If anyone knows how to choose a baseball camp, it’s Bob Hirschfield, founder and director of the New York Baseball Academy (NYBA), now in its 41st year and ranked by Baseball America as one of the top five baseball programs in the county. Last year, NYBA became part of Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, and John Russo, Hofstra’s head baseball coach, became a co-director of the Academy. With an impressive roster of high school and college coaches—and with the addition of Hofstra’s coaches and players—NYBA provides ability-level instruction for players ages 7-17. We asked Bob Hirschfield for some tips on choosing a baseball camp for young players.
What is the single most important factor in choosing a baseball camp?
The most important question a parent can ask is, “Who are the instructors, what is their educational background and how much experience do they have in dealing with children?” You want coaching staff with the educational credentials and experience teaching youngsters. The director and staff may have been a pro or college players, but how well are they able to pass along their knowledge and experience to the players?
What are other features to ask about?
Ask how long the camp has been in operation. A program that has been around for a while will have a track record of their players going on to high school, college and even pro baseball careers. If a program has been around for a long time, it should have a reputation in the community, so be sure to ask other parents for recommendations.
How important is the size of the program?
The size is not as important as the coach to player ratio (it should not be higher than 1:7) and most important, the way the players are grouped. Players should be grouped by both age and ability, so the larger the program, the better. You don’t want 6th graders playing with 9th graders.
Is there an ideal length of time for a summer baseball camp?
Choose a program with flexible schedules. A camp that you can enroll in by the week is preferable because many of the youngsters are involved in traveling groups and/or the family may be going away on vacation. Players can still get a lot out of just one week, but a multiple week enrollment is still the best option for the development of baseball skills.
How should the day be structured?
For every one hour of actually playing in a game, there should be four hours of structured, organized practice. Youngsters need to practice more and play fewer games. Patience, persistence, and perseverance are the three most important skills that young players can learn in order to succeed, and the hours of practice will help. It’s critical that both hitting and position play (e.g. first base, shortstop, pitcher) are part of the daily routine and that the instructors teaching the skills are specialists in these areas.
What kind of facilities should we parents look for?
First of all, make sure the playing fields are in top shape. Don’t rely just on the photos, but visit the camp to see them firsthand. While you’re there, ask about other areas and facilities the players will be using, such as a pool and cafeteria, how far these facilities are from the fields, and how they get from place to place. What happens if it rains? What facilities area available to the camp and what kinds of activities are planned for rainy days? How about activities on days of intense heat? Are there water stations nearby, is there a swim option, do they sit in the shade for lunch, and is there a break every hour? I recommend a 10 minute break for every 50 minutes of instruction.
How about safety and security? What kinds of questions should parents ask?
Ask about procedures established to ensure that the youngsters are in a safe and secure atmosphere. Also ask if there is medical staff on-site at all times in case of emergency.
What additional skills can a baseball camp teach?
Like all sports, baseball can teach responsibility and accountability and also help improve reaction and concentration. Most important, though, is learning to be a team player. That means fulfilling your role by being in the right spot at the right time and being in motion whenever the ball is in motion.