skills video. I am very interested in your school, and I would love to attend your prospect camp, but my folks have told me it's simply not in our family budget right now. If you're scouting at any of the tournaments where my team is playing, I hope you'll make the effort to see me in action. I'd really like to know if I might be a good prospect for your program. If not, it would be great if you could send me an email letting me know this so that I can focus my college search on schools that will be interested in recruiting me!"