If you own a gym, studio, or performance center that caters to young athletes, you are aware of how saturated the market has become.
In order to stand out, we have to create a program and experience that not only delivers results, but creates raving fans out of parents and athletes alike. As I have shared in previous posts (IYCA Free Content), we have an opportunity to do this when children enter our program daily, when they exercise with us, when they exit our program daily, and when we extend our positive influence with them.
When a coach creates an engaging experience with all of the aspects above, they empower athletes, impress parents, and rise above the competition. Of particular interest to discerning parents is how a coach is able to extend their positive influence into other aspects of a child’s life. As coaches, we can inspire kids to do things in life in a way that sometimes parents cannot.
Stepping out of the strength and conditioning world for a moment and stepping into the world of marketing, the #1 way to create a successful product is to solve a problem for a group of people. Have trouble communicating while you travel? BAM! The cell phone. Don’t like carrying your suitcase around the airport? BAM! Wheels.
While parents want to know we are running a fundamentally sound program, many of the dogmatic training principles we feel set us apart from others mean very little to parents. They come to us because we can get their kids to do things they can’t.
Tuning in to what parents want from their young children is important. Listen for the “I just can’t get him/her to….” The next words out of their mouth are a problem they would like solved. Additionally, this avoided habit or behavior will most likely help in delivering the intended results of your program.
From over 15 years of directing a highly successful youth sports performance program, I have introduced a variety of daily “extend your influence” activities. Anything from involving our young athletes in community service projects to bringing in satisfactory school report cards to in order to be invited to watch some of our pro athletes train on the field. While we have included general concepts, i.e. mental toughness, etc., I have found clearly defined, tangible actions have more impact.
Oddly enough, the 3 simplest of these activities have had the greatest impact on both athletes and parents and therefore, have withstood the test of time. These activities included:
- The Handshake
- Post Workout Nutrition
- Family Challenges
We have all experienced the wet noodle, eyes-cast-down handshake of youngsters. For some reason, the firm, eye-contact handshake our fathers instilled in us is no longer part of the parenting paradigm. Judging by parents’ obvious embarrassment in these situations, I could tell that they wanted their child to act differently, but weren’t enforcing the behavior at home.
I began making the firm, confident handshake part of our program. Upon entering, each child would make eye contact, stand upright, and say hello as they squeezed a coach’s hand. All coaches would engage the kids with a handshake with similar expectations. Even if the coach wasn’t working with the athlete! This was also the ticket to leave at the end of the day.
Parents were wowed, as now they could reinforce this behavior in other situations. We still gave our high fives, fist bumps, and other “positive contacts” as coach Rob Taylor calls them. However, we would set the tone for confidence and respect at the beginning and end of each day with the handshake.
As youth performance specialists, we are well aware of the impact of nutrition on a child’s performance in sports and in life. We also know the struggle that exists to get kids to improve the way they eat.
I sat through countless consults with parents complaining about their children’s nutrition habits.
“I can’t get him/her to eat breakfast”
“I can’t get him/her to eat vegetables”
“I can’t get him/her to eat “healthy” food”
I realized we could extend our influence into nutrition. We created a 1-sided, 1-page send -home of options for post-workout nutrition that everyone got during their first session. These weren’t necessarily ideal macronutrient-ratio foods for post workout, they were just relatively nutrient-dense foods that were simple to put together.
Whatever the kids put together (this was a caveat as well- the kids had to make it) it had to consist of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fruit or vegetable. The kids would need to explain where each of these was found in their food. The PB&J with natural peanut butter and a banana become a staple.
If one kid in a group forgot their snack, we would do a short “memory tool” as a group. This would be something like a wall sit where we would ask trivia questions they would have to answer in order to get off of the wall. Fun, but still tough enough to drive home the point!
Kids started to bring food not only for them, but for others that may have forgotten. Their parents raved about the fact their kids had started to understand the relationship between food and performance. Kids would bring healthy snacks for after sports games and practices even when they weren’t in our program.
For breakfast, we included some suggestions on the list we sent home. At some point during the day, coaches would do a quick quiz, usually when the group was holding a plank or other isometric exercise, as to what each child had eaten for breakfast.
If a child had skipped breakfast or made a poor choice, the coach would comically interview them at length about it while everyone held the exercise. The kids would laugh, but it was tough enough for them to remember to change their behavior. Parents would beam about how their kids had started to eat breakfast every day of the week.
This nutrition intervention scaled all the way from our 7- year-olds to our college kids, with equal success throughout.
Early on in creating youth athletic camps, I discovered a disconnect between parents and our program. Minivans would pull up to our facility, slowing down just enough for a troop of kids to pile out, then speed off to the nearest coffee shop for some peace and quiet.
60 minutes later, they would return for pick up. After the kids piled into the car the parents would
ask “so what did you do today?” The knee-jerk response being “nothing.” We could have had an NFL quarterback juggling honey badgers on a flaming balance beam and the answer would be the same. It’s a kid/parent dynamic thing.
I realized that while parents expect this, it negatively impacted the overall value of our program.
Our program is designed for kids, but parents make the ultimate value assessment with their time and money.
We began to create weekly “family challenges.” These would be simple things that the entire family could “compete” at or test themselves against a benchmark. Understanding that not all parents would appreciate hardcore maximal exercise challenges, these would usually involve balance (balance on one foot, try to tie and untie your shoe without falling over), coordination (how many times can you toss and catch a playing card with one hand in a minute) and general functionality (can you stand up without using your hands?)
We’d print these out and send them home, in addition to including them in a weekly email. These simple activities would showcase basic skills from our program. It also helped our culture permeate the family culture with physical activity. Kids (even relatively unfit kids) could often out-perform their parents. The result was creating a conversation at home about the things kids learned in our program, sparking extremely positive word-of-mouth between parents.
Consider the simple, tangible things you could add to your program to extend your positive influence on young lives. The result will be greater impact on youth, a better relationship with parents and the community, and continual program growth.
Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA. He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country. Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.