by Catharine Aradi

                                                    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 lucky, a coach can generate income while seeing prospective players in action. These days, many coaches use camps as a major component of their recruiting strategy. But while this may make recruiting easier for the colleges, it can actually make it harder for families.

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 kind of 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, camps can also become a liability for families when the cost starts to soar into the hundreds or 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, the need to attend a camp may leave you caught between a rock and a hard place.

A college coach tells you she may be interested in you, but she doesn't scout out west and has to see you play before moving forward.  If your travel team doesn't attend tournaments in the east, a camp may be your only way to showcase your skills. But unless that coach has told you that he or she is definitely interested in recruiting you (pending your performance at their camp), going to the camp becomes a bit of a gamble.  Are the odds in your favor or not, and do you feel lucky?

While most coaches will assure you they have recruited players based on seeing them at a camp, even in the best case scenario, if you go to a camp and there are 50 or a 100 participants, the coach will walk away at the end of the day with the intention of following up with somewhere between 5 and 10 players. The rest of the campers go home with nothing beyond the camp experience itself.  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 at 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 $1500-$2000 on a matter how much their player might want 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.

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. III 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 camps as a recruiting tool. I understand both the economics and the reasoning behind them. 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 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 a follow-up email so that I can focus my college search on schools that are interested in recruiting me!"

Recruiting is a challenge for both players and college coaches. But since the coach really does control the process, the best service he or she can do is to let prospects know when they aren't interested just as quickly as they let them know when they are interested.  If camp attendance factors in, hopefully, the player's family will find a way to make it work!

NOTE: Smart parents will try to put some money aside for campus visits--camp or no camp. No one picks a college without ever seeing it, athlete or not. So, the bottom line is that if your player is going to choose between several different schools, she's going to have to visit them one way or another!