Like many things, it depends on a variety of factors but for the most part, they should probably be a part of your HS player’s showcase plan. Of course, I am only talking about a “HS Prospect” camp where only high-school-aged players are in attendance. The other “Youth” camps offered by the colleges aren’t really designed for recruiting. Those are more like summer camps where you play some ball in the morning, grab some pizza for lunch and then maybe go swimming in the afternoon. If your player is in elementary or middle school and you just want him to have a fun summer activity, then a youth camp is certainly an option. Plus, the college camps are an important revenue source for the assistant coaches who basically run the camps. In D1 baseball, there are only three paid coaching positions. The fourth coach on the staff is a volunteer coach. Interesting that the D1 rules for football allow for ten paid coaching positions, but I digress.
So when did we start considering college camps? We started early. Actually it was the summer between his 7th and 8th grade years. I saw that FGCU (D1 college in Ft. Myers) had a combined youth camp for middle school and high school players. It was a close drive to where we lived and I think we paid like $150 for registration. He had instruction from the coaching staff and players in the morning and played some games in the afternoon as the coaches pitched from behind an L-screen. The instruction was HS appropriate and he was able to talk with the head coach and hang out with some of the FGCU players and assistant coaches. It was a confidence builder for him and well worth it. Plus, I knew that someday he would likely go back to FGCU when it mattered more and he would at least have some degree of comfort having already been at the facility and having already played on the same field.
The summer between his 8th and 9th grade years he went to HS prospect camps at Stetson, Florida Atlantic University, and Florida Southern. It was great for him to visit these schools and take tours of each campus. The college coaches stressed the importance of good grades, hard work, and superlative behavior. Something very important for an incoming 9th grader to hear, particularly when it was not coming from his father. The Stetson and FAU camps required an overnight stay plus 250 miles round trip to Stetson and 400 miles round trip to FAU. So between hotel, gas, food, and registration fees, his summer camp series was around $1,100. That summer he also participated in the NTIS tryouts for USA Baseball and ended up making it to the third round in Cary, NC. That was easily another $2,000 between all three rounds of registration, air travel, hotel, rental car, and food. But that’s for another post.
As an incoming 9th grader with his growth plates still wide open, I knew that he would be facing grown men with full beards who actually drove to these prospect camps instead of having their parents drop them off. For games, some of the camps separated the players into a 9th and 10th grade group and then an 11th and 12th grade group, but some camps had them all mixed up. I didn’t realize this at first, but it really didn’t matter. The 11th and 12th graders weren’t really the cream of the crop. The top 11th and 12th grade players had already verbally committed and weren’t going to camps anymore. But don’t get me wrong, there were still some very good 11th and 12th graders on the field.
I saw it as a very low pressure situation. The expectations for a skinny incoming 9th grader would be very low. He wasn’t hitting home runs and his velocity was maybe 80 mph tops. However, his fielding and contact tools were a plus which stood out among those in his age group, but still not enough for him to join the “freak show” which I will also explain in a later post. But nevertheless, he could play the underdog role, which was something he had always responded very well to.
In retrospect, I’m glad he went to these camps so early because he was able to face some older players who could really play. Seeing how the older players carried themselves during the games and how they went about their business during warm-ups, instruction, and skill testing, was incredibly valuable for him. It gave him something to shoot for. Performing on demand, in front of college coaches, was fantastic experience. He also learned he could handle the faster game speed as well as the older players, but that he still needed a lot more work to successfully compete against them. I’m convinced that those experiences set the stage for his fall showcase/tournament season where his play led to other schools showing an interest in him. By the end of his fall season, he had been invited to FSU for an unofficial visit and by early spring he was also invited to Auburn and Kennesaw State.
The summer between his 9th and 10th grade years he only went to one camp. FGCU. It was a busy summer with his 15u showcase team which left him pretty exhausted. So in lieu of going to a handful of other college camps, he decided to give USA Baseball another shot by attending their week-long selection tournament in West Palm Beach. That was around $600 for registration not including hotel, travel, and food which bumped our total expense to around $1,800. He could have attended at least four or five college camps for that price. If we could have done it over, we might have chosen the four or five college camps instead. But given his need for rest, it all worked out.
Four months later, in December, he attended an out-of-state prospect camp at an SEC school. Registration, two-night hotel stay, air travel, rental car, and food brought the total damage to another $1,000. The only reason we chose to do it was because every Thursday night he would call the team’s recruiting coordinator for weeks on end. They had developed a solid relationship. When a college coach tells a showcase coach to have the player call him every week, then that’s what you do. Despite it being below freezing at the start of camp, it was very well run and highly engaging. He certainly came away with excitement about the coaching staff, program, and campus life. Great experience. But no offer.
A couple weeks later, his showcase organization held a two-day tryout for the selection of all their upcoming summer teams. This tryout was attended by numerous college coaches from D1, D2, D3, NAIA, and JUCO. Too many to count. The first day was a routine showcase (i.e. 60 yd dash, fielding/throwing session, and BP) and the second day was games. It was around $200 and proved to be very successful in terms of getting him in front of the colleges and creating interest. Before we could even leave the parking lot, his coach was calling him with the cell phone numbers of those college coaches who wanted him to call. Those led to more unofficial visits and campus tours. It was a good supplement and something that your showcase organization should be doing for your player.
The summer between his 10th and 11th grade years, we had targeted four college prospect camps, USF, UCF, JU and UNF, all of which were to take place after the summer tournaments had ended. We were prepared to make this financial commitment of about $1,500, but fortunately for him, and us, he had multiple offers to consider when the summer tournaments had ended. We decided to skip the camps and do some more unofficial visits to help him better understand which offer he might want to accept.
You will see some camps where the coaches are extremely engaged and constantly talking/connecting with the prospects in order to maximize their time with them on campus. Other camps are much less engaging where the college players do most of the coaching and the prospects don’t get to interact much with the coaches, much less see them. That’s when you get the feeling that the camp is more of a money grab rather than a recruiting tool. As you begin to develop a short list of camps for your player, try to find those parents who had their player attend the same camps to see what their experience was like. Do your research and due diligence. As we get closer to the summer, I’ll rekindle this post with some ideas of how to select the best camps for your player.