Managing Fun for Young Members
As with any program, hiring and retaining the right manager is crucial to its success. Here's how to find an ideal candidate for the job, motivate and retain him or her, and recognize the warning signs of poor managerial performance.
Identify ideal candidatesFirst, look at candidates' credentials, including college degrees, fitness and/or specialty certifications, experience and skill sets.
Degrees. "For our kids' fitness director positions, we look for a four-year degree in an exercise-related field, such as physical education, kinesiology or exercise science," says Shari Downum, human resources director of Oakwood Athletic Club, Lafayette, Calif., and Club Sport of San Ramon, also in California. The fitness centers offer numerous children's fitness programs, including dance, gymnastics and basketball, as well as summer sports camps.
Jeff Lulla, president of Fun & Fit Gymnastics, with locations in Burbank and Santa Clarita, Calif., also looks for a bachelor's degree in physical education or kinesiology, and he'll consider a candidate with a degree in child development. "These degrees tell me that the prospect went to school with the intention of being a teacher or coach," says Lulla, whose company runs gymnastics clubs and licenses kids' fitness curricula to fitness centers and gymnastics clubs internationally.
Sandy Coffman, president of Programming for Profit, a Bradenton, Fla.-based consultancy, says an ideal candidate should demonstrate professional-level teaching ability. "Even an assistant teaching degree from a community college shows that the candidate is serious about enhancing his or her teaching credentials," says Coffman.
Certifications. Both Downum and Coffman say an ideal candidate will be certified by a reputable fitness certification organization, and have an updated CPR certification. Frank Sahlein, president and owner of Wings Center, a children's fitness facility in Boise, Idaho, looks for sport-specific certifications, such as those offered by gymnastics or cheerleading associations. Lulla agrees, adding that he looks for a certification from USA Gymnastics. The International Youth Conditioning Association (www.iyca.org) and the International Sports Sciences Association (www.issaonline.com) offer courses and certifications in children's fitness and training.
Experience. If your search doesn't turn up candidates who have related experience as a children's fitness director, look for those who have worked with kids in some capacity. For example, Lulla looks for applicants with experience in a leadership role at a daycare or youth camp. Downum looks for candidates with group exercise experience.
Skills. Sahlein, who also owns 3rd Level Consulting & Business Brokerage, a consultancy that specializes in children's activity centers, suggests looking for a candidate with demonstrated ability to compete with other facilities and make money on kids' fitness. Downum looks for leaders who offer fresh ideas about children's programming, and are able to work well with both children and parents.
Coffman supplied her list of skills to look for:
Lulla looks for candidates who have a passion for working with children. "I've seen some well-educated and trained people with the highest credentials struggle and fail in this field if they are not good with kids," he says. "And, I've seen people with little formal education run terrific programs because they have the passion for working with kids." He also looks for an ability to "edutain" — someone who can entertain while educating. "Making the kids laugh and have fun is an important job skill not just for working with kids, but also for mentoring other employees such as instructors," he explains. Lastly, he looks for those who are outgoing and personable.
Make the offerSalaries. Directors for children's programs recorded an average annual salary of $30,500 per year in 2006, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), Boston, Mass. It's helpful to look at similar job descriptions to discern appropriate pay scales. Median salaries for fitness/program directors in 2006 was $37,500, according to the IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey (www.ideafit.com). Those in the Northeast recorded the highest median salary at $40,018. For group fitness coordinators, the national median salary was $30,000 in 2006.
Fitness directors included in IHRSA's 2006 salary survey recorded an average compensation of $47,587 per year. And the American Council on Exercise (ACE), San Diego, Calif., reported that the 2005 average salary for full-time group fitness instructors was $36,000, and $43,000 for fitness directors. Lulla says $15 to $25 per hour, plus benefits, is a good estimate for the role of children's fitness director. Fitness centers in big cities such as Los Angeles and New York, where the cost of living is higher than the national average, generally pay more. Downum says that the going rate in her area of California is $32,000 to $50,000 per year for a full-time director who also teaches kids' classes.
Benefits. If the children's fitness director role in your facility is a full-time position, you should offer the same level of benefits as you do other full-time managers, says Sahlein. Most important is healthcare coverage, because any fitness-related job can be tough on the body. He also recommends offering a bonus structure based on set parameters, such as number of children who participate, profit levels, cost-reduction targets, retention rates, number of new programs launched and the like.
Hold the director accountableWhoever manages the children's fitness director should explicitly define what constitutes success in that role. That's where an effective review process comes in handy.
How to review. In general, you want to judge this position as you would any other program director: on growth and retention. That said, Coffman suggests that you answer these questions when reviewing a children's fitness director: Have they met your retention goals? Have they kept kids in programs, as well as moved children from program to program? How creative are they with the programs? How effective are they at promoting programs? "Your kids' director could, for example, come up with recognition programs for participants, such as a banquet or party at the end of an eight-week program," says Coffman. "Club kids could invite their friends who can watch them get recognized at the party. The friends then may want to join in. And that's how you use retention to grow membership."
Downum says program directors at her fitness centers are reviewed on time-management skills, how many new ideas they've implemented, participation numbers, their openness to new ideas when participation numbers are low, how they conduct themselves among colleagues and members (e.g., do they take suggestions well?), their value as a team member, and their business and administrative skills (e.g., profit-and-loss reports, hiring and retaining instructors, keeping their team up on certifications, touching base regularly with their instructors).
In a broader sense, Downum asks, What is the fitness center's vision, and how does the children's program match or facilitate that vision? "Sometimes a GM must educate his or her managerial staff on how their roles impact the whole business," she says. "Individual managers get so busy with their part of the club that they may fail to see how their work impacts the club as a whole. They must understand that they are part of a management team, not just the manager of their one particular area. And they must be made to feel as if they are part of that team." Some managers just like to know the GM's goals, and then be left alone to achieve them. Others like to report to the GM each week, denoting the steps they've taken to reach stated goals. "In any case, the GM should show interest in the kids' program, and demonstrate support for the manager. A GM shouldn't go to a kids' director — or any manager — with just complaints," Downum says. "Rather, he or she should say to the individual manager, 'I'm here to support what you do. Let's get together and make the club or the program even better.'"
Pay for performance. "Once you decide [how] you will evaluate the director, then you need to factor those things into his or her salary increase or bonus structure," Coffman says.
Retain themThe role of children's fitness director is a tough one to do effectively for prolonged periods of time. Kids can wear out even the most hearty and enthusiastic employee. To keep your director motivated, try the following steps:
When to dismiss: Nine red flagsThe following are warning signs that it may be time to replace your children's fitness director:
Program successTo be successful at children's programming, the fitness industry needs to go back to square one, says Coffman: "Make the programs fun, group-oriented and easily accessible." And that, says Lulla, takes the right manager for the job. Use the strategies outlined here to elevate your fitness center, and help children get fit, healthy and strong for the future.
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