Although I’ve been coaching for over 38 years, this year was the first time I decided to run a week-long summer day camp. We ran not one, but two week-long day camps from 9am-3pm within our own facility. I came away physically drained, but feeling good about our decision to run these camps- so good, in fact, that I’d like to share our experience with you.
Camps require staff capable of taking time off from work. Although this a problem for most Judo clubs, it wasn’t for us since three of the four coaches are professional Judo coaches. Thus we had 2x Olympians Valerie Lafon Gotay and Israel Hernandez on the mat, in addition to one of my junior class assistants and me.
Our first decision was what type of camp to hold. My gut feeling was that we would not have enough support from my own club members and the surrounding Judo community (more on that later) to have enough good partner pairings and group dynamics. To increase our participants, I suggested we conduct side by side a Judo camp for Judo kids and a generic sports camp for kids with no Judo background. The idea was that since we had enough space and things to do besides strict Judo training, we would somehow be able to integrate the non-judoplayers with the judoplayers at times, while segregating them at other times. We didn’t want to scare the non-players away by offering too much Judo and too many combative games.
As it turned out, the non-players wanted to do everything the Judo kids were doing! Not only that, but two of the four non-judoplayers liked it so much that their mom signed them up for Judo lessons three weeks after the first camp. From a business perspective, focusing on the kids who don’t do Judo, rather than those who do Judo, makes a lot of sense for clubs that would like to supplement their income and add students to their rosters. You just have to make sure you have enough activities and toys to keep the action interesting and fun.
Since nobody had ever run a week-long Judo day camp in San Diego, our biggest worry was whether our area would support a Judo/sports camp. Reality is parents are always scrambling to find summer camps for their kids, especially if both parents work. We found out there is an absolute need and market for such camps. To take advantage of this market, you must get an early start on advertising your camp, because you’re competing against all the other camps offered in your area. Unfortunately for us, our decision to hold a camp was a last-minute one: barely two months before the start of the first camp in July. By then, many parents had already contacted the local YMCAs or soccer organizations to enroll their kids. In spite of that, we still managed to pull off two camps, one in July and one in August, each with fifteen kids.
We were able to use our own facility to keep the costs down. Although our facility is only 2,400 sq ft, it’s an open, boxy space with a high ceiling, and lots of toys. To supplement our great 1,400 sq ft spring-loaded mat, we have a climbing net, climbing wall, climbing and pulling ropes, tires, medicine balls, bars for Olympic weight lifting, Swiss balls, agility ladder, cones, and a few other rascals to keep the activities varied and fun. We also had access to my neighborhood swimming pool, which we used on two days.
Since our target age was 5-13, it was necessary to make sure that we provided enough fun activities to do besides real Judo training. Today’s kids form what I call the “entertainment generation.” They are high maintenance, in constant need of fun games to keep them happy. Technical training for them is not very appealing. Thankfully, we had enough teaching experience that enabled us to incorporate many activities that were dressed in fun but actually added to their athletic, technical, and combative abilities.
I have one caveat about advertising your Judo camp. Judo club senseis will probably not pass on to their students any information you may have given or emailed them. The parents of the two outside judoplayers who came to our camp stumbled upon our camp information by doing a generic Google search for Judo camps in Southern California. Their senseis had not mentioned to them that we were holding these camps, although they were given the information. So, plan ahead and make as many contacts with parents as you can. They, not the senseis, are the ones who decide what camps little Johnny and Jane go to during the summer.
Summer camps are a great tool for dojo operators who are looking to increase revenue and membership. Based on our camp experience, and the response from the non-players to our drills and games, our club will start hosting birthday parties, another lucrative event that will help keep the doors open and provide us opportunities to show parents and kids how wonderful a sport Judo is.