After a long year of school, most kids arrive at summer camps ready to play, explore, learn new skills, or simply practice a favorite sport or activity with the goal of vastly improving their skills by the time they return to school in August or September. They don’t necessarily expect to walk away with life-changing experiences that shake them to the core of their being.
Yet every July, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a non-profit Christian sports ministry based in Kansas City, Missouri, offers camps across the country that reach tens of thousands of coaches and athletes. This targeted camp aims to impact teams and individuals in a profound and unique way.
“Once teams go through the camp together, their unity is evident.”
The group’s Team Camps “are designed to impact coaches and athletes for Christ and equip them with spiritual principles through competition,” according to the FCA in its media materials. “Coaches enroll their players to attend this camp as a team. Team Camps are a wonderful outreach opportunity, and coaches benefit greatly by evaluating their teams’ talent. Team Camps also serve coaches by building team unity, as players experience” this camp in ways that are quite different from other sports camps.
In North Carolina and South Carolina, Reid Bowyer, director of ministry advancement for the Carolinas region, has seen the team unity come to life firsthand. Bowyer, who has been with the organization for five years, was involved with the program during his own high school and college years. He also served as a youth minister and volunteered with FCA. The president and CEO of FCA, Shane Williamson, also served as vice president of field ministry for the Carolinas from 2011 to 2014 and the area director for Upstate South Carolina from 2002 to 2005, with a stint in Atlanta in between — so both leaders have been part of the program on the ground and have helped shape it.
Each July, Bowyer co-directs the area’s largest Team Camp: It’s a two-session event in July that welcomes more than 1,400 football players and coaches to the University of South Carolina Upstate. In all, the Carolinas region offers 12 Team Camps covering four sports. The July event is actually one of FCA’s largest football Team Camps in the nation. The Carolinas region offers 12 Team Camps that cover four sports.
“One team last summer experienced the death of a player after practice once they returned home.”
So how do these camps go beyond sports for kids? And how do they differ from the slew of other camp offerings out there for young athletes?
“Our purpose is to create a win-win,” Bowyer told LifeZette in an emailed reply. “That means the entire team receives coaching and competitive discernment that refines their skills. But players also receive spiritual instruction that helps refine their character, their trust in their teammates, and even their family relationships. Most importantly, their faith in Christ is deepened.”
He added, “Once teams go through the camp together, the unity is evident. It’s not only about building their fundamentals, but they are in the same dorm rooms, eating every meal together, praying together, sharing life, and are constantly together for about 48 hours. There’s much more developed off the field than on the field.”
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This particular camp will offer two sessions this July — during which the group expects to host 800 and 650 attendees respectively, from 30 teams across the region. It’s the 14th year for this camp. The event will take place at University of South Carolina Upstate, which has hosted it for the past eight years.
At the start and end of each day, FCA offers devotionals for the players during chapel time; it also gives motivating speakers for coaches. There is worship time at night as well. Overall, the camps help develop leaders.
“We really want to focus our attention on giving attendees the tools that not only impact their locker rooms, but also their whole campuses and, in turn, their entire communities,” said Bowyer. “One team last summer experienced the death of a player after practice once they returned home. They were spiritually stronger because of this camp — and their time together gave them something to stand on. They knew they had something bigger to fight for along with the memory of their teammate.”
In the summer weeks ahead, hundreds of these FCA Team Camps, held all over the globe, will reach more than 100,000 participants. FCA offers other camps for athletes, including leadership camps, partnership camps, coaches camps and more.