At some point over the past two decades just playing sports stopped being enough for American kids.
Showing up in shape on the first day of practice is no longer a symbol of dedication. Now, it’s the bare minimum you can do in terms of preparedness. Today, kids play their sports year-round so they don’t get left behind.
And trying to keep up is expensive. How expensive? Let’s put it this way, I’m dropping my 11-year-old son off today at a prominent 5-day sports camp that will cost about $500. I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t spend that much on my entire K-12 baseball career.
I wasn’t skipping summer sports camps because I didn’t need the training. (I was the league “Strikeout King,” but I didn’t pitch.) And it wasn’t because my parents couldn’t afford it. Quite simply, nobody else was going and this wasn’t stopping some of them from getting better, making all-star teams and even extending their playing careers into college.
But today these pricey summer camps are the status quo (or at least that’s what many parents believe) and, some coaches say, a great deal of young athletes have been priced out.
“These camps are so exorbitantly priced many families can’t afford to give their kids the opportunity,” said Cari Harrison, a former University of Washington player.
She is part of a small band of local coaches trying to level the playing field. Harrison, former Oregon State University player Chelle Miller and former University of Oregon player Mary Ann O’Dell run a basketball camp for girls entering fourth through ninth grades.
What makes the Husky Beaver Duck Girls Basketball Camp stick out isn’t the immense experience of the coaches. It’s the fact the camp is free.
“We made the decision a while back that we will never charge another dime for our camps,” Harrison said. “It’s so critical to provide opportunities for people who can’t afford it. Otherwise, it’s unfair.”
The Husky Beaver Duck Camp recently joined forces with Sumner-based Reality Sports, a 6-year-old mission aspiring to make sports training accessible to more youth while helping them dive into more important aspects of life.
“(HBD Camp) could charge a couple hundred dollars,” said Reality Sports executive director Brian Peterson. “But it’s free and that allows them to reach a group of kids that we might not otherwise be able to.”
Reality Sports offers training in baseball, basketball, wrestling, tennis, martial arts and outdoor recreation and plans to add more programs. The program is funded by donations, most of which come from sources other than the families of the participating kids.
The program was born from the Christian faith of Peterson and Tim Kuykendall, former college athletes, high school coaches and current chaplains for the Tacoma Rainiers.
Peterson says the objective isn’t simply to help kids become better athletes, it’s to help them “train their body, mind and soul” and explore questions like “What are my motivations and desires? What does that mean? Who are we? And why are we here?
“Things we many times skip over in athletics,” Peterson said.
On their website (RealitySports.org) and their brochures they make it clear that sharing their faith is their top priority. “We don’t pull any punches,” Peterson said.
Sure, this scares some people off, he said. And, of course, some people think this deeper purpose means the sports training is inferior to more expensive camps.
Peterson says that’s not the case.
“We don’t cheat on the physical end,” he said. “We don’t miss out on anything. We really prepare them.”
Peterson believes too many people compartmentalize areas of their lives separating faith from school and sports. “We believe God is a part of everything and we want him in every area of our life, even sports.”
Reality Sports is catching on. They’re launching programs in San Diego and last week started free Thursday night baseball clinics at a South Sound church.
Participants in Reality Sports also have opportunities to volunteer at the Tacoma Rescue Mission and participate in humanitarian work in developing countries, such as the Dominican Republic.
Peterson hopes Reality Sports lives up to its name by injecting a dose of reality into the families who participate.
Parents can spend a small fortune on summer sports camps, but what do they really get?
The camps don’t come with guarantees your kids will so much as make their junior high team let alone one day land a college scholarship. This doesn’t mean the expensive camps are a waste of time and money. In fact, many are exceptional if you’re realistic about what your kid is getting from the experience.
“But so many parents lose perspective and end up disappointed in the end,” Peterson said. “What have they invested in?”
And that’s the great thing about Reality Sports “pay what you can” model. You’re guaranteed to get more than you pay for.
“This probably isn’t it going to be a worldwide thing any time soon,” Peterson said. “But we believe in our mission and we’ll take it one person at a time.”Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/AdventureGuys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness.