Business, Facility, Program Development, Staffing

Starting a Small Gym Program

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There are many types of youth sports and physical activity programs available in most communities.  They run from very small to quite large depending on the diversity of activity or level of instruction that may be offered.  The smaller programs are much more abundant and seen in many strip plazas, whereas larger programs are generally found in buildings designed and built specifically for the business.   In the gymnastics industry, these smaller programs have an entirely different set of operational consideration than the large competitive programs,  from initial set-up, equipment needs, choosing a location, marketing, staffing, class programming, to name a few all require a different set of consideration for a successful launch.   In this discussion, I will share some insight on what is needed to start and build a strong, successful recreational gymnastics program in your community.

If the goal is to start a small community gymnastics program, you should write a mission statement that clearly defines your purpose for being in business. It should be a short statement that is clear, easily understood, and gives you a definitive course to stay as you plan your new business.

Your mission should be your guide as you determine the age and ability levels the program will offer, and the space you will need to effectively run the classes. Once you determine the age and ability levels and the space needed, you can begin to layout your matting, equipment, and staffing requirements.

You will need to determine if the program is to be strictly gymnastics, tumbling, a combination of both, or possibly include even more activities. This is very important because this will determine what your target market will be in advertising and marketing.  Once the type of program is determined, the next step should be to develop a detailed class curriculum for each class offered.

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In developing the class curriculum (Programs for the Rec Student), it needs to be determined what the purpose of the program is designed for.  For example, will the training be directed to prepare students for advancement into a competitive gymnastics program? or designed to train gymnastics in a general recreational manner?  I have found that there is a large demand for children to explore what gymnastics is all about.  At the younger ages, this should be the initial focus.  I have also found that there is a large demand for tumbling and acrobatic instruction for cheerleading, dance, and martial arts. In many cases in order to advance in their sport or activity of their choice (cheerleading as an example) they may require a little more advanced tumbling or acrobatic instruction than is available through their own club or team organization. As these other activities will often parallel gymnastics in regard to the need to develop tumbling and acrobatic skills, it is an easy fit to incorporate this level of instruction into the class structure.

One of the most difficult tasks in setting up your business is finding a location that meets all, or at least. most of your needs.  There are typically two types of spaces to choose from:  retail space or industrial space.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages and should be looked at closely to find the best scenario for the program objectives.  When starting and expanding my program, this is an area that required a lot of time and  attention to find the right space that best fit my program structure.

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Most all large gymnastics and cheer programs will need to be located in an industrial/commercial structure.  This is required, in most cases for ceiling height that is necessary to develop high level skills for competition.  For a competitive gymnastics program you will need a large open floor space for the floor exercise and all the necessary equipment and mats, as well as a minimum ceiling height of 20 feet.  Competition cheer also requires both open floor space and 20 ft ceiling height to support both large group routines and flight skills. One upside of industrial space is the square foot cost is generally lower than retail space. With that said, at the top of your space requirements should be; Location, Location, Location! The major drawbacks in considering industrial space are visibility and location dynamics. If your building is not highly visible, you will need a more aggressive marketing plan to build clientele. The location needs to be well-lit and safe so that parents are comfortable bringing their children for instruction. Facility setup and operational costs are another major factor when considering a large industrial facility.  One example, most large industrial spaces are not air-conditioned and it may need to be added and operated.

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When looking at retail space, the options for program operations may be more limited than in an industrial space.  However, there are advantages over an industrial space.     Most retail spaces are located in strip centers and have much better consumer visibility.  Due to this type of location, the facility expense is much higher per square foot than an industrial space but the roadside presence alone is a great means of marketing and will help bring awareness to any business.  Many strip centers require large signage and some even require illuminated signage which adds to the start-up expense. The typical strip center space is usually designed for office or retail sales, with typically lower ceiling heights of only 10 to 12 feet.  In many locations ceiling height can be improved by simply removing the drop ceiling. However if there is an existing sprinkler system or drop lighting it may require permitting and a licensed contractor to get the job done adding to the expense.

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In addition to choosing the type of facility to operate the business, the location of the property may be your most important decision and ultimate asset.  You should know by now what your target market is, now to find the best fit demographically to maximize the programs potential enrollment. This is challenging, especially if there are a number of other youth sport programs saturating the community.  I do not believe it is ethical to put a new gymnastics program in close proximity to a competitor.  I have seen this done before and it often creates an ongoing and consistent conflict.  It is much more satisfying to choose a location where your program can grow by building your own market share, not trying to steal it from an established business.  The foundation of your program will most likely be young children.  Research  the location of elementary schools and daycare businesses in your community.  The closer you can be to schools and daycare centers, the better.  There are marketing companies that specialize in providing such stats as number of households with young children in a community and the average household income within a community.  This is important also because you want to make sure the business is located in an area that can afford the services you are providing.

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The two largest operating expenses a business incurs are the rent expense and the staff expense.  The rent expense is fixed on an annual basis so this is easy to budget within the business plan.  The staff expense is much more difficult to manage and is often the culprit of a failing business.  In most start-up business, especially the small ones, the budget needs to be closely managed. If you want to survive, stay within your planned budget, and keep unnecessary expenses to a minimum.  As a small startup business you will probably not be able to afford administrative help. Which mean you will most likely be the business owner, program director, head instructor, marketing manager, janitor and cleaning staff.  Only after the enrollment reaches a certain level and the revenue begins to flow in a positive manner, can additional staff be added to fulfill some of these positions.  It is also important to manage the staff’s rate of pay.  Although you need to be competitive with this rate as compared to other gyms in the community, do not set this standard higher than what the budget can absorb.  Remember, although pay rate is important to employees, the environment they are working in is more important.  As a business owner, how you treat your employees and the environment you create will determine the growth and success of the business (Staffing: The Backbone of Every Business).

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When I started my recreational gymnastics program, it took several months of planning before the business could be launched.  I started in subletting space in a local YMCA to run a tumbling program.  This quickly grew and within 6 months I had programs running in 3 separate YMCA’s.  After a year of operations, I realized that the only way I was going to build my business was to have a place of my own.  This commitment was huge and I needed to make sure I had all the pieces of the puzzle in place before jumping in financially.  Through the help and advise of many people, I have evolved my program into two successful locations and in the process of adding more.  Just as it took for me to become a successful athlete, there were many obstacles and ups and downs along the way.  However, through patience, determination, and desire, these challenges were overcome and success prevailed.  There is nothing better than having a dream, chasing that dream, and accomplishing that dream!!

I would love to hear your comments on this subject and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.  Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

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Program Development

Programs for the Rec Student

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There are two types of athletes in the youth sports industry: Recreational and Competitive. Each have their own set of rules and regulations within their program structure and they couldn’t be more different. Both programs work hand-in-hand and one certainly compliments the other. In the gymnastics industry, both programs are important to the success of the gym.  With that said, a successful recreational program is vital to the health and sustainability of the overall business. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on this subject and how it relates to my own program structure.

Having a large and successful competitive program brings notoriety and awareness to the gym and community. The most successful programs have a great national reputation and draws in athletes from all over the country. Many times it takes just one extremely successful athlete in a program to catapult it to national recognition. But where does this success usually start? In most cases, the gyms recreational program. This program is not just the “bread and butter” financially for the gym because of its large numbers, but it is the feeder program to a successful competitive program.

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I have worked as a team coach training students from level 4 through Elite for many years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However, I have noticed there was a lack of attention and professionalism in the rec program.  Far too many recreational class instructors lack experience and the technical knowledge necessary to teach skills in a safe progressive manner, and inexperienced instructors are a safety concern.

I decided years ago that I was going to develop a program that focuses on the rec program and develop students from the beginning so they will acquire the necessary skills and technique to carry them to higher levels if they choose.

In developing this special rec program, I recognized that I did not need a large space to run classes. I did not need high balance beams, uneven bars, or even a vaulting table. Most of gymnastics is related to skills learned through beginning tumbling training, so this was my major focus. Along with floor beams, single rails, spring board, and multiple mat shapes, I was able to fulfill the needs for developmental training. In addition, I recognized after a short period of time, that many of my students did not have an initial desire to become a competitive gymnast. Thus, I developed a training program to teach students basic tumbling and gymnastics skills.  I found that this specialized training system develops a well-rounded athlete that is beneficial in any sports environment, including cheerleading, dance, martial arts, parkour, and more.

