Today I'm going to talk about organizing a junior squash camp. This week I'm doing a half day camp (1-4pm) for kids 10-14 years old at a beginner to intermediate level. There are 10 kids register and I don't know most of them so it's challenging to plan too far in advance. I do have a couple of overall goals for the week though. #1 is to make sure they have a lot of fun and want to keep playing squash and #2 that they improve and learn a few things about the game. Some of the kids could be brand new to the sport so I may have my hands full. Here is a list of the activities I have planned for the first day.
I start by introducing myself and my assistant and learning all of their names. I want to find out how much/long they've played squash and what other sports they play.
1) Warm up fun activity: on court tag game - here everyone is divided into small lines of 2 to 4 people around the court. one person is starting as it and one is trying to avoid getting tagged. the person being chased has to get to the end of one of the lines of people on the court before they are tagged. If you're tagged before returning to aline you are now it. If you get safely to the end of one of the lines, the person on the opposite end of that line has to leave and is now being chased. The kids always have fun with this and it's a good warm up game.
2) Assessment: I want to assess the squash skill of the kids. Normally I may do something like 50up or 3 corner court, but since I don't know if all of them can hit a ball I'm going to start a bit slower. So I'm going to give every kid a ball and have them try and copy what I do. I will start by checking everyones grip. Then I will start off just balancing the ball on the forehand side of my racquet and after awhile switch to the backhand side. Then I will bounce the ball consecutively in the air, forehand first and then backhand. Finally I will see if any of them can hit from forehand to backhand and back. I'll then probably separate them into teams and do some relay races where they have to carry the ball on their racquet for a lap and then bounce the ball on their racquet for the next.
After seeing what I have to work with I will split up the kids into 2 groups; I will put the stronger kids on one court and the less experienced on another.
3) Forehand drive drills: First I will explain that we are going to hit some forehands and have my assistant demonstrate some nice forehand drives. Then we will split up and I will take the less experienced kids and try and do some nice easy feeding, possibly some hand feeding. They will likely (fingers crossed!) have the ability to hit a forehand. I'd like to get the drill running consecutively if possible. I will then adapt the drill so that they hit a forehand drive and have to touch the side wall or sit down and get up before they hit the next one...just to keep them active and having fun.
I will always make sure the kids have a nice break in here somewhere. Probably about 25 minutes so they can have some snacks and socialize.
4) Fun activity: now I will do another fun non-squash activity. I have an agility ladder and some cones I will use on some of the days. Today I will split the group in two and play team keep away with a squash ball. This is good for warming them up, having fun, and teamwork.
5) Forehand drive drills: now I want to do some more forehand drives. I will pair up the stronger kids so they can do forehand drives together (into the side walls). The ones that are not capable of doing this yet I will my assistant feed again. To make it fun I may suggest using a target (like the service box) where the group has to get 5 or 10 shots to land in it. Maybe the stronger kids can compete against the weaker kids but I make their target smaller.
6) Rallies: the last 30-45 minutes of each day I want to have rallies and play games. If some of the kids aren't skilled enough to serve I will have the winner return serve and the server gets 2 chances at getting their serve in (or at least close). For the weaker kids I won't have them keep score. I may even have the kids rotate, instead of winner always playing the next rally. I also want to emphasize having long rallies as they are more fun.
You can see the challenges in preparing for a group of unknown kids. I know a few of them can hit the ball, but most I don't know. I need to go in with a plan for the first day and be willing to adapt to the group. Once I assess the kids I can plan better for Tuesday. Whatever the level of the kids are I will make sure they have fun this week. I also plan on getting outside during some of the days to enjoy a bit of nice weather. There are some nice cross training activities for squash (like throwing a ball or a frisbee) so I plan on doing a bit of this as well. I also feel that some kids may not be very good at squash, but may excel at some of these other squash activities and this may mean they leave the camp feeling better about themselves. If I just did 3 hours per day of trying to hit squash balls for someone brand new to the sport it could become quite frustrating.
I am planning to work on forehands Monday and then again for a little bit on Tuesday before focusing on backhands. I will have the kids do a little bit of serve practice each day. Even if some of the group is new I want to practice drop shots later in the week, but would prefer them learning how to hit with a full swing first.
I thought some people may be interested in knowing what I like to do at a squash camp. Normally I know most or all of the kids, and normally the kids doing the camps are all at a decent level. For other camps I would have most if not all of the week already planned out, so this one is a bit of an experiment for me. I will post updates throughout the week to provide feedback for what worked well and what didn't. And hopefully by the end of the week I will have some happy kids that want to continue playing squash over the summer and into the school year.