“Little Timmy loves working with you, but this guy comes to the park right next to our house. He played some college baseball, so he knows strength and conditioning stuff.”
As passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced youth performance coaches, we’ve all heard the old “right by our house” dodge. Regardless of our resume of experience and parents’ quest for the best for their child, very few aspects of a program can beat convenience.
Heck, the selection for my 3-year old daughter’s Saturday dance class was based on a Google map search of “Dance studios near 92131”. I’m pretty sure her teacher knows about dance. She wears very dance-like clothing and says very dance-like things.
Notice however, I said very few things can beat convenience. To quote Lloyd Christmas from the movie Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”. While short drives and minimally impacted daily schedules are powerful motivators for parents, the degree to which they value a program is the ultimate decider in how long they will have their child participate.
Convenience has a high value in everyone’s life. If parents value two programs roughly the same, the most convenient one is the one they will choose. The question then becomes, how do we make the value of our program stand out to parents?
In my near twenty years of experience directing extremely successful youth performance camps, I’ve discovered there are four distinct opportunities we have as youth performance specialists to establish a unique value to parents that can actually trump the convenience card. These opportunities lie within each time we work with a child, and can be thought of as the 4 “E’s” of creating value in a program.
- When kids Enter your program daily
- When they Exercise
- When they Exit your program daily
- When you Extend your influence in their lives
When kids Enter your program
For young children, parents are dropping them off to train with you. They are observing everything from the time their child leaves the car. This is put in the mental value bank.
Never be late. If you are at a field, arrive extremely early and be set up prior to parents arriving. If you are at a facility, end your sessions in a timely manner so you can begin sessions on time. Parents notice the clock and relate this to a time/money value proposition.
This should go without saying, but greet the child by name. If there is a front desk staff, they should be expected to learn names as well. All coaches in a facility should be encouraged to learn names. Parents should feel like they are dropping children off with a family. Families call each other by name.
Greeting is also a time for life skills. A firm, eye-contact handshake should be taught and expected as part of the program. Right away, parents see you are teaching skills larger than fitness.
Engage them immediately with activity. Even if they are early, parents see an idle child as the devil’s playground. Part of your program should offer responsibilities and expectations for what children should do when they arrive. This could be a few simple stretches or foam roll exercises posted on the wall. It could be an on-going “high score” challenge (balance, hand-eye coordination, jump rope) they are working on. They may have a folder where they write down everything they’d eaten that day.
Whatever it is, it should be simple, independent, and consistent.
Consider what you currently do when kids show up to your program. How could you add value to this?
When Kids Exercise
We can lecture parents all day on our youth training dogmas, but at the end of the day, parents want to see kids sweating, smiling, and getting smarter. It is important, however, that parents understand what we are trying to accomplish with their child.
Educate parents on the purpose of the program. Extremely short (less than a page), concise (bulleted), and consistent (once per week or month) send-homes or emails help keep them in the loop. If you can include any sort of general celebrity endorsement for your approach (links to interviews, articles, etc.) it immediately increases your credibility.
There’s a stark value difference between “Coach Tony believes in LTAD” and “I just watched an interview by Steve Nash talking about the importance of multi-sport participation and long- term development with young athletes. Coach Tony is right.” Knowing your parents and who’s opinion they value is important.
Parents are suckers for gimmicks. “I saw this guy using a Vertimax with a 7-year-old at basketball practice, so why aren’t you doing that?” While educating parents, try to beat them to the punch with gimmicks and fads. Other local guy crushing athletes with 60 minutes of plyos? How about a short, layman’s terms article (not bashing, just educating) on safe plyos for kids?
Make sure parents see where their money is going. If parents aren’t at a training session, make sure they are getting video clips of their child training. These can be short clips texted from a mobile device. For groups, sending home a monthly newsletter with a short video training montage works to let the parents know what’s happening when they are not there.
When it comes to programming, obviously, make sure you are on point. Follow a logical progression, be involved, and offer consistent feedback. Remember however, that parents want to see their kids sweating, smiling, and getting smarter. Integrate fun and games with serious fundamental skill progressions. When parents see a child standing around with a silent coach, they don’t see “recovery time.” They see idle hands.
Remember, regardless of our fanatical, semantic approach to program design, parents only know what they see.
When Kids Exit Your Program
Parents may not stick around for a workout, but they will always have a presence at the very beginning and end of a workout. These are essential time periods for building unmatched value.
End a session with a simple “take home” that kids can easily remember. The simpler the concept, the better. “Work hard” is great, but it’s pretty broad. “Say thank you when you get to mom and dad because being grateful makes you great” is better. Follow with a story about a famous athlete being grateful. Again, this is a bigger life lesson that parents attach a high value to.
These end-of-the-day concepts are also important because, as any parent knows, the most common answer to “what did you do today?” is “uhh, nothing.” While parents understand this is the norm, any other answer would automatically have a higher value. Ending the day with a take-home that you ask the kids to share with their parents gives them something to say when they hop into the minivan.
Deliver the child to the parent, even if they are waiting outside. Parents want feedback. While mini-evals are also an important aspect of parental communication, a 10-second discussion about their child goes a long way. If a parent has been educated and believes their child is in the midst of a plan, they are less likely to jump ship.
Extend Your Influence
A parent knows it’s one thing that a child does what they are supposed to when they are with their coach. It’s a whole other level of value when a coach’s words or expectations impact a child’s behavior at home.
Simplify “at home” workouts. Between school, sports practice, homework, and life, kids are not going to do their at-home work. However, “Do 10 facing-the-wall squats before you get into bed every night” is something they will do, and parents will help. It’s short, attainable, and with consistency, can pay big dividends. Think simple.
Consider impacting behavior outside of exercise. Parents will place a high value on anything that can ease their parental “pains.” Getting kids to eat better, help around the house, speak with respect, etc. are constant battles for many parents. Again, kids may not always grasp broad concepts, but they can perform small actions.
Making very specific small actions part of homework (assigned in front of their parents, and followed up with in front of their parents) becomes part of their expectation for behavior when they are in your program. Something like “be nice to your brother” is too broad. Assigning them, in front of a parent, to “teach their younger sibling something” that evening is better. The next time you see them, “What did you teach your brother/sister to do?” This way, the parent sees they have another ally on their team. They don’t want to lose an ally.
It’s critical to remember that simplicity is good. “Eat a piece of lettuce every night” is hardly a life changing event. However, it’s a snowball that can grow into more. Parents are more likely to get on board with simple things as well!
Help parents solve their most challenging problems!
With these 4 simple value strategies, you can increase your value over “this guy at the park by our house.” In turn, you have the opportunity to help the kids of today become the happy, healthy, active adults of tomorrow!