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Sports camps are a great way to keep kids active throughout the summer. Programs tend to involve lots of outdoor time and can do great things for kids’ confidence and social skills, too.

In a city like Toronto there are so many options that it can be difficult to know what to choose—and tempting to sign up for the first camp you find. But asking a few key questions can make all the difference in your child’s summer experience.

Here are six important things to look for, to help you find the right sports camp for your child:

1. Low student-to-instructor ratio

In most cases a student-to-instructor ratio of 4:1 is ideal—especially for beginners. This helps to keep the focus on skill development, and makes the game more engaging for students while allowing the instructor to give proper feedback.

2. Sports specialists who are certified to teach

Look for certifications from recognized institutions and coaches who are trained to teach children. Sports Camps Canada brings in coaches and sport specialists for every camp we offer. For example, at a Nike Tennis Camp, kids receive instruction from a certified tennis professional. Certification is governed by the Tennis Professionals Association and a certified instructor has a professional designation of either instructor, club pro, or coach level 1, 2, or 3.

3. Clearly defined lesson plans and measurable goals

We believe kids should have fun with sports programming and be inspired to play these sports for life. To that end, setting goals for kids and having a plan in place for helping them achieve those goals is essential. At Nike Sports Camps, we use the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely goals for each child. Executing an ace serve against an advanced player might not be realistic, but consistently hitting two serves in a row might be.

Watching kids achieve this goal and providing support allows each child to improve their confidence and have fun while improving their game.

4. Progressive levels based on ability and skill

Being around other campers of similar ages and skill levels gives kids more confidence and challenges them, encouraging them to learn and master new skills. We’ve also noticed they just have more fun when grouped this way!

5. Extended days with before/after care

Camp should work for you too. Most parents don’t have a work day that allows for a 9 am dropoff and 4 pm pickup, so you’d think all camps would have programming that extends earlier and later, but that’s not the case.

Be sure the camp offers quality care each day before camp starts and after it ends. At Sports Camps Canada, we have flexible options for kids during before/after care: We do additional sport instruction—including semi-private lessons with certified staff—for kids who can’t get enough in the regular camp day. But we know not every kid wants to participate in sports all day long, so kids can also just chill out with some quiet arts and crafts until it is time to go.

6. Downtime, breaks, and non-sports activities

Nonstop focused sports instruction five days a week can overwhelm kids. We want to keep it fun, so it’s important that kids have some downtime too. Group games like capture the flag (we do a water balloon version!) and Gaga ball allow kids to let off some steam in a less structured way. At Sports Camps Canada we take advantage of our beautiful locations with nature hikes and discovery walks, too.

One last word of advice: many camps (including ours) have open house days where you can meet the directors and instructors face to face—it’s always a good idea to attend to get a real feel for the camp.

Zach Budd is the program manager at Sports Camps Canada, an official operator of Nike Sports Camps, and a certified Tennis Professionals Association instructor. Sports Camps Canada offers camps for tennis, baseball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, and more.

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