Cheer Camp, Cost vs Benefit

With the economy still struggling and people tightening their belts to make ends meet, it seemed like a good time to discuss the cost involved in cheerleading camp.  Let’s face it, cheerleading is expensive.  And many costs are in no way discretionary.  You have to have a uniform, and these aren’t cheap.  You have to have shoes.  If you compete, you have to pay competition fees.  You probably have to pay for someone to mix your music.  And so on and so forth.  Also, one of the traditionally largest single costs of a cheer season is cheer camp.  Cheerleaders regularly drop over $300 each to go spend 4 days practicing and learning during the summer “off-season.”  Some programs have been going to the same camp run by the same company at the same location, literally, for generations.  It makes me wonder if anyone ever stopped to ask the question, “Is it all worth it?”

First, let’s consider the costs.  If we’re talking about a resident camp (where campers stay overnight at the camp location), you’re probably looking at around $250 to $300 per person.  That will include the cost of instruction, housing and meals during the camp.  Here are a few other monetary considerations.  Teams frequently buy practice outfits for each day of camp.  These can easily run $80 per cheerleader.  There is also spending money to consider.  You can bet the camp store will provide a variety of new cheerleading T-Shirts, shorts, and sweat shirts for you to choose from.  Also, lots of teams will order pizza while at camp.  And speaking of eating, you’re probably on your own buying lunch on the first and last days of camp, as those are usually travel days.  Add everything up at a resident camp can easily cost $400 per cheerleader. 

A lower cost option that more and more teams seem to be taking is the private camp.  This is where a cheer company sends instructors to your location and teach just your team.  These camps can cost half as much as resident camps.  I might do a whole article comparing and contrasting the types of camps, but for this article, I’ll just focus on resident camps.

So what do you get for your $400 besides a dorm room and campus food for 4 days and night?  Here are a few examples.

You get material; specifically, sideline chants, cheers, fight songs and dance routines.  Personally, I have always questioned the value of camp material.  First, most programs already have an inventory of cheers and do not need more.  As for dances, do you really want to be performing the same dance that everyone else learned at camp?  I didn’t think so.  A fight song can be helpful, but again, a lot of schools use the same traditional fight song year after year.  So overall, I rate “material” as pretty much a waste.

You also get instruction on stunts and pyramids.  This can be really useful.  However, it can also be a big waste.  In 4 days of camp, you are likely to only get a few hours of stunt instruction.  You can’t perfect a whole lot in a few hours.  You might pick up a few tricks that you can take home and practice, but probably nothing that you can’t get at the local cheer gym.  You also might see some “new” stunts and transitions.  However, you can probably see them on Youtube a week after camp, so that has limited usefulness.  So stunt instruction can be useful but in limited capacity.

The other main thing you get is private coaching and critique on performances.  These usually occur during “incorporations” of skills into cheers that are taught at camp.  The cheerleaders go through the process of taking a cheer and adding skills to it (jumps, tumbling, stunts, etc.), practicing it, perfecting it and performing it for judges.  This is very similar to the process of building a competition routine.  I consider this a highly useful exercise.  Having said that, this is probably something you can do at home during practice.  However, it is nice to get pointers from outside instructors every once in a while.  I know I learn something new virtually every time I watch a different coach or instructor work with a team.

So far I think I’ve made camp sound like a pretty bad deal.  Most everything you get from camp is something you can basically get “in-house” for a lot less money.  However, the one thing you cannot get at home is the same mindset that comes from being in a camp environment.  I’ll explain.

When you show up at camp, you are surrounded by cheerleading.  There are other teams everywhere.  There are posters on the walls.  You rooms are probably decorated.  Also, you have probably spent about a week or so of heavy practicing just getting ready to come to camp.  In other words, you are ready to focus on improving as a cheerleader and as a team and you can leave every other distraction back home.  This is something you can really only get at camp.

Also, there are very few things that bring a team together as much as spending a week sweating it out in the July heat during cheer camp.  Surviving camp together can unite a team right at the start of the season, and that can go a long way to having good relationships and a successful year.

True, you can simulate a camp experience, to a certain extent, at home.  But at home, when you leave the practice gym, you stop thinking about cheerleading.  At camp, you remain immersed in cheerleading 24/7.  That mindset can really make a difference in terms of improving skills AND in team building. 

As I pointed out, the expenses involved in camp are pretty high.  However, I believe there are several intangible benefits of going to camp that you cannot get through other means.  Having said that, I personally consider camp something of a luxury.  If I had to choose between spending on camp or spending on professional choreography, I think I’d skip camp.  The main point of this article is to encourage each coach and each team to consider for themselves what is the best use of their resources.  Decide whether or not it is worth it for you and don’t just go because you “always” go.

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