Olympic triple jumper Erica McLain combines sports and academics into a new summer camp

AH blog pathworks 1PATHworks is a unique summer camp that focuses on both sports and education. We spoke with Erica McLain, the founder and camp director, about the PATHworks program and what it was like to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games.

1. Tell me what a typical day of camp is like. Will there be any athletic activities or is it all in the classroom?

The PATHworks day is a fluid mix of academic and athletic activities rotating throughout classrooms and athletic facilities. Our athletic activities focus on key fundamentals, such as balance and agility, and technique training, such as running form and vertical max, that are critical to nearly all sports.

Every morning begins with core strength and mindfulness exercises that will help students learn about their muscle structures and how to consciously control their movements. From there the daily adventure begins as students learn to connect their grade level math and language arts learning objectives to the skills and technical aspects of their favorite sports. Students will get to apply their new sports skills to a competition in the afternoon. The day of learning and fun will end with science, technology and nutrition activities.

On Fridays, students will have opportunities to focus on their sports of choice and we will host special guest speakers from the sports and fitness industries. Our special guests will introduce students to how they can apply academic concepts in cool ways, both on and off the field, and how this will enable them to accomplish amazing things in their own lives.

2. What if my child is not into sports?  Would he/she feel out of place in the PATHworks program?  

Our primary goal is that students learn while having fun! If your child simply hates sports this might not be the camp for them; however, we don’t expect students to be super athletes. Our activities are designed to enable students of a wide range of athletic abilities, from beginner to advanced, to reach their personal best. If your child is new to sports and nervous about fitting in then PATHworks is the perfect place! Our curriculum will help provide an introduction to a variety of different sports and our students are taught to collaborate with and support one another.

  1. What motivated you and the team to start this camp?

My team and I all share personal stories of how involvement in sports has positively impacted our own lives and examples of how we’ve each been able to use various aspects of sports to inspire others. While we certainly believe that the entire course of a student’s academic career is critical to their development, we’ve found through our individual experiences that the middle school years seem to be the most challenging for students, teachers, and parents alike.  During these pivotal years, students are going through important yet difficult physical, emotional, and psychosocial changes. Surprisingly though, less that 15% of youth development programs aim to directly address the unique needs of middle schoolers. Perhaps this is because the middle school ages are among the most difficult to teach as students are going through significant hormonal changes but my team and I are up for the challenge!

We chose sports not only because they’ve personally played relevant roles in our own lives but also because scholarly research proves that sports participation can improve cognitive development, train critical thinking skills, empower students to excel under pressure, and cultivate essential soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, and self-confidence. With nearly 75% of our nation’s middle school students engaged with some level of athletic participation, sports provide a popular vehicle to reinforce academic concepts in ways that are fun and engaging.

4. What was it like to be in the Olympics? 

AH blog pathworks 2Surreal! It was exciting, humbling, terrifying, and amazing all at the same time… it truly was a dream come true! I’ve been in sports my whole life, playing eight different sports… gymnastics still is and always will be my #1 love. I didn’t really get involved with track & field until my freshman year of high school after volleyball and basketball seasons had ended. I actually discovered the triple jump by way of doing a gymnastics move called a “split leap” at the track. The jumps coach saw me doing one and asked if I could demonstrate that move to her jumpers. Who knew that in that moment I had stumbled upon the event that would, years later, earn me a full-ride scholarship to Stanford, a contract with Nike, and a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. This is just one example among many of why I encourage kids to be curious and try new things… you never know where it might lead!

One of my favorite things about being in the Olympics was being surrounded by the top athletes in the world from a wide variety of different sports. On the field, sure they’re your competitors, but off the field it was amazing to experience the camaraderie of the biggest names in sports all just hanging out playing in the arcade, sharing a meal, etc. I even got to play scrabble with Michael Phelps and talk about my hobby of photography with Carmelo Anthony… it was super cool!

See more information about PATHworks or sign up for camp.

About ActivityHero

I am blogging on all things summer camp.
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