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Take one look at the staggering statistics regarding childhood obesity and it is easy to see the severity of the issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, increasing from about 5 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2008 and have remained consistent through 2012.
As a result of this alarming trend, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign dedicated to getting kids healthy and active. It is crucial to instill healthy habits at a young age, for we carry those habits into adulthood.
“It is so important for kids to fall in love with exercise and movement and find an outlet that fits their personality, where they feel successful early in life, because that is going to carry on to what they expect their day-to-day life to be like when they are an adult,” said Christina Payne, the youth programs director at Miramont Lifestyle Fitness in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The responsibility of encouraging kids to be active should not just be left to parents and schools. Health and fitness clubs can also play an integral role by offering various youth fitness programs that make exercise appealing and accessible to kids.
“Here at Miramont our purpose is to engage, energize, inspire and impact lives,” explained Payne. “We have a large family community in this area of town (South Pacific location) and as a means to best serve our families it was necessary to have youth programs so that kids could be actively engaged in the club and looked forward to being in the club while their parents are working out.”
Kids are always moving and finding healthy outlets at Miramont. From tiny toddler gymnastics to kickboxing, circuit training and even yoga, kids have a plethora of fun, innovative activities to choose from. Even better, once kids become teenagers, the fun doesn’t have to stop.
“For kids 12 years and older we onboard with what we call a teen fitness certification,” added Payne. “Our young adults get to meet with a personal trainer and learn how to use our adult equipment appropriately and how to participate in our adult fitness classes.”
According to Linda Romaine, the group fitness manager at HealthQuest in Flemington, New Jersey, it is crucial to target kids in all age groups. Many clubs offer classes that cater to younger children such as gymnastics and dance, but once they reach pre-teen age, many kids get disinterested.
In order to engage kids ages 8 to 13, HealthQuest launched the Les Mills Born To Move program. In a typical class kids have the opportunity to do a wide variety of exercises — body combat, dance, yoga, etc.
“Our toughest kids to handle are the pre-teens,” explained Romaine. “They are in a spot where they can’t workout with their parents yet, but they are in this gym with all of this stuff and nothing they can do. We added the group fitness classes so the older kids would have a program. We wanted them to do something active because that is a really important age to teach them good habits for later on.”
At Midtown Athletic Clubs, the goal of youth fitness programming goes beyond getting kids moving. The company recently launched its “Fun, Fit and Focused” youth fitness initiative with the intention of targeting three key domains of child development.
“We made a very conscious decision that we wanted to provide programming that was centered around developing the cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills that every child needs,” said Scott Hopson, the national fitness director at Midtown Athletic Clubs. “Our real inspiration was to revolutionize the way we programmed for kids.”
According to Hopson, every child has a different emotional drive to move. Some simply want to play, while others want to get stronger and fit. Others want focus on a specific sport to compete. Midtown Athletic Club’s “Fun, Fit and Focused” programming strives to engage every type of child, while developing their cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills.
However, kids will never be inspired to stay active without an outstanding group of youth program leaders. In order to ensure its youth fitness instructors are of the highest quality, Midtown Athletic Clubs established Midtown University, which provides education and training for all Midtown employees, 100 percent at the cost of the club. Coaches can choose from a variety of career pathways, one being a youth specialist.
“You cannot just have any personal trainer or Group X instructor working with youth,” explained Hopson. “They need to have the mindset, skillsets and the qualifications necessary to coach youth. We decided the best investment we could ever make was in our people.”
The benefits of boasting an extensive youth fitness program extend beyond the kids you serve. Parents also reap the rewards. Not only are their kids embracing a healthy lifestyle, but parents have an opportunity to workout as well.
“We stagger our classes during prime adult group exercise, small group training and personal training hours,” added Payne. “It is the behavior of a parent to drop off their child and then they go to their class. Parents can fit in their exercise while their kids are having fun. Everyone in the family leaves happy.”
When it comes to improving retention and member satisfaction, youth programming is the perfect way to add value to your membership. If the kids are happy at your club, it is more than likely the parents will be too.
“What typically happens, even at the nicest health clubs, is the parents come with the kids and they drop them off at what is essentially a glorified babysitting service,” said Hopson. “We decided that wasn’t valuable to a family membership. We needed programs that families can do together.”
At the core of youth programming is the desire to get kids moving, but an added perk is the opportunity to bring families together. Members will appreciate the opportunity to do something fun as a family.
“In a world where there is so little time to connect with the people you love, there are very few sanctuaries left where you can go as a family and actually connect in a fun way,” explained Hopson. “The more we get communities, especially families, to move together and have fun together, I think that will become the driving factor for why families choose a club or stay at a club.”
In the end, fantastic youth programming boils down to having a passion and dedication to getting kids engaged in fitness. “Youth programming is a long-term play and you have to be fully committed,” said Hopson. “You better believe in it, you better have the right staff and you better have purpose that improves the family quality of life.”
By Emily Harbourne