How to Choose a Track and Field Camp or Clinic
Every track and field camp or clinic boasts an amazing experience and a staff teaching drills so life changing every athlete will qualify for Olympic Trials after they attend.
So how do you pick the right event for your needs or the needs of your athletes?
Consider these 5 elements of every track and field camp or clinic before you make your decision.
The uninformed may assume a camp or clinic run by high school coaches is automatically inferior to one run by collegiate coaches the same way many assume a Division III coach is inferior to a Division I coach.
Don’t make this mistake.
I know many high school coaches who could outcoach some Division I college coaches all day and twice on Sunday.
The uninformed may also assume that a clinic staffed by former Olympians is superior to one with collegiate and HS coaches.
Don’t make this mistake.
Just because you used to be able to run fast doesn’t mean you can teach people how to run fast.
After all, that Olympian had a coach for a reason.
Most events will have a staff comprised of coaches with impressive stats in their bio, so consider the following when analyzing the staff:
- If you’re more interested in hearing stories and taking selfies with former Olympians than you are in learning how those Olympians were trained, consider an event with that type of staff.
- If your soul burns to attend a specific University, then consider a track and field camp or clinic held at and run exclusively by the coaching staff of that specific school.
- If you want to get individual attention, be sure to check and see how many coaches are on staff. If it’s only a couple, it’s either a very small clinic or you’re just going to be one head of cattle in a giant herd.
- If you hope to compete at the collegiate level, then consider a camp or clinic staffed by a variety of coaches from different schools ranging from the Division III to the Division I levels.
Coaches recruit more than just your times/heights/distances. And there are a lot of kids with your times/heights/distances. But, if a coach has met you and seen you practice, you have an advantage over the competition.
So, not only are you more likely to get noticed by and establish a relationship with a coach at a school you might want to attend (or didn’t realize you want to attend until you came to the clinic), you also get to see how they coach.
You want to like your coach since you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.
While you need to fit their needs, they also need to have a coaching style that fits your personality if you’re going to maximize your potential. If you’re a quiet person, you might not want a loud coach. Or maybe it’s exactly what you need.
But you won’t know until you see him/her in action.
People use the terms ‘camp’ and ‘clinic’ interchangeably even though they are not the same thing.
A track and field clinic is a one or two day event (or perhaps even just a few hours) that is specific and focused due to the limited amount of time to teach particular skills.
A track and field camp is usually several days up to a week or more and often includes (or offers) overnight accommodations, meals, etc.
Camps are generally slower paced because there is more time to fill and can include a larger variety of activities.
Consider a clinic if you want a more focused experience where you’re going to do more specific activities related to your event/s. If it’s a well run event, there will be little down time and a lot to learn.
Consider a camp if you want a multi-day experience with more down time and a more relaxed pace.
Remember, speed and power based events (sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws) require a lot of recovery between intense bouts of effort. You can’t do block 40s, full approach jumps, etc., 6 hours a day for 5 days in a row without getting injured.
And there’s more to being a great distance runner than long runs out in the mountains somewhere. Distance runners need to train like athletes and that kind of training might be the missing link in your effort to get faster.
Running a camp or clinic isn’t the same thing as running practice, especially if the event is being put on by college coaches. College coaches are used to small groups and an elite camp or clinic usually means group sizes that put college coaches out of their element.
In this regard, high school coaches are often better suited to manage big groups because that’s the world they live in.
The longer a camp or clinic has been running and the larger the number of athletes who have run through the event, the more opportunities the organizers have to learn, adapt and improve the quality and flow of the event.
I’m not saying a first or second year camp or clinic can’t be great, but there’s a lot to be said for experience, especially when the event director is a collegiate coach used to coaching freaks and superstars.
Remember: Any camp or clinic with Division I coaches can not put on a clinic that has performance standards so there should be a mix of talent levels ranging from below average to freaks and superstars.
It takes a lot of planning to pull off a quality event, especially when there are hundreds of athletes spanning multiple event groups.
Down time and standing around is the kiss of death for a fun experience at a camp or a clinic. You won’t know until you get there if the staff made up the curriculum the night before or started planning months in advance.
College coaches are heavily focused on their teams, athletes and program during the season. But, there are a few ways you can figure out in advance how much planning is going into the event because any 12 year old can make up a fancy color brochure with a glossy finish.
- Does the clinic have an updated, modern website with multiple pages describing the benefits of attending and what you’ll learn? If not, that’s a red flag.
At the same time, there are services that build clinic sites making the event look more organized than it is. But, at least those coaches are organized enough to actually do some marketing and step into the 21st Century.
- Are there real testimonials from previous attendees? If not, red flag. And this doesn’t count:
“This clinic was great.” – Amy (no picture)
A big camp or clinic requires some staff dedicated to answering your questions and helping with your registration in a timely manner. If that’s not happening, do you think they’re putting effort into the organization of the event itself?
-Can you register online? (Um, it’s 2014!)
- Is there a phone number, physical address and fax number to contact event administration and/or send in your waivers and medical forms?
If not, it may be a bootleg operation.
This may not sound like a big deal and it’s certainly not as critical as the previous factors, but you should add this to your list of factors to consider.
You can do the same drills in a field in the middle of nowhere as you can at Harvard, but do you want to go to a clinic in the middle of nowhere when you have the option to go to one at Harvard?
A good camp or clinic is an Event, an Experience, not just a glorified practice.
Do you get hyped for a dual meet? Of course not.
Do you get hyped for the State Meet? Of course!
An Event at a nice facility feels Big Time and it’s more fun. Are you going to base your entire decision on the facility?
Maybe, maybe not.
Like I tell my athletes on a daily basis,
“Little things add up to big things so everything that you do, or don’t do, matters.”
How you weigh what’s important to you is a personal decision. Whether you choose a camp or a clinic, you have a limited amount of time to learn.
Little things add up to a big difference in how much you learn and enjoy your experience.
If you have questions, post them below!
- Latif Thomas
Co-Director – Complete Track and Field Clinic
Dates: July 19 – 20, 2014
Location: Harvard University
About Latif ThomasUSATF Level II and USTFCCCA Event Specialist (Sprints, Hurdles & Relays) Certified High School Track and Field coach specializing in the sprint events. But I know a thing or two about the jumps and hurdles as well.
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