How to “ACE” your Sports Summer Camps

Tips From Camp Experts That Can Help You Plan and Run Better camps!
By Lille Krukrubo

Operating a sports camp is quite an experience! Summer camps impart special skills and values to young athletes, and most of all, they help them build wonderful memories. Whether you run a full-day camp, am/pm, or overnight camps, there are few steps you can take to help make this year’s camp a total success!

1- Know your clients

Knowing your clients is incredibly important to make sure you are providing the services that they would love and most importantly, that they would keep paying for. Here’s some important information to know.

For the Winter session, Jen, Little Johnny’s mom, had to fill out a registration form and sign waivers to enroll him for a sports program. She had to either mail in that form with her payment, or had to drive to the club’s location to drop it off.

How many students do you have in your year-round programs?
Out of those, how many are eligible for camps?
How many of them signed up for your camps last year?
Which programs or age groups were more successful and which ones did not fare so well?
Knowing who your best clients and what they like will allow you to offer the programs that will be the most successful. But how do you gather this information?

Quantitative information

Make sure you have good records of who attended and when. If you are using a registration system, that information should be easy to get from the reports. If you are using an excel spreadsheet or a google doc, you should still be able to get that information but it will require much more work on your part.

Qualitative information

To get a good sense of what has worked well or not, most academy directors would talk to 10 clients to learn what worked well last year, what did not work, and what they can change to make their camps even more successful. When talking to your clients, make sure you ask open-ended questions such as “ What did your child like the most about the camp? What was their favorite game? What did they like the least? It’s always good practice to document all the key insights you receive and incorporate them in your summer camp planning.

2- Open registrations early

If you want a good chance at your programs filling out fast, it’s best to open registrations months before the camp start date. The best practice is to allow people to book camps by the beginning of March for camps starting in June. At that time, parents are already making plans for their kids and in their search process, you want to be found as quickly as possible. We have seen some camps open registrations as early as January and find great success with that.

3- Make it easy for parents to book your camps

Once you have determined your programs’ strengths and weaknesses and have decided on when to open up registrations, you want to make sure that parents can book and pay quickly. If a parent is ready to book for your camps, the last thing you want is to have them fill out a pdf form or call/email you to register. If they have trouble booking quickly, they might decide to go with another camp and they certainly will not tell their friends about your programs. So it’s imperative that the registration process is smooth and frictionless. To achieve this, be sure to use an automated registration system. Such a system should allow your clients to book and pay online and should allow you to automatically create a camp roster, collect client information, communicate with clients, and get reports

4- Incentivize with discounts

Discounts have been proven to help people book faster. If you have a large capacity for your camps and you open registrations early, it’s often a good idea to offer discounts. The most popular discounts to get people to act fast are early bird-discounts. If parents were already thinking about signing up for summer camps, offering them a discount to do so early will ensure that you get those spots filled up quickly.

Other effective discounts are bring-a-friend discount. Here, you can offer 5-10 % off to friends booking together. This is a great way to spread the word about your camps and allow friends to build great memories together.

5- Communicate early and often with a clear call to action

Now that you know which programs you will offer, who you will offer it to, how you will collect your registration and payments, and which discounts you will give, it’s time to let the world know! The best way to announce that you are accepting summer camp registrations is via email blasts. Text message blasts also work very well, though they should not be abused.

In your communication, be sure to include a fun description of the camp, the start and end dates, some testimonials, the discounts, and most importantly a call to action. Here, your call to action should be something like “Secure your spot today”, “ Register Early and save,” etc. The idea is to prompt the parent to take action now!

After the email and text message blasts, you can post on social media to expand your reach.

6- Deliver on the promise!

You have done a great job promoting your programs, now make sure you deliver on the hype. Be sure you have enough staff, that they are properly trained to deliver on your promise, and that they accurately represent your brand because everything about your camp speaks about your brand. Below, Zenkel discusses some of the subtle, sometimes unintended signals conveyed during a tour given by a resident camp for prospective camp families:

Empty courts > Children don’t do enough

Mess and garbage > Camp isn’t safe or clean

Children are not sure where to go next > Camp isn’t structured

No central gathering place > Camp has no spirit

Not too many balls on the court > Kids are not hitting enough balls

This cannot be stressed enough: in all aspects, from promotion to registration to the actual camp, make sure that your camp lives up to the brand you promised. If done well, your parents will rave about it to their friends and your camp will generate increasing revenue each season!


Tips for running a better summer camp business, Dan Zenkel (2006):