Summer Youth Sport Camps adapt to keep kids active amid pandemic

Three campers paddle boarding
Children try stand up paddle boarding at Horsetooth Reservoir as a part of the Youth Sport Camps Extreme Outdoor Adventure Camp.

Alongside fun physical activities, making friends, and exploring nature, children at the summer Youth Sport Camps at Colorado State University practiced social distancing, frequent hand washing, and daily health screenings.

The Youth Sport Camps, started in 1970, have been running for 50 years to promote healthy and active lifestyles for youngsters. But this summer, the experience looked different than all the past years.

When schools began to close in March due to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, Youth Sport Camps Director Brian Butki knew that he needed to start envisioning new scenarios. As Governor Jared Polis gave the green light for Colorado summer camps to reopen on May 25, Butki quickly adjusted the camp operations and developed precautions to meet COVID-19 health protocols. Camp counselors and staff have been trained to identify and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Change of plans

Throughout the summer, the Youth Sports Camp served around 2,000 “camper weeks” with 50 staff members – camper weeks are counted instead of individual campers since many kids attend more than one week. The staff members worked with campers and implemented extensive protective measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff were required to fill out the daily online symptom checker before coming to campus which flags the University’s public health office to symptoms and any potential exposures. Campers answered a daily set of questions and have their temperatures checked before they get out of their vehicles. Kids were picked up and dropped off in an orderly fashion directly to and from their cars and groups to limit gatherings. Butki says this practice of picking up and dropping off kids may stay even after the pandemic is over.

To provide a healthy summer camp environment, all camps were held outdoors with 25 or fewer kids per group. Following guidance, it was recommended but not required for campers to wear masks during the outdoor activities. Counselors and other staff were required to wear masks all of the time. If the camp had to move indoors because of weather, the group was split into groups of 10 kids to go into designated rooms. Campers ages 10 and over are required to wear a mask while inside. Continuous facility cleaning is carried out throughout the day.

Young camper throwing a Frisbee
Children practice disc skills as a part of the Youth Sport Camps Field Sports Camp.

Shelby Land has worked with the camp for two years and is a coordinator of the FunLIFE camp focused on healthy eating and lifestyle habits. She says that the activities were chosen so that the kids have little to no contact with each other to prevent the spread of germs, and counselors also demonstrated the importance of soap with a germ experiment for kids.

“I  selecteded games such as freeze dance, ships and sailors, poison dart frog, red light green light, Simon says, four corners, and silent clapper quite a bit,” said Land. “I also likeded giving the campers free time to run out some energy in a way they really enjoy.”

Land says that as the health guidelines changed, so did their precautions. Everyone got temperature and health screenings twice a day. If a camper or counselor ran a fever or began to show symptoms, the protocol is to isolate them from the rest of the group and send them home.

Keeping kids active

Promoting a healthy and active lifestyle is the goal for the Youth Sports Camp. Campers can participate in activities such as volleyball, tennis, soccer, and aerobic exercises in the FunLIFE camp. The Smart Fit Girls camp is the newest addition to the youth sports camp and teaches adolescent girls to love their bodies and embrace their strength. The camp also has the Outdoor Adventure sports camp where kids can rock climb, hike, and learn geo-caching techniques.

Campers and the counselor play a game of basket ball outdoors
Court activities are part of the Youth Sport Camps Basketball Camp.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused most field trips to be canceled, campers could still participate in sports and activities such as basketball, paddle boarding, and even Frisbee. Campers went swimming two or three times a week within their smaller groups.

For Butki, while the Youth Sport Camps looked different this summer, their commitment to giving children a fun, healthy, and unforgettable summer remained the same.

“From our perspective, movement is health,” Butki said. “We are staying true to our classic camp model whenever possible.”

For families looking for ways to help kids stay active at home, the Youth Sports Camp staff has pulled together a virtual summer camp with videos and ideas for at-home fitness, creativity, and fun activities. Kids can also enjoy videos and articles to learn yoga and how to build an obstacle course. There are also videos that encourage families to have an active game night.

Kids and their families will be able to enjoy these active videos in the fall semester as well. The Youth Sports Camp staff will provide exercise videos and fun activities for kids while they are in school to help adjust to the distant or hybrid learning formats. This is free to anyone who is interested in staying active while in school!

The videos and activity ideas are available to all and can be found on Virtual Youth Sports Camp website.

See the Youth Sports Camp website for all activities and updates on the COVID-19 situation.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.