How To Run An Ultimate Day Camp

All Star Ultimate Camp in Amherst.Many moons ago, when I first started writing for Ultiworld, I wrote a column on how to start a day camp.  This sequel will give you the nuts and bolts of what you actually do for the three hours that you have the future generation of ultimate players in front of you. Our day camps run from 9:00 to noon each week and we usually run three separate sessions. However, because of the many snow days we had this year, we had to cancel our first week because the kids were still in school. That has never happened before. The last week of day camp overlaps with the first week of NUTC, but luckily they are both within 2 miles of each other.

Structure

These camps are for players ages 9-16, but the age range is usually from 10-14. For some players, this is their first introduction to ultimate. For others, this is a continuation of the ultimate that they played last fall and this spring. Balancing the two ends of the experience spectrum can be challenging at times. It took us about 10 years to figure out that we should offer both a beginning and advanced camp at the same time and at the same site, as opposed to different weeks.

We have a beautiful setting at Groff Park, with an upper and lower field. Campers are signed up for a specific level, but can move from one to another. Usually they move up to the advanced camp but sometimes a camper will choose to stay with an inexperienced sibling or friend. This fluidity allows us to design appropriate lessons, but sometimes (Shhh! Don’t tell them!) we are doing the exact same activity on both fields.

Staff

We most often hire high school and college players who graduated from Amherst Regional. Most of them went through these day camps or NUTC, so they have a good idea of how things should run. When hiring, you should look for those who are attentive, well-spoken and energetic. Do not worry about their level of expertise; all of them will be more skilled than all of the campers.

If you are new to running camps and if you do not know your staff well, take some time to let them know your expectations. My mantra for all of my camps is, “Safety is our highest priority.” None of your lesson plans or strategies will matter if the counselors are oblivious and the campers are unsafe.

And our second tenet is to have fun. We are running an ultimate camp but we are also selling our sport to them.

Supplies

This is what I bring to camp every day/week:

Filled ice cooler
Filled water jug
Empty milk crate for water jug
First-aid kit
Supply kit with markers/pens & clips for banners
Banners from Discraft, NUTC, and VC
Camp Discs
Clipboards
Chairs
Folding table
Golf basket
Tent(s)
Tarp (for a home base for all their stuff)
Pinnies
Spray paint (to mark the corners of the fields if they are not lined)
Lots of cones

Sample Schedule

Make sure that every counselor has a clipboard and the schedule for the day. You should have a good idea of what is happening at every moment and you also must build in time to deviate from the schedule. Organization plus flexibility. We invite the parents to watch at any time, so we want to make sure that there is a recognizable activity going on when they are around. You do not want to look out at your camp and see your counselors in a clump, or playing disc games with each other, while the campers are wandering.

Sample Schedule For A 3 Hour First Day

9-9:15 AM:

Campers sign in and throw with the counselors and each other. Counselors should bring 1 or 2 campers out onto the field (not near the tent, of course) and throw with them for a little while. As more campers arrive, they should return to the tent and bring another group out. (All campers receive a disc and jersey for attending camp. Make sure they put their name on their disc, jersey, water bottle, lunch box etc.)

9:15 AM:

Announcements
Plan for the day
Other info (location of bathrooms, out-of-bounds, contests, allergies)
Learn names/ice-breaker
Throwing demo
High-fives.

9:45 AM:

Warm-up (this can be as easy or as challenging depending on the age of your group.) Just make them do something so they know that they are preparing to play.

10:00 AM:

Speedflow – counselors walk around and help pairs with their throws.

10:15 AM:

“Go To” or some kind of throwing and running drill. Encourage cheering.

10:30 AM:

BREAK

10:45 AM:

Lesson of the Day — Again, depending on the age and experience of your campers, choose an appropriate concept to teach. Vert stack, pivoting, reset, cutting are all options. Make sure that the campers are involved as much as possible.

No one likes sitting in the hot sun and being talked at for longer than 2 or 3 minutes. I mean it.

11:15 AM:

Break into teams. Have them ro-sham for colors. Start scrimmaging. Take breaks as necessary.

11:45 AM:

End scrimmaging. Bring them all in for a cheer. Remind them to gather all their stuff.

11:50 AM:

Golf-basket putting contest. Winner gets a bumper sticker.

12:00 AM:

Parents sign out and pick up children.

