Just like any business, some tennis camps succeed and some fail. The purpose of this article is to suggest some ingredients that can be a recipe for success, features of any program that will get your campers coming back year after year and telling all of their friends about the experience. Although some of the points below may add a few hundred dollars more to your expense column, they will also add more to your income statement as well. Think of it like going for your best shot in the finals of a tournament. Play tight and you lose. Relax, do the right things, and chances are you’ll come out a winner.
Tip #1: It’s All About Attitude
Camping is a people business and positive attitudes are contagious. Hire the right staff and motivation and training is relatively easy. Hire the wrong staff and expect sleepless nights. Then, when you have good ones, work hard to keep them. Kids coming back to your camp will have the most fun when their favorite counselor comes back as well. How can you increase staff retention?
- Bring in name tennis coaches and clinicians for pre-camp training.
- Send them birthday gifts.
- End of summer and seniority bonuses.
- Year-round camp newsletters, including staff photos and non-camp activities such as how Mary Smith is coaching her first high school tennis team.
Tip #2: Recognition and Awards
There’s a saying that the sweetest thing for a person to hear is his or her own name. This says a lot about the important of building self-esteem through encouragement and recognition. Among the various phases of our lives, pre-teens and teenagers, in particular, respond to recognition and success in big ways. Just remember that each and every camper needs to feel successful. Therefore, emphasizing attitude and effort over results is critical. Set achievable and personalized goals so that each and every camper can experience something they will remember sweetly the entire year before the next summer rolls around. Repeat all achievements and give recognition as often as possible. Campers should take home something to show for their efforts and to remember their success at your camp throughout the year.
Tip #3: Mentoring and Peer Power
One fact of life is that children, teens very much included, are most motivated and inspired by their older peers. It is critical to set up your programs so that each age group is scheduled to spend time helping their younger peers and is also helped by their older ones. For the oldest campers, give them extra time with your counselors. This tactic helps guarantee success on many levels.
- The younger children will be motivated more by peers than adults.
- Their performance will automatically improve when they are more motivated.
- The older children who are helping the younger ones will build self-esteem in the process by feeling needed and appreciated.
Tip #4: Life Skills Training
The most successful camps integrate life skill training into their sports programs. Again, you can be creative with this one and have the older and perhaps more out-going kids be part of discussion groups with younger children with the same advantages listed in the previous tip. Have a mature adult sit in on the discussions to guide the topics and create more focus as needed, but let the children run it. Competitive sports and life skills go hand in hand and help build youngsters into better adults. Promote this feature of your programming. The parents will love you for it.
Tip #5: Self-directed Programming
You know it but probably don’t do it. Ask the kids what they want. Put 50 children in a camp program and you do not have 50 children in a cohesive group. You have 50 individuals, each with individual needs, desires, and aspirations. Have a basic program and then offer electives, like a college program or progressive high school. Increase the options and flexibility for the campers, as they get older, to entice the children with the reward of greater perceived freedom when they come back summer after summer. One size does not fit all, so don’t even try.
Tip #6: Camp Website and Emails
The Internet is a powerful tool, but only if it is used to your advantage. If you have a website but it is seldom updated and lacks the punch and excitement to bring people back to see what’s new, you have failed. Here are some ingredients for using the worldwide web to help you reach your goals.
- Keep it current with photos and stories. Try a monthly update and encourage campers to email you their stories of success and achievements outside of their weeks at your camp. If they don’t send them in, contact them. Each child has a story to tell, whether it be an achievement in tennis, school, or some extracurricular activity.
- Send an email newsletter to campers and staff each and every month, punctually and without fail. And, don’t forget to get the email addresses of your campers AND their parents. These days, this point is critical or you will not reach both. Put links on the newsletter to your website and if you can use HTML and include photos of campers featured in monthly stories.
- This may sound like a lot but it isn’t. Keep it short, sweet, and informative. It does not have to be a lot of work. Who knows, maybe you even have a camper who would like to take your website on as a project?
Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the USPTA and PTR, has been recognized with numerous national awards including the 2019 City of Dallas Humanitarian Award for contributions to inner city tennis, and has conducted clinics and exhibitions in over 50 countries. Joe is the author and editor of 9 books and more than 20 DVDs, has more than 300 published articles in various tennis and pickleball magazines, and has aired many instructional tips on the Tennis Channel. Plus, Joe’s YouTube channel has more than 2 million views and growing! His latest book “Words, Wisdom, and Whimsy” is the second volume of an illustrated series called “Poems from the Heart.” In 1994, Joe founded OnCourt OffCourt, Ltd., a company dedicated to serving the tennis, pickleball, fitness, yoga, and physical education industries with innovative training aids and educational tools. Today, he has designed and manufactured more than 150 creative products being distributed and used in 100 countries worldwide.