by Gretchen Bredemeier, Two-Brain Youth Programs Mentor
Thinking about starting a new youth program, or building on the one you have? Here are Gretchen’s Top 5 tips:
1. Take the time to plan long-term.
Short-term thinking and planning is one of the biggest barriers to successful youth programs. It’s why I do everything I can to help gyms overcome this hurdle during mentorship. You can’t just deal with things as they come and expect to thrive. You have to get ahead of stuff! You respond better, create better, and program better when you work from a long-term plan. Most youth programs are doing exceptionally well if they can think through things a month at a time. Youth coaches and managers work other jobs, have kids… they just tend to have lots going on. It’s the gym owner’s job to set the vision of a Youth Program, and create an annual plan with quarterly goals.
2. Get your youth coaches certified.
Sure CrossFit Kids or BrandX is an insurance requirement for youth ages 12 and under, but there are gobs of great reasons to make sure your coaches are certified. As I coach adults, I’ve never had anyone ask about my certifications. As a Youth Coach, however, I actually decided to hang them all on the wall above my desk and require that all parent conversations happen at that desk. It’s embarrassing (I don’t want to be THAT person), but parents need to see them. Certs make parents comfortable and help to gain their respect in a “sport” that is still seen as “scary” and “unorthodox” in most areas. It gives parents the security of knowing that you gained your knowledge from something greater than YouTube. Certs go a long way to professionalize our profession. Certifications can be brought up and used to validate content (particularly anything controversial- like early specialization). At this transition point, as CrossFit begins to take its place as a valid option in youth sports, youth coaches must be obvious experts to gain the trust of parents- and certs are an easy first step.
3. Stop offering family discounts.
Your youth program is the best thing parents can do for their kids. You know it. I know it. Parents will figure it out quickly. Some parents are coming to your gym anyway so this program is also the most convenient thing they can do for their kids. And if they weren’t spending their money at your gym, they’d be spending more money somewhere else.
[Chris’ note: to play hockey at the rep level–meaning 3 coached practices per week–in Canada, it would cost over $6000 for a 10-year-old. And the season would last 5 months.]
What they don’t like is the big number they see all going to the SAME place- it’s a psychological annoyance that we have to be mindful of. People are fine spending $500, as long as it is spent in small increments. When it’s all spent in one large sum, especially at one place or on one thing, that’s when people freak out. Instead of stealing money from your own program, however, there are other ways to help people out. One simple tactic is to charge adults at the beginning of the month and charge all youth programs on the 15th of each month. If that’s not enough, then you can offer parents something that isn’t recurring. You can offer their child one free clinic/event at sign-up- this also help parents and youth understand how awesome your events are and sets the stage to make attendance at your events an early “habit”. Get creative. Understand the value you offer and stop stunting the growth of your program.
- Create a process for firing clients–
Firing youth clients is the one step in your process that allows you to create a truly safe atmosphere for kids. Although this conversation is rough, it has to be done (hopefully rarely) in order to look a potential client in the face and say, “We do not allow _______ here. The kids who persisted in ______ have been asked to leave.” And that’s a really important thing to be able to say. This is one of the processes that I help gyms create during mentorship, and it’s one that every gym needs. While firing an adult client isn’t something that any of us enjoy having to do, firing a youth client is only tougher and more complicated as it impacts the parent as well. If you want an excellent youth program, you have to accept and create processes to deal with the fact that not every young athlete is a solid enough match to your “perfect client”. Obviously, there are better and worse ways to handle this, but I promise it can (and should) be done in a way that leaves both parent and child with nothing but positive things to say about your program.
- Stop thinking of the youth programs as “less than”.
There aren’t a ton of people out there writing about best practices in youth programs, but those that I’ve read all say: “charge lots less for kids”, “they’re young so have shorter classes”, “offer a free first week or a free first MONTH”. If you wouldn’t do this for adults, why on earth are you doing it for kids? Coaching certification costs for youth coaching are almost twice what it costs to coach adults. You have to keep up with background checks. Kids require greater care in programming, more flexibility and are twice as exhausting to coach. They have zero understanding of their bodies, which change weekly, and are new to concepts that, if accepted and positively charged, will affect their fitness and wellness for a lifetime. We have to prove our expertise with every class, develop relationships with parents as well as coaches. We are constantly educating ourselves, vigilant about environmental safety, always attentive to the culture we are creating. We are broaching social issues, developing character and leadership skills while creating a long-term plan for CITS (coaches in training)- and then training them. We are teaching kids the fine line between pain and soreness, pushing, keeping them safe, instilling confidence and all under the strict paradigm of “fitness is fun.” And they’d advise you to charge less and stuff it all into 30/45 minutes? Their recommendation is that you invite new kids and parents into the culture you’ve painstakingly carved with no filter or fundamentals class at no charge for 2-8 classes!? We can’t think like this. Youth classes aren’t childcare- they are training young people how to be healthy humans- our classes can and should impact lives. Charge more, and be more.