Growing Youth Programs

Happy kids getting off school bus at the end of the day

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

First, you’re more likely to buy something for your kids than for yourself.

Second, parents are actively looking for something to keep their kids busy and active. Their children have been stuck at home for months, and they’re not getting any activity at school anymore. Parents are realizing that kids don’t just “go outside and play” like they once did.

Third, options are more limited than ever before. With no after-school sports and some recreational facilities still closed for large groups, parents are looking for new things to try—and that’s you.

Here’s how to grow your youth program fast.

1. Appeal to Clients’ Kids First

Some advice from Gretchen Bredemeier, our Two-Brain Youth Programs Specialist:

“Scarcity is always your best friend. You want few enough events that they fill up. You want to start with few enough classes that the kids and parents want more! If it’s your idea, you ‘just want the money.’ If it’s their idea, you are serving your clients and doing it for their best interest. If it’s their idea then you can truly Help First!

“Typically, the same concept applies for adding additional classes. While it’s good to get ahead of things (plan for classes you want to start in the next year), you want to start them when clients are asking for them.”

This is why now is the best time ever to start a kids program: Parents want their children to be active, but they’re not getting any activity in school or sports!

2. Start With a 6-Week Program

From Gretchen:

“Six-week sessions are the best way to start! Six weeks is a short enough time frame that parents can more easily commit, but it’s long enough for them to see obvious results and understand the value of your program. Six weeks is also longer than a month, which allows you to price well because parents don’t tend to break the cost down per class but relate the cost to ‘a large group of classes.’ It makes good pricing easier to swallow, which sets your value from the start.  

“Six weeks is also usually long enough that kids will miss one or two classes. This isn’t the goal, of course, but gets parents into the habit of seeing missed classes as their responsibility and not yours. You don’t ever want to get into the habit of parents expecting a specific number of classes with their payments.”

3. Get the “Best Friends” and Siblings

If your first six-week program doesn’t sell out, approach the parents of the kids in the group and say, “Hey, Dave! Our kids program is filling up, and the kids 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.

4. 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. (Two-Brain clients: this is on the Two-Brain Growth ToolKit—Affinity Marketing Highway, Milestone 2.)

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. But, of course, I screwed it up the first few times. Read about those mistakes here.

5. 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 monthly 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.

You can have it (just remove all pics and rebrand with your own gym, please): “How to Feed a Hockey Animal.”

Final Advice

From Gretchen: “You need to understand your relationship with parents.
Bus stops are the kid-focused version of hair salons or water coolers. And you want your program to be the topic of choice!

“The best way to make that happen is authentic relationships with parents, and … you want to start from your first six weeks. Make time before and after class to ask your questions and field theirs. Get to know them and their kids for real. Set-up a communication system that works for your clients: email, Facebook, texts, Instagram—whatever works for them.  

“And then make sure you tell them when you’ve addressed the issues, made special allowances, seen improvement in the behavior, etc. Make sure they understand the things you worked on today, how that will benefit their kids, and why you chose to work on that specific thing.  

“‘I noticed that Sammy was uncomfortable in the front roll, so I chose this and that to work on vestibular development today so that as her inner ear gets the challenge it needs, she will become more comfortable in the positions that will be most helpful in creating great lifelong motor patterns.’

“They have to know how much you know and how much work you are putting into this, and they won’t know if you don’t tell them.

“Encourage them to take photos and to share photos. Make a Bright Spots Friday tradition where parents use pictures from the week to brag on their kids. Make fun car magnets that say, ‘My kid’s sport is CrossFit’ so parents can be proud of what their kids are doing.

“Parents that know you will talk about your program at the bus stop, and they will also give you more grace as you inevitably make mistakes. Take the time for parents and you will never be sorry that you did.”

Other Media in This Series

“Building Youth Programs”
“Kids Programs: Pricing and Scheduling”
“Hiring a Kids Program Coach”
“Jeff and Mikki Martin: What’s Best for Kids”


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.