Youth camps crucial for teams and community

May 3, 2023

So often, the players on the floor at the Banterra Center, Davies Gym or Saluki Stadium seem untouchable, especially to kids. They’re larger than life figures that seem mythical.

But then an opportunity for them to seem human comes about. Programs including men’s basketball and football, among others, have annual youth camps during the summer.

Players often play a prominent role in helping instruct the kids. According to football associate head coach Antonio James, the players are the ones that do a lot of the coaching and instructing during camps.

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According to James, the entire football team is typically not present. Most football players who are there are divided into their position groups and help the kids who are training at their respective positions.

“You don’t want hundreds of players out there and there’s, you know, 40 kids… it’s a little overbearing at times,” James said.

He said football players who are in education and coaching-majors are encouraged to help with the camp. But, turnout to help really isn’t a problem, as many players enjoy coaching the kids.

James said, “We have a group who just want to be around and help, they just love the program and love helping in any way they can.”

Bryan Mullins, the head men’s basketball coach, has to run his camp a little differently. There are only 15 players on the roster, and the ages participating in camp are a little younger.

Mullins says of his players: “They’re camp counselors… they do different drills, they have their own teams when we do break them off into different leagues and, you know, do competitions.”

Mullins also has noticed that the kids enjoy being with the players rather than the coaches.

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“The kids usually like to interact with the players more so than, you know, the 34-year-old coaches… it’s more fun for the kids to work with the players,” he said.

The kids’ enjoyment is a big emphasis for Mullins.

He said, “The whole point of camp is to have fun and learn some things and for them to maybe be more interested in basketball by the time they leave.”

Mullins continued, “Hopefully their passion for the game grows, you know, after being with our guys and seeing how much our guys love the game of basketball.”

Enjoyment is one of the most important things at any football camp, too.

“First, we want them to have fun and we want them to know that football is a fun game,” Armstrong said. “I know it gets a big stigma with all the yelling and screaming on TV and stuff, but we want them to have fun.”

While it’s certainly fun for the kids that are participating, camps are often a fun time for the coaches involved too.

Mullins said, “It’s awesome… I think all of our guys who are players right now and all of us as coaches grew up going to camps. And that’s how we learned to play basketball, so it’s a great way to give back to the community.”

Beyond just enjoyment, the camps provide an opportunity for the team to grow together and for the coaching staff to appear differently than they may normally around their athletes.

Armstrong said, “The closer the team is, probably the better the team is. You know, when you can see our guys, just for us even as coaches, for us to be relaxed and normal humans around our players, you know, not be coached all the time and for our players to be normal humans around us and not be a player or athlete all the time.”

Outreach is something that is very important to all of the programs, and each coach recognizes that youth camps play a big role in it. It’s critical for every program, especially prominent ones like football and basketball, to maintain a strong image and a good relationship with the community.

Armstrong said, “I think it’s huge that we are also giving back and being with them and giving them access to us.”

At times, giving back to the community can be difficult. The life of collegiate athletes and their coaches is very busy, filled with classes, meetings, practices and study sessions, leaving little time for much else.

“We’re limited on the things that we can do with people in the community. But, at the same time, we’re also in a position where the ways that we can give back, you know, let’s do that and have those types of youth days and fun days for people to come around and hang with us,” Armstrong said.

Mullins thinks along those same lines.

“As the sport we play and the attention we get… part of us being a successful program is making sure we impact the community in a positive way,” he said.

And with all of the kids who come through the camps, who knows where they will end up. Even if it seems like a long shot for a player to end up in the big time, it does happen, even from SIU camps.

The current manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Derek Shelton, took part in a Saluki baseball camp, played at SIU and then was in minor league baseball before climbing the coaching ranks to his current position.

The dates of opportunities for kids to attend camps, including those for men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, football and baseball, can be found at “camps.siu.edu/athletic/”.

 

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Sports Reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]

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