How to choose the best camp to fit your team’s needs.
By Erin Skarda
“The best teams out there are those with the strongest bond, which establishes trust and respect. And it all started at cheer camp.” —Patricia Cruz, Costa Mesa HS
From the countless hours spent perfecting that signature stunt sequence to sweating it out while repetitively running through choreography, every second of hard work you put into camp makes you stronger—both individually and as a team. “Cheer camp is important for building new skills, creating goals for the year and bonding, especially with the new girls,” says Alyssa Hatton, a sophomore cheerleader from Costa Mesa HS in Costa Mesa, CA. “Camp also gives us an idea of what we need to improve on.”
But before you can reap the rewards of everything cheer camp has to offer, it’s important to assess what your team wants and needs to get out of the experience. Whether you’re looking for individual attention, squad bonding or your next competition routine, today’s camps are built to maximize your team’s skills and originality, while offering instruction from some of the top talent in the cheer industry.
“There are so many camp companies that offer different things,” says Coach Kori Johnson from Costa Mesa HS. “With a little research and maybe some trial and error, [any squad] can find the perfect fit for their team.” With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. AC’s here to help by breaking down the four common camp types and how they can benefit your team. Read on for more, and gear up for the best summer of your lives!
If you’re looking for a traditional experience, try a resident camp.
No matter what your team is looking for, you can’t go wrong by heading to a local college for a traditional resident camp. “[At a resident camp], you get the feel of what cheering in college would be like,” says Blair Neelley, a senior at Terry HS in Mississippi, who attended a Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) camp at a local college with her team in 2006. “There were tons of squads there, and it was fun staying in the dorms and hanging out with the other girls.”
Lots of companies offer this type of camp throughout the summer at colleges in almost every state. If your team is considering a resident camp, be prepared for long days of hard work, most likely from 9 am to 5 pm with an hour break for lunch. The structure depends on the company that’s hosting the camp, but you can expect to learn dances, cheers, chants and stunts while also focusing on team bonding and interacting with the other squads in attendance.
Coach Karen Feldhaus from Madison Central HS in Kentucky has taken her teams to almost every type of camp imaginable during her 25 years as a coach. “I like residential camps because it’s the total cheerleading experience,” she says. “It’s also good because it gets athletes away [from their comfort zone].”
Know Before You Go: Residential camps are all-inclusive and give kids a taste of life on a college campus. And Coach Feldhaus cautions that since the same material taught at residential camps is used throughout the country, it’s a good option for game-time material, but not necessarily for competition-only teams.
If you’re looking for lots of one-on-one attention, try a private camp.
If your team’s rebuilding or taking its first step into the competition arena, private camps can offer an opportunity to get the focus you need to start the season off right. These camps can be hosted at your gym, school or a local park by any of the top companies or with a certified coach and can be tailored to meet your team’s needs.
Blair and her team attended a private COA camp at their school in the summer of 2009. “It was fun because we got to bond as a squad, and the one-on-one attention from the instructors was a big help,” says Blair. “We really improved in such a short amount of time.”
Private camps can also focus on a specific skill set, such as stunting or tumbling. In 2009, the Madison Central HS team consisted of 10 incoming freshmen, few of whom knew how to stunt safely and properly. So, Coach Feldhaus decided to host a two-day stunt camp to make sure every team member was comfortable performing these skills. “It definitely paid off for everyone,” says Allyson McKune, a senior cheerleader from Madison Central. “On top of teaching the new girls [basic stunts], we were able to reiterate the correct technique to the older girls who’ve been doing it for a while. I think we all benefited from it.”
Know Before You Go: Private camps may be great for advancing your team’s skills, but they lack the friendly competition with other teams that exists at most resident camps. “I think [that meeting other teams] is one of the best parts of camp,” says Patricia Cruz, a senior cheerleader at Costa Mesa. “Camp’s just much better with cheer squads who support each other.” If your team loves this type of atmosphere, try splitting your camp budget into one short resident camp and a private camp to get the best of both worlds.
If you’re looking to expand your team’s experiences, try a resort camp.
As a newer option, resort camps have gained popularity across the country. While the format is similar to that of a resident camp, where squads learn cheers, chants, dances and stunts along with the other teams in attendance, resort camps are hosted at fun locations, often near the beach or mountains, and offer what can only be described as a mini cheer vacation.
The Costa Mesa HS cheerleaders attended a resort camp in Palm Springs, CA, in 2009 and had such a good experience that Coach Johnson hopes to stick to this type of camp from now on. “When I first told the squad [where we were going], they were excited and felt pretty special,” says Coach Johnson. “They enjoyed getting free time during camp to enjoy their surroundings and be teenagers for a few hours.”
Know Before You Go: While this camp might be a team favorite, it’s also one of the more expensive options. But if you’re willing to put forth some extra fundraising efforts, the benefits of expanding your squad’s horizons could do more than help hone your cheer skills. “I love the bonding at this camp,” says Alyssa. “Of course, with a group of teenage girls, sometimes it can get a little crazy, but [going away to] camp gives us the opportunity to learn things about our teammates that we wouldn’t get to in our school setting.”
If you’re looking for a killer competition routine, try a choreography camp.
In today’s highly competitive cheer world, the teams that stay on top are those that have routines tailored to their skills and personalities. Choreography camps, which are hosted by companies that specialize in creating innovative and groundbreaking routines, can provide all the right ingredients for your team to blow away the judges.
All Star Elite in Diamond Springs, CA, has been hosting choreography camps for their Levels 3 and 4 teams with choreographers from V!ROC since 2006. During these camps, which are usually six hours a day for two or three days, the choreographer creates a full routine that the teams will perform throughout the competition season.
Karen Wilson, owner of All Star Elite, says that the benefits her teams get out of these camps are more than worth the cost. “I strongly believe that a well-done routine is essential to getting good scores on the scoresheet, and these choreographers are the experts,” says Coach Wilson, who’s worked with both Craig Monte and Matthew Goto from V!ROC. “I can get the skills up there, but the routine is what I need. It’s been a winning decision for our program for years.”
Besides helping to perfect a competition routine, choreography camps can provide extra attention to athletes who are hoping to expand their cheer experience. “This camp benefits me as an athlete, because I get to see what a professional in the cheerleading world is like and try different techniques and styles,” says Lexie Wilson, a sophomore on All Star Elite. “I also like being the team that literally stops the show at competition!”
Know Before You Go: As with private camps, you’ll miss out on interacting with other teams like you would at a commuter camp because you’re holding this camp at your home base. The price of these camps can also be pretty hefty considering you’re getting your competition routine for the season.
In the end, it’s not the type of camp that matters, but what you get out of it. Learning new skills and experiencing the ups and downs of the grueling days together as a team is what makes cheer camp a special experience that you and your team can look forward to each year and remember forever. “Cheer camp is the place to create a bond that will last throughout the year,” says Patricia. “The best teams out there are those with the strongest bond, which establishes trust and respect. And it all started at cheer camp.”