With the growing interest among members to participate in sporting events, such as races and tournaments, fitness centers can benefit from offering sport-specific training programs.

Wisdom from the ages says that it is much easier to stay motivated when you have an attainable goal. Personal trainers and their clients use this sage advice when it comes to fitness, and members usually aspire to weight-loss or strength-gain goals. However, one of the best ways to help members stay motivated while working out is to have an end-point event, such as a 10k race or tennis tournament, where clients and members can test their fitness gains, and often have fun doing it.

Many fitness centers realize the benefits of event-based training, and offer programs for their members to help them reach that final goal. Fitness centers offer programs for running, swimming, triathlons, tennis and more. These special offerings are usually fee-based, and allow the fitness center to offer individualized training in small groups to a team of like-minded people. Much planning is required for these programs, including staffing, how much to charge and what your members actually want. To help get you started, find out what other facilities offer, and how they set up their programs.

Getting organized

The first thing you need to do when starting up any type of program is to find out what your members want. If you have a lot of racquetball enthusiasts, you could set up a training program and a tournament, and invite non-members. If you have lots of members playing basketball after work, then you could do the same for that sport. Take a survey of your members, and find out what they would be interested in.

You also need to make sure that you have the right staff in place to run the program, or know a coach or trainer you could hire temporarily. In addition, you need to make sure you have the space, the equipment and the schedule to handle an additional program. This new sports-training program can't interfere with other things already on your schedule; you don't want to alienate your current members.

And, since your goal is to make some extra money, you need to figure out how much to charge, and if you will allow non-members to participate. Also, what is the maximum number of participants allowed? Kathy Peterson, fitness manager at Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton, Wis., says that the group training sessions should be "limited in size to allow for individual attention."

Finally, think about what the final event will be, and how long members need to train for that event. Is the sport in season? Can they reach their goals in time?

Fees and profits

Charging extra for your sports-related training programs not only helps your facility bring in some extra revenue, it can also help to keep members motivated. Says Elizabeth Marrero, group fitness manger at Equinox, New York, N.Y., "Paid programs are great because members commit to something, and they feel like a part of the ... community in your club. They develop a social group and look forward to upcoming programs." However, she says, if you do charge an additional fee for your program, you need to make sure it is more than a simple "running group" - there should be coaching, feedback and follow-up.

Equinox charges different prices for members and non-members. Non-members usually pay $25 to $50 more for a six-week class, which costs members $175. This serves as an "incentive for people to become members," Marrero says.

In addition to different prices for members and non-members, some fitness centers charge different fees depending on the type of workout. Genesis Health Club, Wichita, Kan., charges extra for workouts that are held at the fitness center. These include swimming classes, indoor cycling classes and track workouts. However, when it offers outdoor rides, open water swims or long runs, the workouts are free. Says Multisport Club Coordinator Jamie Morton, "The main difference in these two venues is coaching. For the swim, track and indoor cycling classes, we pay a coach. For the outdoor workouts, ... it's less a coached workout and more a group ride." Genesis has two payment options: $10 per workout ($15 for non-members) or $180 for a three-month session (which comes to about $15 per week).

Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club in Greenwood Village, Colo., also offers different payment options. Explains Dennis Mellon, "The entire Multi-Sport Training Program costs $150 per month, or $400 per quarter. If an athlete wants to participate in the swim, bike or run portion only, the fee is $50 per month."

Revenue from these different programs vary, but all agree that it may take a year or two before profits are seen. However, once a program is established, and there isn't much need for marketing or buying new equipment, these types of programs can really take off.

Larry C. Conner, general manager at Stone Creek Club and Spa, and co-owner of Gulf Coast Adventure Racing, Covington, La., says that Gulf Coast Adventure Racing charges $100 to $135 a month for children for its Sports Performance Training, and about $60 to $70 more for adults. "We bring in over $140,000 a year in revenues from this program, with a 20 percent profit margin," Conner says.

Success can also be measured in additional memberships that are directly related to a program. RallySport Health and Fitness in Boulder, Colo., doesn't charge a fee beyond membership for its master's swim program, but "we see a good-sized bump in memberships because it is offered," says Aquatics Director and Head Coach Grant Holicky.

Staffing

The success of most programs depends, in large part, on who is running it. Not only do they need to know about that particular sport, but they need to make schedules, collect fees, keep participants informed and manage any other staff members/coaches. Many fitness centers distribute responsibilities among staff, including employees of the fitness center, and additional people hired just for that program. Genesis Health Club has one coordinator for its triathlon program, and "a few peripheral staff who are experienced in the sport, and coach individual workouts," says Morton.

RallySport Health and Fitness runs its swimming programs with facility staff members. Says Holicky, "We staff the program with ... swimming instructors and coaches who have a good bit of experience. ... The fact that we have been operating for nearly 10 years allows us to hire many swimmers who have been in the program in the past." Equinox also uses current staff members for its sports programs. "The group fitness manager is in charge of the program, and we use people who are already on staff and working in the club to help out, because members are familiar with them," says Marrero.