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As I discussed in a previous post, Tumbling for Sport, there is a large market in the community that needs a system that professionally and safely trains tumbling skills. Many All-Star cheer gyms have experienced tumbling coaches, however, the community programs like Pop Warner, middle and high schools, do not usually have the capability to train tumbling to their athletes. In addition, the dance and martial arts industries are having an increased need to incorporate tumbling skills. All of these athletes do not need to learn these skills based on the compulsory requirements (for example, a back roll with straight arms) but there is a proper technique aspect in all skill training that needs to be recognized and followed. I have had students grow out of our program and become a strong competitive gymnast. In fact, most of the students who started with my rec program have usually qualified immediately to a gymnastics team because they have developed the proper technique in basic tumbling and gymnastics elements. We teach it correct the first time, so bad habits are not an issue.

In developing a training program, I have always believed in consistency. As mentioned before, gymnastics and tumbling is a very difficult and complex sport. Students must acquire strength, flexibility, speed, full body coordination, and confidence in order to be successful.  Students need to learn and become confident in going upside down and going backwards (which is an unnatural movement). It takes time to learn all the necessary elements, especially if a student only attends a one hour class once a week.  While repetition can be boring, it’s a necessity in tumbling.  Like any motor skill, tumbling skills are all about timing and executing the mechanics of the skill correctly the same way every time. For this specific reason, we follow the same class curriculum for each level every week. We will throw in something different once in a while for the students to explore something new, but we stick to the curriculum as designed. If the curriculum is extensive where all the skills cannot be worked in the class time allowed, the students may only get to work a particular skill once or twice a month, thus extending the amount of time it takes to accomplish the skill.

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For our beginner students (excluding preschool), we focus on developing floor skills such as forward and backward rolls, straddle rolls, cartwheels, handstands, and bridge kick-overs. We use a variety of basic drills and mat shapes for training all skills. The bars and beam work are also very basic, focusing on strength and balance movements. Most importantly, we are very hands-on and communicate consistently while working with the students (Coaching: The Communication Factor). Sticking with a consistent schedule, the students will be able to understand and accomplish the skill in a shorter period of time. I hear often, parents making the comment “my child has learned more in one class with your staff than they have in 3 months at another gym program”. It’s not that our staff performs magic, they are just well-trained and is a testament to the structure of our program.

 

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Our intermediate and more advanced students have a curriculum that can enhance not only those interested in a higher gymnastics but also beneficial for dancers, cheerleaders, and martial arts students. The floor curriculum entails introducing and teaching aerials, front handsprings, and back handsprings. In the dance industry, the students are more focused on learning walk-overs, aerials, and back handsprings. For the cheerleaders, the focus is based mostly on the back handspring and front handspring, although, the aerial is a nice skill to develop and is often seen in cheerleading. As you can see, the structure of our classes at this level is beneficial to students in different sports activities.

Regardless of the level of participation, whether for beginners or advanced students, all of the skills and drills are taught with proper technique. If the students do not learn the skills with proper technique, they will struggle in advancing their skill level (The Technique Controversy). For example, it is so important to learn a great cartwheel before learning a round-off. In my experience, one of the most difficult skills to learn properly, for most students, is the round-off. We spend a lot of time developing this skill and will not introduce the back handspring without having this skill accomplished- among other basic elements. When we see a student perform a round-off back handspring and busts the back handspring, it is typically a problem with the round-off, not the back handspring. This will be a subject of another post and in my future training manuals.

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The recreational program is such an important part of all gym clubs and requires special attention to ensure its success. Not only is it the largest part of the gym program, but it feeds the team program. The stronger the rec program, the stronger the team program. I had a great deal of satisfaction working with team students and watching them grow into strong athletes. Now, I get as much satisfaction working with rec students and watching their excitement when they accomplish their skills.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to comment or send me a message. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts. As always, I would love to hear your comments. Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

Program Development, Uncategorized

Class Structure

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There are many factors that go into creating a successful program and successful athletes. Some of these factors include proper staffing, proper equipment, great management and communication skills as well as many more which will be discussed in future posts. In this discussion, I will be focusing on the importance of Class Structure as it relates to recreational programs.

