Recently, I was reminded of the joys of summer camp. The long, hot days spent with “camp friends,” those people you’d see once a year and swear never to forget but who fade as you blossom into young adulthood. There’s a reason why so many coming-of-age films are set at summer camp. It’s friend and educator, safe haven and jungle terrain.
But camp’s also a way to hone skills, whether it’s through practicing layup drills all day at basketball camp, perfecting your serve at tennis camp, or making the elusive Hershey’s-for-graham crackers smore at traditional summer camp. All imbue you with discipline, muscle memory, and, in the case of the smore, a predilection for baking.
My mother sent me to tennis camp, sailing camp, and Lookout Mountain Camp for Boys. She apparently wanted me to be the eponymous character from The Talented Mr. Ripley. Maybe Gatsby, though I never collected enough shirts.
So, without further ado, here’s the lessons I learned from the various camps I attended (and the ways I almost died at each).
TENNIS CAMP: BEST FRIENDS & SUN POISONING
Of all the training my mother thought would be most useful, tennis was at the top of the
list. Even though I’m still waiting for that to pay off–where’s my U.S. Open bid?–LSU Tennis Camp was my favorite of the bunch. I liked tennis well enough, but I thoroughly enjoyed staying in the dorms with my best friends, teens playing college. I first saw Animal House there. I suffered from sun poisoning. My best friend beat me in tennis with two injured legs, a story that has evolved to put him in a full-body cast with a 6-0, 6-0 victory. A victory discussed as his wedding.
So, parents, if you want your child to learn rudimentary tennis lessons and the fact that best friends are only best friends off the court, tennis camp’s the way to go.
Lessons Learned: Serves should be at the pinnacle of the ball’s ascent. One-handed backhands are best left to Roger Federer. Hitting the ball between your legs while facing away from the next results in hitting the wrong one. And just because he’s your best friend doesn’t mean he won’t humiliate you on the court and brag about it for years to come.
SAILING CAMP: WHY AM I SAILING?
Sailing camp was an outlier. In New Orleans, it proves to be a useful skill, but my family didn’t own a boat, nor did we have access to one (so far as I’m aware). My mom didn’t think it would help me advance in later life, but she loved sailboats. So I found myself on one, pale skin the hue of an angry cartoon character. For an indoor kid, it was a great sport. Part of it was hard work, but the other part was sitting and reading in a boat. Until the day that boat capsizes, and you’re stuck under the flipped shell wearing a lifejacket. When I later rowed crew in college, of course we didn’t use lifejackets. I’m not a naturally fast man, but I rowed like crazy, the thought of passing out under the shell always close at hand.
So, parents, if you want your child to row competitively at some point in his/her life with the burning fuel of abject fear in his/her hearts, sailing camp’s the way to go.
Lessons Learned: How to swing a … something … to starboard. The bow and stern are at opposite ends and on lucid days, I know which is which. Don’t go sailing without The Captain. Life jackets are puffy straight jackets. Water is a foe that will always win, no matter how much time you spent in swimming camp.
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN CAMP FOR BOYS: “SLEEPOVER CAMP” I.E MANY CHANCES TO KICK IT
This is where things got real. Mountains. Various sports. Guns. Archery. Knives. Spiders. (Note: We paid for this.) Animals (presumably). A night working up the courage to slow-dance with the ladies at a nearby camp we’d be exchanging pen pal notes with. White water. This is the camp we’d been training for, and I spent two weeks there in seventh grade. And I learned the most important experience there: I was lucky to have the opportunity attend camp in such a beautiful place, and it would stick with me for life.
And it has. This past weekend, I drove by the Oconee River. I had long since forgotten where it was I fell out of the boat while white water rafting (note to self: avoid aquatic sports). When I drove by the waterfall that acted as a starting line for the rafting trip, deja vu mixed with nostalgia in a powerful cocktail. Thanks, Mama. Tennis may not have helped my career, but I’m forever grateful for the experiences camp gave me.
Even if I was bucked off a horse later that week.
Lessons Learned: If you don’t want to ride on that horse, then just don’t. White water is worse than lake water, but a heck of a lot more fun. I should always remain on the bottom bunk. Camp is an indelible part of youth, and I can’t wait to send my own little ones–when they exist–through the joys and rigors of that Southern summertime tradition.
We want to hear your stories and lessons learned from summer camp. Leave them in the comments below.