The ABCs of Children’s Programming

For Gym Operators

The ABCs of Children’s Programming

Obesity among children and adolescents has risen dramatically over the last few years. With the ubiquitous nature of technology, children are not moving to the extent they should be for a healthy life.

This dilemma presents opportunities for fitness facilities to extend their services to include children and young adult programs.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speakers

Andrea Merritt has been the Program Director at Sports Club Inc. since 2004. She has more than 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry.

Ed Stoner is the Athletic Director for the Multnomah Athletic Club. He manages a staff of over 250 employees and holds a degree in Business Management, a Masters in Sports Administration and a Doctorate in Education.

Samantha Miller has been the Children’s Services Director at the Adirondack Club since 2000. She is responsible for designing and implementing state licensed after school and summer camp programs.

Lexie Griffiths is a former Physical Education teacher. She is a well-renowned coach, trainer, program developer, and keynote speaker. She has more than 45 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

Children's programming

Parents are the decision makers. Their perception of wellness programs aimed at children is extremely important. Think about the timing of your children’s programs. Are they offered at times when most parents would train on their own as well?

Incorporate a funny tagline that will remind parents of the childhood fun they had engaging in physical activities with peers. Look for community and member interests. For example, rock climbing is a prevalent pastime in the Pacific Northwest region. Consider erecting a rock wall for children’s programs.

If you have a child center within your club already, talk to the parents about the wants and desires of their kids. The parents make the decisions but the kids drive the program’s success. Kids must love the program in order for it to succeed. Tap into the needs of both the children and parents, while providing engaging and fun activities that will maintain a child’s interest.

Best Practices for Children’s Programming

An important aspect of a good children’s fitness program is the staff involvement.

The right person driving the right program is crucial. Be clear about your expectations. Ensure daily activities are in line with the end goal. The instructors responsible for these programs should be energetic, creative, and demonstrate care for the children, the club and the activities within the facility. Certified instructors and trainers may be required depending on the activities you build into your programs.

Work to obtain feedback from the kids and their parents on your programming. Use the "good, better, best" philosophy. Take something that works well and make it better, then make that the best, and after that succeeds, start over. Modify old activities, try new things, look at trends, and create a fun, healthy and engaging environment for the children.

Challenges You May Face

Kids will spread the word about your facility—be it good or bad.

Make sure the person in charge is aware of everything going on. Parents must trust you, and you need to take that seriously. Comply with, and be aware of, any state licensing rules governing your program. Parents will check on you constantly, so be able to respond appropriately. You are in charge of their most precious cargo for a few hours. They want reassurances that their children are both safe and having fun.

Dealing with the moods of the kids can also present a challenge. This is where it becomes extremely important to find the right staff. A good instructor should be able to appropriately deal with any tough situations.

Parents will ask for exceptions and special privileges for their children. Regardless of how much you want to please them, giving in to parents can set a bad precedent within your facility. Remind parents not every program will fit every child or family. If the request for an exception goes against the program’s policies, guidelines and goals, you can politely refuse to accommodate the request. Assure the parent that the rules are in place to provide the best possible experience for children, including their own.

Promoting Programs to Children and Parents

Automated email marketing is one of the simplest and most effective forms of marketing. Software sends out emails to current members or targeted lists promoting your children’s programs. The system also tracks the recipients who opened the email and what they clicked on.

The data you collect from the email campaign can be used to follow up with your target audience in a timely manner. Social media, flyers, word of mouth, and outreach at different schools can also be helpful to market your programs.

Increasing Ancillary Revenue

Consider adding food and beverage components to your children’s programs. Set time aside during classes to allow the children and their parents to take advantage of these offerings. Cross promotion via classes, camps, and other ancillary program can help generate revenue.

Adding a salon and massage area for parents while the kids are busy within the program can add a substantial amount of ancillary revenue to your facility. Hosting birthday parties can also help. Make the programs relevant and interesting. Camps generate revenue while attracting new members, and summer programs provide nine weeks of profit and facility admirers.

The inclusion of children’s programming can also aid in retention. If the kids want to be there, the parents will remain at your club. You can offer member discounts for parents of children in the kids’ programs. Parents usually stay for double the length of time when their children enjoy the programs.

If you have the space and resources available, children's programming can be a wonderful addition to your club. You can feel good knowing that you're enriching your facility's member experience, providing a valuable service to families, and helping children lead healthier lives.