Depending on the type of gym, whether it is a gymnastics, cheer, dance, or other, the class structures may be quite diverse. There are classes for each skill level, classes for different age groups, classes for rec students, classes for competitive students, and many more types of classes that are needed to meet the community’s needs and help the gym grow. Thus, class structures must be well-defined and can get quite extensive.

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All gym owners and program directors have their own opinions and views of how they should structure their class programs. There is a lot of information out there regarding this subject and it can be very diverse in application. What this means is that there is no “set in stone” structure or system that will guarantee positive results. Every program is different and program objectives may be different. So, the class structures in each program must be designed to meet the goals and objectives of the gym.

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However, there are a few guidelines that, I believe, are essential in setting up the class structure. Most recreational programs have a class time of approximately 55 minutes. Preschool classes are usually a shorter time frame as these little ones have such a short attention span (some have zero:) Through my years of working these rec classes, I have found that the structure must me laid out so the students are engaged and working productively throughout the entire class time. To accomplish this, there are several issues to consider.

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Have you ever heard of a scenario where the parents, who are observing the class, watch the clock closely and even take notes on how often their child takes a turn on a piece of equipment? I have heard this issue for many years and have found that this one issue plays a major role in the retention of students. Why does this happen? There are a number of issues that contribute to this problem: too many students per class, not enough stations, lack of traffic control, inexperienced coaches. Each of these factors can be fixed to ensure the class program’s success.

As a gym owner, we all want to maximize the number of students in our programs in order to maximize the revenue. Although this is a critical issue, it is important to weigh the financial picture with the quality picture. Today, there are many activity options where parents can enroll their children. We have all heard of “gym hoppers” where some parents always think the grass is greener at another location. This is not usually the case, but has some merit if a program is not meeting the parent’s quality expectations.

Parents are consumers just like you and I. When they pay for something, whether it’s a product or a service, they are going to have both real and perceived expectations. Hence, if they don’t see a positive return for what they are paying for, you may very well lose the student.

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I believe it is very difficult for one coach to run a class of more than 8 or 9 students. Even with numerous stations set up for the class, the instructor would have a hard time watching all the students and making the proper corrections throughout the class. Class sizes that exceed this number should have an additional coach. As I discussed in a previous post (Coaching: The Communication Factor), it is important that the instructor communicates on a consistent basis so the students always understand the skill development corrections they are given. In addition to this being a quality issue, it is also a safety issue. Each child, especially the younger student’s, need to be watched closely throughout the class period. While the class is being run, the instructor must be placed in a position where all the students can be seen. No student should be working at a station where the coach cannot see them.

A 55 minute class can fly by in flash, so the class should be structured in accordance to time frames. Always start the class on time- this is critical!! The stretch should have a time limit, each skill being worked or station rotation should have a time limit. If the clock is being monitored closely, the students should be able to work through the 55 minute curriculum and accomplish the program effectively.

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A successful program is one that develops the students in a progressive manner in all levels of participation. This requires that each instructor of every class is trained and has the knowledge and experience to run a successful class. If parents are not seeing any progress over a period of time, they will seek other programs or activities for their children. With this being said, however, not every student is made for the type of program you are offering and may not progress regardless of the structure being offered. All we can do is provide 100% effort to insure the students get the best possible instruction.

Change should always be considered as well. Program objectives may change, student dynamics may change, etc. In every case, class structures should stay up to date with these changes. I personally have gone through many structure scenarios to find the perfect fit for my program objectives. I do my best to stick with a consistent program so the students can progress and accomplish their skills as quickly as possible. I will cover the subject of class curriculum in another post.

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Remember, if the program is a positive program with positive instructors and an exciting and positive environment, the participants will be more likely to love what they are doing and have the motivation to move forward in their development.

I would love to hear your feedback on this issue and answer any questions you may have. You can contact me through this post, or FB, Twitter, or my email at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

Be sure to like this post and share to all you believe will benefit from its content. There will be lots more to follow!!

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