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What to look for in a hockey camp

Goalie Malcolm Subban faces down with Michael Matheson at the 2011 NHL Research and Development Camp. (Photo By Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Goalie Malcolm Subban faces down with Michael Matheson at the 2011 NHL Research and Development Camp. (Photo By Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

What do you look for in a hockey camp?

July and August is hockey camp time. Hundreds of camps run throughout the US and Canada in hopes of developing players and driving business.

I have been asked countless times to recommend, or vouch for, a camp. Many factors come into play. Each player and family situation is different.

After attending and instructing at dozens of different camps, here is a brief checklist of what I believe a family must consider when selecting a camp.

• Location - You must first be able to get to a camp in order to attend it. Narrow your search to places you can physically get to without too much hassle. In short, if you spend more than eight hours travelling to a camp, over a week, you are probably wasting time, money and energy.

• Camp Level and Age - There is nothing more frustrating for coaches, players and parents than when the level is too low or too high for a player. A stronger, more advanced player is not pushed. A less experienced player will lose confidence. Finding a camp at the right level is key.

• Camp Ideals - Hockey schools are a business. As with any good company, they must have a focused plan and area of expertise. Camps may focus on such areas as skating, conditioning, checking, game play and stickhandling. Some camps try to balance their program. You should noticeably improve in whatever area the camp specializes in after attending. In general, any camp that tells you it is “doing it all for you” is lying. Trust me, there’s never enough time and/or resources to effectively hit all the areas in the game of hockey.

• Who is teaching? Be sure to know who exactly is running the on-ice sessions and how much they are instructing. There is nothing more frustrating as a player/parent than to go to an “NHL-Star” player camp only to watch him sign a few autographs and have the camp being taught by inexperienced teenagers. Do your own research and make sure the camp has consistent, quality training from start to finish. The camp should be professional in organization and delivery. What you will find is there are camps that are there to make money and there are camps that are driven to provide an experience.  

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• Costs - Be sure the costs align with your family’s budget. You should not have to go into debt to pay for your player’s development. Be sure to account for additional costs such as gas, food and time for each camp. Families should get good value for their money.

• Personal Feedback - The biggest thing I would look for is the attention to detail that each camp gives. Does the player get feedback? Not all feedback is created equal. My biggest pet peeve is that many schools will bend the truth on a player’s skill set and progress. The reason for this is camp directors tend to shy away from confrontation and want to be likeable. By being likeable, you’re more likely to collect money on returning business next year. I would stay away from this trap. A good instructor will have enough integrity and expertise to be candid with the player/family. Decide for yourself between what you want to hear and need to hear.

• Fun - A good hockey camp is not only run professionally, but is also fun. Players should enjoy playing and practicing the game. Be among friends and teammates. In the long run, a camp that is not enjoyable and pushes the player away from activity tends to be counter-productive.

All of the above factors should be considered when selecting a camp. Each player should exit the camp better prepared for the challenges ahead in the 2012-13 hockey season.

Good Luck. Get Better Every Day.

Daniel Tkaczuk was Calgary's first round pick in 1997 (sixth overall) and has been playing professionally in North America and Europe for the past 12 seasons. He is currently president of iHockeyTrainer.com, an online hockey school for skill development.

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