BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Fourteen-year-old TR Sutherland is back in Houston, Texas, but will never forget the instruction and inspiration he got this week at a youth football camp at the University of Alabama.
“It might seem simple, but for him it was a highlight of his life so far,” his father, Boyce Sutherland, said. “He got one-on-one time with Coach Saban, and you couldn’t beat that smile off his face for getting to do that.”
Sutherland is just one of a multitude of boys, girls and teenagers who participate in youth sports camps at college campuses across the state this summer.
(Various colleges throughout the area offer summer sports camps. Some of them include Alabama, Auburn, Birmingham Southern, Jacksonville State, Samford and UAB. Sports include everything from cheerleading to swimming.)
Sutherland said it was worth the trip to Alabama for his son to get the experience he got.
“He took it seriously, to improve his game skills in an effort to learn the game better,” he said. “He felt like it put him a step up from other kids in this competitive sport.”
“Also, Saban is his idol and we knew he’d learn a lot from him,” Sutherland said.
According to UAB volleyball coach Judy Green, youth sports camps can be rewarding for youth athletes in a number of ways. They teach important skills for athletes at different levels, let youth interact with other athletes, prepare them for further involvement in sports and give them something healthy to do over the summer months.
“We want to see young athletes enjoying their playing and training experiences while learning how to compete with great character and good sportsmanship,” she said. “Getting children involved in youth sports promotes positive self esteem, builds trust, encourages commitment and fosters the ability to learn how to handle both successes and failures.”
The volleyball camps at UAB follow a structure found at most summer camps on college campuses. Green said that she and other instructors teach fundamental skills associated with their sport and then expand those skills into organized small group combination drills and team play within the camps.
“Campers will get to learn not only from experienced coaches, but they will also have the chance to be around our former and current UAB volleyball players,” she said. “The experience of working with a college athlete is so valuable and can really turn on their passion for playing a sport.”
Shelby Maze, a member of Samford’s softball signing class this year, has attended sports camps for years throughout the state. (Dennis Victory | [email protected])
Sarah Maze knows firsthand the value of summer sports camps on young athletes.
Her four daughters have attended softball camps at Alabama, Auburn, Samford, South Alabama, Troy and UAB over the years; her oldest daughter, Shelby, will play college softball at Samford this upcoming season.
Maze said she believes “100% in sending kids that aspire to play in college,” but that she also sees a benefit to sending younger children as well.
“It’s has been very beneficial generating college interest for both my high school girls. It seems when a college coach or player tells them the qualities it takes to be a Division I athlete, the goals and drive to get there are raised beyond measure,” Maze said.
“And for my little players, they’ve never walked away with a new talent or skill but it does give them role models to follow along on television or talk about with their friends,” she said. “It also keeps them off the couch and working out.”
Maze remembers an experience her daughter, Morgan, had at a recent softball camp that changed the way she approached her school work.
“Morgan has always been a great kid and great athlete, but she can be a lazy student,” Maze said. “She was invited to a camp last summer for recruits and the recognized her talent and told her he expects her to play at the next level.”
She also told her that she already had a room full of athletes, but she needed great students as well.
“Morgan hasn’t made a C since,” Maze said. “I’ll spend $100 to $300 any day for that kind of motivation.”
For Sutherland and his son, the memories of football camp with Saban will not fade any time soon.
“He said Saban is a perfectionist and treated them just like real athletes,” Sutherland said.