4 Keys to Growing Youth Programs

A group of happy, young kids flex their biceps in a gym with a fitness coach in the background.

It’s much easier to get a new youth client at a gym than a new adult client.

First, parents are more likely to buy something for their kids than for themselves.

Second, parents are always seeking out new activities their kids might enjoy.

Third, with the rise of screens and the decrease of activity in schools, some parents are desperate to get their kids moving.

You have the solution to parents’ problems. Here are four ways to grow your youth program fast.

1. Appeal to Clients First

Your current clients already know, like and trust you. They see the value in your coaching, and they’re getting great results. You’re already solving many of their problems—so solve one more and get their kids moving.

This is the Help First principle in action: How can you help busy clients who are desperate for activities that keep their kids engaged? With a fun fitness program for children.

Your current clients also know other parents—lots of them—and if you ask them to mention your program to peers who might love to enroll a child, their endorsement will carry a lot of weight.

This is Affinity Marketing: connecting with the people who are closest to your current clients. You can absolutely run ads and try to warm cold leads, but you really can’t compete with a parent who says, “My daughter is doing a six-week session at a great gym full of amazing people. Your kid should sign up, too!”

Remember: You have to generate referrals. They don’t just happen. Try saying something like this: “Hey, Dave! Our kids program is filling up, and the children in the group are really amazing. I want to make sure we fill it with the best kids—does your son or daughter have a ‘best buddy’ who would be a perfect fit?”

This is really simple, but I can’t tell you how many times a parent has responded with, “Oh yeah! Let me reach out to Nancy’s mom,” and we’ve gained a new client. Getting referrals for other kids is easier than getting referrals for adults.

2. Start With a 6-Week Program

Six-week sessions are great because parents can commit easily instead of worrying about all the conflicts that come up over two months or 90 days. But you still have more than enough time to produce some results, make kids smile, build relationships and educate parents on the value of the program.

With a six-week block, parents also don’t generally evaluate cost per class. They attach value to a larger group of classes instead. That can make it easier to price your program properly. Many people price kids programs below adult programs, and that’s a mistake. Kids programs should be at least equal in cost to adult programs—or they should be more expensive.

Six-week blocks also add some scarcity. If you only have 10 spots, people will be more inclined to sign up rather than sit on the fence. And if the program ends while the kids are still having a lot of fun, people will be very eager for another session. If a program drags on and kids start to lose interest, parents won’t be begging you for another block of classes.

Finally, kids will generally miss one or two sessions over six weeks. You don’t want that, of course. But when you expect it to happen, you can take steps to ensure parents know missed classes are normal and accounted for in the plan. If parents are tied to a certain number of classes—such as eight per month—you are opening yourself up to refunds, make-up classes and so on.

With six weeks, you can say something like this: “Everyone has conflicts, so the program is designed to produce great results even if you miss a class or two. Make sure you get to at least 9 or 10 sessions, but you can come up to 12 times if you want!”

3. Go to Sports Teams

I’ve trained hundreds of athletes at my gym, Catalyst. One of our biggest strategies for getting new clients is the “one to many” strategy of training an athlete’s entire team.

For example, when a basketball player joins the gym, immediately make contact with the coach. Tell the coach your plan for the athlete and ask if they approve. You don’t really need their approval (they probably don’t understand what you’re talking about anyway), but it’s a great way to build a bridge.

After the athlete’s first month of training, offer to run a fun “combine” for the team. Bring the team to the gym and run them through a few physical challenges. Collect parents’ email addresses on waivers and add them to your email list. Finally, approach the coach about a preseason conditioning camp.

This has worked dozens of times at Catalyst and generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.

4. Go to Your Email list or Organic Audiences

We offer free seminars several times every year: free nutrition seminars for parents or free concussion seminars for parents and coaches. We collect names and email addresses from all attendees and then add them to our email list.

By far the single most effective “marketing” we’ve done is to publish a nutrition guide for kids. “How to Feed a Hockey Animal” has been downloaded hundreds of times, and the followup email to parents is opened over 80 percent of the time. Many kids have come to our Varsity program because of that download.

Make sure you’re always finding ways to collect email addresses, then regularly send out newsletters full of helpful tips, announcements about new programs with limited space and so on.

Final Advice

As Jeff Martin of The Brand X Method said, “The parent is the client. We work with children. We do what’s best for kids, but the parent is the client. We have to set the program up to meet the parents’ goals and needs.”

Solve problems for parents, and build relationships with them to learn more. Set aside time before and after class to get to know them, answer their questions, find out what they’re struggling with, and update them on their child’s progress. Tell them how you’re addressing concerns and helping their kid succeed.

For example: “I know you said Timmy hates running. I had him push a light sled instead, and he loves it. It was so great to see him smiling as he did it!”

Parents must know how much you care and how hard you are working, so connect with them to bring them up to speed.

You can also help connect the parents to you and each other through private Facebook groups, group texts or email lists. That way they can ask questions, discuss things, plan carpools and so on.

Finally, encourage them to take pictures and share them, or provide them with pictures and videos they can share (be sure your waiver has a media release in place—some parents will not want their kids featured online).

Make the kids happy, but don’t forget that the parents are the true clients. Connect with them at every opportunity to ensure they’re smiling. If you do, your kids programs will always be full.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.