AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill</div>
!http://www.active.com/Assets/Soccer/KristineLillycelebrates.jpg|height=150|style=width:150px; display:block; float:left; margin:0 1em 1em 0;|alt=Kristine Lilly|src=http://www.active.com/Assets/Soccer/KristineLillycelebrates.jpg!Summer means different things to different people but for me, summer signifies the beginning of the camp season. Being outside and playing games with a large group of friends has always appealed to me--in fact, I'm still involved with summer camps to this day.
Whether it's soccer camps, day camp or sleep away camp, the experience can be a bit scary and nerve-racking but those are very natural feelings. I can remember going to my first sleep away soccer camp--saying goodbye to my parents was really hard. To make it easier, I had a specific time that I would call my parents every night so I knew I would talk to them every day. I also made sure that I was surrounded by people because being around others always helped those lonely, "I miss home" feelings. Usually, after the first few days, the homesickness subsides and you find yourself immersed in your practices and enjoying your new friends.
Getting ready for camp was always fun for me too. I had to make sure I had all my gear: In addition to shin guards, cleats and several pairs of soccer socks, I brought shampoo, conditioner, some books, and when I was at camp, a walkman--yesteryear's iPod. One thing that you shouldn't forget is sunscreen, especially if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors. Don't worry about thinking of every bare necessity though, your camp will most likely provide a list of items you'll need to bring with you.
Once you arrive at camp, get settled in and meet your roommate. After all the campers check-in, the camp counselors usually hold an opening ceremony that covers what will take place throughout the week. They will go over everyday activities, emergency situations and all the fun you will have.
Sometimes it's hard juggling the fun and what you are really at camp for: becoming a better soccer player. What I've learned is that when you work hard during practice time, you'll smile wider during fun time. After a day of good practice and hard work, the subsequent swimming, eating and socializing will be extra special. So when you think about camp and wonder if you are going to have a good time, remember that the first day is the toughest but if you work hard, the fun will follow.
Overall, camp is a learning experience that's an absolute blast! Each year, when I think about putting my camps together I make sure I'm well prepared with great learning experiences, fun, competitive activities, rest, and an opportunity to let individuals show their personalities on and off the field. I usually wrap up my camps with games and a closing ceremony that celebrates all the hard work campers put in during the week. Closing ceremonies can be quite enjoyable, especially if they feature awards presentations and cold popsicles!
Camps give kids the opportunity to learn while enjoying having fun. They can hone their skills at camp and grow not only as an athlete, but as a person as well. The camp experience introduces kids to valuable life skills such as teamwork, discipline and camaraderie. All these great things, tied in with a lot of fun, will build lasting memories and help to make this year's rookie campers next year's returning campers.
I hope everyone has a great summer! Happy Camping!