Summer sports schools are growing in popularity. Steve Wright learns more...
Rather than let their first-class facilities lay dormant over the long summer holiday, many schools are now hosting a variety of summer sports camps, schools and academies. Some combine sports with a variety of other fun, creative and educational activities; others stick closer to the sports-only template. Whichever way they choose to go, the most effective summer sports camps put trained, dedicated staff and plenty of variety at the top of the agenda.
Ascot’s Heathfield School set up its own international summer school way back in 1976. Over the years the summer school, which offers English lessons, sports, activities and excursions, has enabled Heathfield to welcome into its main school a number of overseas girls who have already had the experience of a boarding environment.
In 1994, Heathfield added an activities-only summer camp for UK pupils. “The overseas and British girls share accommodation and the two courses are combined for many activities,” explained Helen Madaras, Head of Summer Camps. “This gives girls in the wider community a wonderful chance to meet others from around the world. Together they do a full range of racquet, field and water sports alongside art, craft, photography, dance, drama, music, cookery and floristry.”
The benefits of these summer schools are many, as Helen said, “Our facilities get good use throughout the summer; local girls access facilities on their doorstep; and visiting pupils benefit from great courses, run to the highest standard as opposed to the unregulated, often poor-quality organisations that run many summer courses.”
A similar scheme operates at Oxfordshire’s Tudor Hall, whose non-residential summer camp invites children aged five to 12 to take part in a wide variety of sporting, craft and other activities. The camp runs five days a week for six weeks, enabling children to sample new sports, make friends and spend lots of time outdoors.
“We aim to reproduce various elements of school life,” explained Ryan Pickering, Head of Tudor Hall’s Summer Camp. “Many sessions are run by Tudor Hall staff, and mirror our term time co-curricular activities, offering everything from cooking, art and ceramics to swimming, fitness training, science experiments, boxercise and IT.”
Variety is a key factor. “Single-sports camps benefit those children passionate about a particular sport – but many get bored of a certain activity after an hour, so we ring the changes throughout the day,” said Ryan. “Balancing physical and less strenuous activities is also important: we run a 50/50 split.”
Canford School held its first ‘Summer Sports Academy’ in August 2012, and now welcomes around 150 pupils from Years 5 to 11 each year. Pupils choose a specialist sport over four days – typically rugby, hockey, football, rowing, tennis or netball, with the first five open to both boys and girls.
“After the success of the first academy, we had enquiries about a multisport option for younger children,” revealed Mark Burley, Director of Sport. “The resulting multisport course for Years 5–7 has proven extremely popular. Alongside some specialist coaching, children can enjoy activities such as swimming, rowing, climbing and trampolining.”
Mark and his staff opted to use the talent they had in situ, rather than an external team. “We wanted to offer children from the local area – current pupils, potential pupils and those from other schools – an excellent, tailored sporting experience from our own school coaches. It is also a great way for our sports staff to introduce potential pupils and their families to what is on offer here.”
Any advice to other schools thinking of setting up a similar venture? “Provide a central point of contact for all enquiries, and make information and booking available online,” said Mark. “Also, ensure that you have plenty of support. While coaches are focusing on the sessions, gap-year students and other helpers are essential as extra pairs of hands.”
Haileybury School has been hosting Tottenham Hotspur Soccer Schools, both day and residential, during the Easter and summer holidays for the past three years. “The Spurs Soccer Schools give the local community (and our own pupils, if they wish) access to professional, bespoke football training,” explained Jackie Williams, General Manager of Catering, Events and Domestic Services. “As such, they help us to reach out to a wider audience, locally, nationally and internationally.”
“All of our courses are professionally run by our full-time FA and UEFA-qualified coaches,” added Jade Fitch, Tottenham’s Marketing Executive. “We create a fun, interactive environment for players aged three to 15 to learn so that they are engaged at all times, learning in a high-quality, safe and professional environment.”
Elsewhere, Mayfield School’s SPARK Camps welcome four to 14-year-olds for a range of activities, including pottery, film-making, cookery and drama – alongside American football, hockey, swimming and more. Boarders at the five-day camps have fully supervised access to Mayfield’s 25m heated indoor pool, tennis courts and all-weather pitch.
“The summer schools allow us to showcase the school to prospective parents and pupils,” said SPARK Manager, Helen Miller. “More importantly, they allow children from different backgrounds to enjoy our facilities in a fun, stimulating environment, to learn new skills and make new friends. Small class sizes allow every child to get involved and have some fun – which is surely what holidays should be for.”
Helen also offers some pointers towards making these summer schools a success: “Offer a broad range of activities, including some that may be difficult to access elsewhere, alongside an academic programme; provide highly qualified coaches and teachers who create fun, engaging programmes with plenty of hands-on experience; limit class sizes to enable individual attention; ensure the timetable is accessible for working parents, include wrap-around care where necessary; and get outside wherever possible!”