There are so many camp options for players today, that it is like standing in the cereal aisle at your grocery store. While everyone and their second cousin has a camp, I will focus upon college volleyball camps.
I believe that college volleyball camps can be broken down into three types:
1. A social volleyball experience which allows campers to spend a couple of days on a college campus.
2. A time for elevated volleyball training while being coached by elite level players/coaches and using college equipment and facilities.
3. A recruiting tool which allows PSA's and college programs the opportunity to interact and in an athletic scenario, along with an extended amount of time on the college campus.
Odds are that every college camp could encompass all three, but if the college camp is one of those power conference mega school camps with 25 courts and 400 campers, then all three scenarios will occur. I have worked in such camps and most of the players will fall into the social scenario situation. This is a result of a camp not having enough elite level coaches (current college players and other college coaches), that only a certain percentage of the 400 campers desire to train at a higher level (some kids just want to go to camp and have some fun while playing volleyball on a college campus), and only a smaller percentage of their large camper number could seriously be considered PSA's for a particular college program.
Social Experience - The odds of a particular camper playing college volleyball for the school hosting the camp are thin. As I have argued, the younger the PSA, the less concerned with college recruiting she should be. The experience of going off to camp, on a college campus, getting to meet other volleyball players from different high schools and regions of the country, to interact with college players who are acting as camp coaches is of tremendous value. It is a great social experience with the joy of volleyball acting as the agent.
Elite Level Training - This situation can be a bit harder to qualify just because there are so many factors which influence quality training. What is the camper to coach ratio; one young coach working with 25 players is not conducive to quality. Who is doing the coaching; the assistant coach at the host college will be more qualified than the walk-on Libero who did not play club ball. How many hours a day is the camper actually touching a ball; some camps have 3 hour sessions while others have 2 hour blocks, some camps will spend the first hour of a session getting to their assigned court, warming up and stretching before ever moving into skill improvement. Is the camp focused on skills or play; a camp that plays games for a majority of the time may be fun for campers, but is the camp really improving volleyball ability? You improve as a player by doing specific skill improvement drills.
Recruiting Tool - This is one area which garners much attention by PSA's as they move up the years in high school and an area which college programs are not hesitant to exploit for their camp numbers.
1. If a camper is using a college camp as an evaluation tool, the PSA must try and make sure that this host school actually considers them a recruit. There is a huge difference between getting an e-mail from a school, and being a recruit. Should a PSA be considering a specific college's camp and wants to use this trip to evaluate the school and program, contact the college coaches to find out exactly where the PSA stands in the recruiting cycle. Unless the head coach can establish that a PSA is top 5 in her position and that the college program will be scholarship'ing that position, I would venture that this camp is not worth attending from a recruiting perspective; maybe from a training orientation, but not recruiting. College programs which know their stuff will rarely go outside of their top 5 evaluation list for scholarship offers. Sure, Frozen Lake State U may say Stacy Notasetter a recruit, but the reality is any player known as Notasetter is probably outside of that school's top 5 setters - college programs will usually (read "usually" and I know stuff happens in the craziness of recruiting) scholarship within their top group of evaluated PSA's.
2. As a recruiting volleyball camp, a PSA should expect to be placed on a camp team or group which is primarily coached by the 1st or 2nd assistant coach in the camp (or the head coach). If a program is serious about a PSA, they are not going to have the sophomore outside hitter coaching her team/group.
3. Take a moment to realize that all the staff will be on its best behavior - Coaches will be very positive and supportive; you will be looking at the best case scenario of coaching when you attend a camp. If something does not feel right to a PSA, or a PSA is seeing a personality among the staff which is not comfortable, it is only going to get worse in the real world of the college volleyball program. Also, LOOK at everything - When a PSA comes on an Unofficial or Official Visit, the job of the coaches is to paint the best picture possible; we are only going to show you want we want you to see. But, at camp, you will have the chance to 'see' more - What do the dorm rooms look like, is the cafeteria food good or prison quality, how clean is the campus, is the staff at the student union nice or give you dirty looks because you are an athlete, are the college players at the camp friendly, arrogant, party animals, trashy, smart (these could be your future team mates)?
4. If one of the few e-mails/letters you received as a PSA (junior year or later) is for camp, then the college program is probably using the recruiting aspect as bait to entice you to come to camp. The financial reality is that some programs will use the allure of recruiting to drive up their camp numbers. (By the by, it is NOT LEGAL for a college program to send an e-mail advocating their camp to PSA's which have not reached September 1st of their junior year in high school. A college can send a brochure/flier and that is all. If you get an email or separate letter gushing about how great it would be for you to come to their camp, for the staff to see you in person, for you to sample how great the chicken fingers are in the cafeteria, then they are breaking NCAA rules).
5. Should you be of that small percentage which can use camp attendance to make an initial recruiting impression, then I encourage you to do so. But, please remember that this is really just a small percentage. Every now and then, college camps will have a player attend that just amazes the college coaches. This usually happens when a player is from a rural area and can't play on a club or plays for a small club which does not attend the larger club tourneys. If this is you, the odds are still going to be better to skip the Power Conference camp because their PSA campers are probably just as tall, quick and athletic as you, along with having played club since they were 3 years old. The better opportunity might be a non-power program camp where your natural ability will stand out among a lower level of PSA's (versus the Top 20 program camp).
6. I caution anyone from using camps as a defacto recruiting tour or substitute to organizing a traditional recruiting effort. Camps are expensive and you are only being 'seen' by one program (yes, other college coaches may be there, but they are probably not at the same level of the host camp program). A PSA who is late in the recruiting process or feeling pressure to increase her exposure to college programs would do much better to organize a concise recruiting game plan or sign up with an established recruiting service (which provides/sends out video). I am just focusing on the college camp as recruiting, not training or social experience - I shudder when I get questions from families asking if they should go on a big camp run to gain exposure for their daughter. No, put that time and money into e-mails, videos, letters and contacting schools.
In general, I strongly encourage players/families to keep an open mind towards camps. Giant State U may put on a great camp, but so will Mini State U. Some players like being part of the camper army, but others will be more comfortable in a camp setting which only uses a couple of courts and provides a lot of personal attention. Just because a camp costs a lot of money, does not mean it is a better value; it just may mean the host university charges the volleyball program a ton of money to 'rent' the gym and use the residence halls/cafeteria.
Like club volleyball, a player/family is paying for the opportunity to play/learn volleyball when they go to a camp. Take a moment to consider what a player's situation is and what her goals are, when it comes to college volleyball camps.
1. If she is a younger player, then I suggest looking at college camps as a volleyball social experience - Go to a college, spend a few nights, meet other individuals who love volleyball, interact with college players and coaches to see if this is something you would/could do in the future.
2. If your daughter shows good skill sets and has potential to reach an elite level of ability, then work hard to select a college camp which can maximize elite level training. This is an opportunity to get some intense training in during the summer and with other volleyball players/coaches than who she is with all the time in club or high school.
3. Should your daughter have the age and ability to consider college camps as a recruiting mechanism, then take the time to establish exactly where she stands in a program's recruiting and make your college camp attendance reflective of the school(s) you are most interested in.
Good luck and maybe I will see you at camp.