If you use current staff for an advanced training program, make sure they have the credentials. Says Peterson, "Our staff is highly qualified, with over a dozen triathletes and seven Ironman finishers on staff."

Hiring an outside person to run a program, or coaches to teach some workouts, would obviously cut into your profits. However, a great trainer or coordinator could really grow a program. Says Conner, "Our Sports Performance Program had a full-time employee running and staffing it based on a percent of revenues. Clubs [could also] split the profits from such a program with an entrepreneurial-type trainer."

Types of sports programs

Almost any sport could be used as the basis for a profit center in your facility. Following are examples of training programs for running, swimming, triathlon, tennis and adventure racing. However, you could also set up training programs for biking, racquetball, golf, basketball, soccer, rowing and more.

Running. Running 101, offered by Run2DEnd, Phoenix, Ariz., is geared toward the beginner runner, but is challenging enough for the experienced runner, according to Owner Ronda Jameel. The program consists of weekly group runs, mini-workshops and a weekly workout schedule. Participants may also add strength training, speed workouts or nutritional consultation for additional fees.

Swimming. RallySport Health and Fitness offers a master's swim program for adults 18 and older, and a Club Swim Team for ages six and up. Says Holicky, "We have more success with the group concept, as opposed to individual training, in terms of keeping swimmers motivated and excelling."

Triathlon. The Equinox triathlon program features a Tour De Equinox, which coincides with the Tour de France. The facility offers an indoor ride with a screen set up, and members ride along to an actual stage from the Tour, and are coached at the same time. The program also offers swim video analysis, where members are videotaped underwater, and then have their technique analyzed on a screen projected in one of the studios.

Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club's Multi-Sport program offers training for swimmers, cyclists, runners, duathletes and triathletes. Swimming, cycling (indoors) and running (indoors and out) training all take place at set times throughout the week, and participants can come to any of the workouts.

The Multisport and Triathlon Clubs at Genesis Health Club feature weekly swimming, biking and track workouts, one-on-one coaching, and information sessions. During the off-season, the facility also offers swimming clinics.

Harbor Athletic Club's triathlon training program consists of a variety of classes and educational seminars. Program offerings vary throughout the year, with an emphasis on the importance of both off-season and in-season training. Swim classes include endurance pool sessions, triathlon swim technique and master's swim workouts. "We also have open water swim in area lakes, and videotape stroke analysis," says Peterson. Other classes are geared toward triathletes in training, including outdoor group cycling, beginner triathlon classes and seminars, nutrition classes and seminars, fun runs with a trainer and water running.

Tennis. The Game Set Match program at Equinox was held in August, and featured tennis pro Dmitry Tursunov and his trainer Jason Stacy. Based on the real-life daily training practices of Tursunov, Equinox created a 45-minute class with coach Stacy. Racquet training was designed to stimulate motor memory, and speed and agility drills, reaction and balance sequences, and strength and core exercises provided a full-body workout.

Adventure racing. Conner says that Adventure Camps for Kids (for members and non members) are designed for children "who are getting tired of regular summer camps and need to learn that fitness can be fun." Held for one week, the program works best with no more than 25 kids each week. Children train from 8:30 to 3:30 each day in the weight room, running outside, in cycling classes, doing teamwork events, reading maps and using compasses, performing swim activities and underwater obstacle courses, and kayaking. At the end of the week, the children complete an 8-mile event that includes mountain biking, running, canoeing and completing mystery events at a local park. All children are given completion awards.

Area-specific programs. If you live near the ocean, a lake, mountains or climbing areas, you can offer sports training programs that are unique to your area. For example, Equinox offers a surf camp that teaches participants basic training on land and water, plus surfing etiquette.

Putting training to the test

These sports programs often end in a tournament, race or special event. Says Morton from Genesis Health Club, "Our triathlon races are sprinkled throughout the year. This year, our first race was in April, and our highest-priority races were in June and July." Harbor Athletic Club's triathlon training program also focuses on specific races, including the Ford Ironman Wisconsin in early September, and local races throughout the summer. Important to the program at Harbor is staff support. Says Peterson, "Our staff supports our efforts by attending and encouraging athletes during their events."

Holicky emphasizes that a final event helps keep participants motivated. "All of our training for a season is geared toward [a final] event. It helps keep the swimmers motivated and committed." Mellon agrees: "I feel it is important to set a goal, train for it, achieve it, rest and recover, then set a new goal."

Even if there is no final race to wrap things up, some fitness centers offer a party or awards ceremony to reward members for participation. "I end the programs with food or some type of party," says Marrero. "[We also offer] certificates for everyone who participates."

Of course, participating in a sports event is its own reward. Says Connor, "The members and employees love it. Employees love putting the programs on (it takes real teamwork to do this), and members love doing them. ... The best part about these races is that they involve teamwork and camaraderie. They are also very physical, making it a real accomplishment for someone to cross the finish line."