Youth sports clinics, training camps becoming big business in Western Pennsylvania
Addison Reed is Lucas Akin's hero.
Lucas, 11, hopes to play professional baseball like the Chicago White Sox relief pitcher, but Lucas plays outfield/catcher and sometimes pitcher.
The Forward resident is honing his skills as a member of a Steel City Select Baseball team. He takes skills lessons in six- to eight-week blocks throughout the year at the sports center in Adams.
“I think it's a fun experience just learning how to play baseball, I think, the correct way,” he said after a pitching and infield training session Tuesday.
He and his brother Nicholas, 9, participate on Steel City Select teams and in the group's skills lessons, at a cost of $4,000 a year, said the boys' father, David, 42.
Youth sports camps, clinics and other supplemental training programs are growing in popularity as youth sports take on a more professional format, experts said. The Martinsville, Ind.-based American Camp Association said sports camps have increased in number by 17 percent in the past five years, with archery, basketball and soccer among the most popular.
“They're trying to make the kids' games more like…what you would see in the NFL and things like that,” Dennis Johnson, an associate professor of sports sciences and an assistant cross country coach at Wingate University in Wingate, N.C., said of sports camps. Organizers are “treating them like mini adults more than like kids.”
Furthermore, private businesses that offer individualized and small-group instruction are carving out a larger share of a field that has been dominated by colleges, YMCAs and other nonprofits offering youth sports camps, experts say.
Sports camps can be beneficial, but parents need to look at whether what is being taught is appropriate, what is being promised is realistic and whether their children enjoy playing the sports, said John Engh, chief operating officer of the National Alliance for Youth Sports in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“It's not appropriate for parents to force their child down this path with the hope of securing a college scholarship or pro contract,” he said.
There is some debate about whether the camps give an unfair advantage to children from wealthier families over those from low-income households.
“I've always believed that if you put a fair price out there that people will participate,” said Dave Gray, known in the area as Coach Dave Gray, who will direct operations at the new Sports and Courts facility that will open by the end of this month in Pine.
Sports and Courts, which Glenn and Carol Foglio of Foglio Enterprises LLC plan to open in a former warehouse on Warrendale Road, will offer youth sports programs and classes for youths to build their skills in basketball, baseball, floor hockey and soccer, Gray said.
“There will be more of a trend to go into small groups and semi-private skills instructions, which will include speed and agility and balance and coordination,” he said.
Local colleges are hosting fewer soccer camps because of the slow economy and the fact that more children have access to individualized training from sports academies and centers of learning, said Tim McCoy, executive director of the PA West Soccer Association, a Monroeville-based group with 47,000 players ranging from 4 to 18.
The right camp can teach children the fundamentals of a sport, which can be lost in the drive to win, he said.
“You can teach kids to win without teaching them how to play,” he said.
Parents invest money in helping their children excel at drama, dance and music, as well as sports.
“Parents are trying to give their kids something that they didn't have; to give them a leg up in whatever they're choosing to do,” McCoy said.
Robert Morris University in Moon hosts camps run by RMU staff in basketball, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, volleyball and ice hockey, as well as outside camps in space it rents to outside groups, said Don Smith, associate athletic director.
Camps range from one-day sessions for $100 to weeklong, overnight camps for $400 to $500.
Internal camps, which enrolled about 600 students this summer, are growing, in part because they appeal to people within a 50-mile radius, he said.
“And I think the fact that our coaches come to the camps and teach is important,” he said.
For RMU, the benefit is establishing ties to local communities.
“And the coaches understand very well that if they do well at their local camp, the chances are good that attendance at the game will go up,” Smith said. “Maybe we'll get another family or two that will purchase season tickets.”
Matt Diesel, a former player on Duquesne University's NCAA Division I baseball team, owns Steel City Select, which includes an organization of teams for players 8 to 18.
Its program, including camps, skills classes and strength and conditioning sessions, is designed to bring college-level sports to children at a younger level, he said.
The fact that Diesel and his staff are knowledgeable instructors who played at the Division I and II levels in college is part of the draw for David Akin.
The investment in skills lessons is about more than teaching his boys to be better players, he said. They're building their confidence and learning discipline and to be respectful, Akin said.
“There's a give and take here, not just a take,” he said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.