At sports camps, game play is always a critical time when campers engage in competitive environments. Character emerges broadly and loudly. There is typically a wide spectrum of experience and talent – young athletes who play higher-level travel sports and children who are just learning a sport suddenly mixed on to the same team. Some children may feel left out and isolated. This can be an unnerving experience and is best handled with care.
For children who are just learning a sport, gameplay at camp is a critical juncture. Coaches and counselors need to be aware of these scenarios and get ahead of potential conflicts between campers. The frustrations of a more experienced young athlete being expressed in an unhealthy way to a beginner athlete could derail their interest in a sport forever. No one wants to be yelled at. Coaches and counselors should always remind campers of the importance of great sportsmanship at all times. They can also take the more experienced players aside, present leadership opportunities, and remind them how important it is to always be great teammates.
For young athletes who play higher levels of their sport, finding themselves surrounded by less experienced teammates can lead to a few reactions. Distinctions in talent may become clearer. Some young athletes may respond to this with bravado and excitement. They may brag and boast. I remind myself that these young athletes may not be able to contextualize their circumstances the same way adults do, and for them, there is not a ‘camp game’ and a ‘travel sports game.’ It’s just the present moment and what’s happening now. Helping to teach them, though, the importance of helping others while not taking away from the fun of playing can be beneficial to everyone. At the end of the day, game play with players of various levels of experience can be an excellent learning opportunity for all young athletes – and coaches and counselors.