Holding up UCLA’s century-plus history of athletic tradition and excellence is no small task. Just ask UCLA’s coaches. But things don’t really change in the off-season, as UCLA runs a slew of sports camps all summer long.
Fortunately for the coaches, much of the responsibility for a winning program is passed to Gavin Crew, director of camps and clinics at UCLA Sports Camps.
Given UCLA’s reputation for churning out national champions and world-class athletes, Crew is faced with the daunting task of reflecting that tradition in a well-run and effective program. But, like UCLA’s rough-hewn Bruin mascot, Crew, his staff and UCLA’s coaches charge forward, using effective communication and organizational tools.
Sports in Season
The summer-long camps run the gamut, and include youth baseball, high school baseball, boys basketball, girls basketball, boys soccer, girls soccer, goalkeeping, softball, tennis, co-ed volleyball, girls volleyball, gymnastics, pole vault, high jump, throwing, track, football, rowing and golf.
Surprisingly, UCLA Sports Camps — at least in their current, encompassing on-campus format — are relatively new. In 1992, UCLA’s football coach at the time, Terry Donahue, had been running a football camp at UC Irvine. The athletic department was looking for a way to bring camps on-campus to serve the dual purpose of providing excellent instruction and as a recruiting tool.
Soon, the wheels were in motion and on-campus UCLA Sports Camps were born, bringing with it a full-time, year-round staff to handle the sheer volume of resident and day summer camps and other camps and clinics that run sporadically during the rest of the year.
Crew just completed his sixth summer working for the camps — three summers as an undergraduate student and three as the director.
Crew and his staff manage all of the administrative work, such as setup, promotions, marketing and registration. Each coach within their own sport runs their respective camps and hires his or her coaches, utilizing their own teaching techniques.
“I feel like I’m the right hand of the coaches. I’m dealing on their behalf with these other entities, such as the dorms and the other departments on-campus,” explains Crew. “The ability to communicate with them and express their opinions to other people at UCLA we need to work with is the most important thing I do. In the 16 sports we have we’re running 46 different sessions of camp. To spread that out over a 10-week period, you better be ready.”
Crew explains that most of the facilities and fields used by the camps are handled by UCLA’s cultural and recreational affairs department. The dorms are handled by another entity, and so on down the line, creating an organizational and communication challenge as the needs of the camps are balanced with the availability and needs of each part of the campus utilized.
As the summer camps end around Sept. 1 of each year, the next two months are dedicated to getting the bills and the coaches paid. At the same time, Crew is beginning preparations for the next summer and upcoming holiday camps and clinics — planning the dates, designing promotional materials and looking into advertising.
“The last thing you want to come across is the unexpected. There are always certain things that crop up, but I’ve found that more often than not the more detail the coaches can know about, the better,” says Crew. “The hard part is the turnover. When new coaches come in they have certain expectations, and you have to make that transition easier for them and do those things they’re used to doing in a way that incorporates it into our procedures and processes. For instance, there may be some outside expenses they have here they didn’t have before that I need to make them aware of.”
It’s a lesson for all camps that is often more profound in university athletics. Crew emphasizes that it’s important to know as much about those who are new to the camps in order to better anticipate their needs and expectations, particularly if they have previous camp experience.
“About 90 percent of the coaches don’t think about camp until a week or two before camp starts, other than the small bits of information you’re transferring to them during the year, so it’s important to have a relationship that’s built on trust,” says Crew. “This business is all about relationships — with the coaches, my supervisor, the departments on campus, the student union and the parents. One thing I started to figure out this past year is that instead of just a customer, you’re developing a client — someone who comes back with three kids every year for six years. That makes it easier for promoting your business, because word-of-mouth is the best way to promote your camp.”
Though word of mouth, like most camps, is the single best recruiter, Crew reports that a lot of business has been coming through the Web site (uclabruins.ocsn.com/camps/ucla-camps.html). “It’s a huge place for us to do business,” he says, adding that the camps use a number of different camp search engines and services.
Crew says that about 60 percent of the campers come from the greater Los Angeles area, with 80 to 90 percent from Southern California. The rest come from northern California, other parts of the U.S. and Canada and even a smattering of international campers from places as far-flung as Japan.
UCLA Sports Camps also advertise through local publications and camp fairs. “It’s amazing to me how early parents are starting to think about registering their kids for the upcoming summer,” says Crew.
To handle the avalanche of registration, UCLA Sports Camps uses CampRegister.com as its registration engine. Crew says they started using the system in 2001, beginning with the football camp. Crew says that it was easier to start more simply so that any glitches in the information transfer could be easily fixed. Then, what was learned from that initial test would be implemented as more camps came on-line.
“Back in ’97 and ’98 we were using an archaic database system, but now with the on-line registration it has helped us make leaps and bounds in registering people. It affects how you run your office where you had to hire a lot of temporary staff to process all the applications, but now that hiring process is much smaller, allowing you to spend more time developing other areas,” says Crew.
Staffing, says Crew, is actually one of the more challenging aspects of his job, as the staff is made up entirely of students. While students bring enthusiasm when the summer’s grinding along, the trick is to keep already-busy students on task.
The solution, says Crew, is simple. Once the two basic groups of staff are hired — office assistants and logistics managers — the orientation process focuses on what the camps’ expectations are and what they can expect from Crew as a supervisor.
It all goes back to Crew’s philosophy that expectations and reality must meet squarely, for the benefit of staff and supervisors, whether they’re coaches or office assistants.
“In order to capitalize on the market you need to think about it all year. If you’re in basic contact with the coaches on a daily basis it lets them know that you’re taking care of what needs to be taken care of for them,” says Crew. “You need to be as open and up front as possible.”