Other Activities

We use the same basic schedule for the other four days. Just pop in any changes you may want to make. Some other options are:

1) Golf Basket

A portable golf basket for camp is a lifesaver. At the end of camp every day, we have the campers take turns putting at the basket about 15-20 yards away. If they get it in, they win an ultimate bumper sticker.

The best thing about the golf basket is that there is always something to do during the lulls at camp. Campers can make it part of a disc golf course, or practice putting during breaks or invent games. Buy one or borrow one.

2) Crazy Hat Contest

This is for the beginning camp. On our last day, we have the campers parade their designs, and most of them have an ultimate theme. I have seen leaping Lego ultimate players, broken discs made into caps, cone hats and straw hats that light up. You always want to give campers a chance to excel at camp in a variety of ways.

3) Distance Contest

This is for both camps. We divide by ages and gender. Usually we do a distance lesson on a Tuesday or Wednesday and hold the contest on Friday. Bumper stickers to the finalists and the winners get a gold camp disc. Very big deal.

4) Popsicle Wednesday

I don’t really have to explain this, do I? Just make sure they don’t litter.

5) Evaluations

Each camper receives a certificate of attendance and a personal evaluation by one of their counselors. We try to give honest feedback but not crushing feedback. Campers are evaluated on their throws, catching, defense, reading, attitude, coachablity and potential.
Give these out at the very end of camp, as they will become obsessed with sharing them if you do not.

Common Problems

1) The Clump

This is a disorder that you see at restaurants, federal offices, auto parts stores or any place where people need service or attention. The Clump is composed of people who would rather gossip than take care of business.

Do not allow your counselors to clump. They will want to, sometimes obsessively, and it often feels like you are trying to keep two magnets away from each other. This goes for campers too. Best friends naturally want to stick together but make sure you instruct campers to throw and work with people they do not know.

We have this issue at NUTC at times. And it also occurs at many ultimate practices, usually during the beginning, middle and end of practice.

2) Allergies

You should be very aware of any allergies your campers have by going through their med forms. In addition, I ask the group on the first day if anyone has allergies, so everyone can be aware. We have had campers with such severe peanut allergies that each camper had to use a disinfectant wipe after each snack break. Even catching a disc thrown by someone who had eaten peanut butter could trigger an attack. Safety is Job #1.

3) Losing Campers

You always must know where every camper is. We have lost campers before, albeit temporarily, but it is terrifying. We now have parents sign campers in and out each session on a clipboard. This is standard procedure in many schools and camps and all you have to do is make sure that parents use the sign-in sheet.

4) Late Parents

We have waited over an hour for a parent to pick up a camper. Sometimes it is an emergency; sometimes it is a calculated miscalculation, “Oh. I thought camp got out at 1.”

All you can do is wait with the camper, try to make some phone calls, and be fake pleasant when they finally show up. There is no need to make the camper feel worse than they do.

5) Unhappy Campers

Rarely do we have campers who do not like ultimate camp. Usually we can cajole them into playing instead of melting down. Have the camper hang out one-on-one with a counselor and distract the child as much as possible: sit under the tent, use an ice pack for the imaginary injury, have a snack, go for a walk, tell stories, ask questions. Eventually the camper will want to return to their peers.

***

This set of guidelines has worked well for us for the last 18 or so years. We consistently have 30-50 kids in each camp and we have plenty of returners. We do change what we teach and how we teach every year. Some of the best teaching ideas come from the counselors.

Yesterday, the beginning camp counselors wanted their teams to quickly get in a vert but were tired of saying it over and over. So they made a contest of it and timed each team. Immediate success that transferred into scrimmaging. Today another counselor was frustrated with a camper who refused to do anything but amble. The counselor said that the girl could wear her baseball cap, but that it was a “jogging cap” and that she had to jog whenever she was wearing it. Worked like a charm.

Much of what you learn and do at camp happens on the fly, even when you have a concrete set of plans. We would love to hear from other camp directors and counselors about their successes and challenges. Please share your observations and questions below.
And if you didn’t get it together to run a camp this year, start making your plans for 2015!

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the director of the National Ultimate Training Camp and a co-coach of the University of Massachusetts men. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is sports psychology, and she offers clinics to coaches of ultimate and other sports. Tiina will be inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame at USAU Club Nationals in October of 2018.

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