Alright, Coach, let’s paint a picture. You’ve taken the time to invest in your education by going through the Power Athlete Methodology course because you know that #knowledgeispower. You are hyped and ready to battle the bullshit out there in the strength and conditioning world. You have your eyes set on empowering the next generation, and best of all you know the perfect place to start them Bedrock. This could mean training a crop of up and coming athletes or empowering the performance of teens who don’t have a sport and are in need of something beyond Fortnite.
However, you are in a bit of a dilemma: how do you reach these kids? The simple “build it and they will come” concept isn’t going to work here; you are going have to get out there, and lay some groundwork.
In this article, I’m going to talk about the things that worked for my business in establishing our Sports Performance program along with some best practices from coaches that I have met through my years of involvement with Power Athlete who have their shit together.
Leverage Your Current Members
The first piece of advice I can offer is to leverage the members you already have (provided you have some) since these folks are usually your best salespeople! Think about it. You’ve already spent a significant amount of time investing in them, teaching them how to lift properly, how they should eat and building meaningful relationships with them. If and when they hear about people looking for a gym for themselves (or their kids), you’ll be the first person they recommend. I don’t know how many times I have heard my members say “I wish I had this when I was a kid.” It may be too late for them, but they can help you reach the next generation. I’m not the only one saying this; two of the coaches I interviewed who have built successful teen programs echoed this same sentiment.
Andrew Romeo, Block One Coach and owner of Crossfit Revelation, talked about how he spent his time and energy investing in building relationships with his community. “People know I care about them and trust me to take care of their kids.” He went on to say all of the kids and teens in his gym, whether individual or part of a sports team, have all come from recommendations from his community.
Marc Duchene, Block One Coach and owner of Crossfit 915 East, told me this strategy was by far the biggest bang for his buck over the last seven years. When he first started his athlete program, he advertised it for a month with his members. He made a point to talk about it briefly before each class and posted online about what the program will cover. From there, he started off with a free week to help further demonstrate value. From that free week, about 70% of those interested stuck around.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small
You don’t have to land some huge team or have a large class to start off with. When I first got things going, I had about two to three kids who wanted to improve their rugby performance. From there, I was able to mold and create “poster children” for my program who influenced more to follow. Andrew Charlesworth, owner of Crossfit Tuebor, echoed this sentiment. Andrew and his wife have a killer teens program, and when I met them while working at a Power Athlete seminar, we talked about our programs.
Similar to me, he wasn’t worried about chasing after certain teams, schools or programs. Instead, he found one kid and invested everything he had into him, making him an absolute animal. From there, a few more followed, but the training group was still small. This really allowed him to develop the culture and attitude that he wanted from the program. As this group got closer to graduating high school with full ride scholarships in football, the next group was ready to follow in their footsteps. The initial small core group was now able to show and hold the next groups accountable to the high expectations the program had. The character development that goes into the classes is what he is most proud of than anything else.
Help first is probably one of the best pieces of advice I got from Chris Cooper. Don’t be afraid to get in on some local practices, and offer up your expertise for free. You can do this in a number of different ways. For example, find a middle or high school team and offer to lead their warm-ups before each practice. Coaches usually write these off, so this is a great opportunity to flex your skills and demonstrate your added value. Similarly, you can volunteer to do the team’s “condo” work once or twice a week. You could also go the clinic/camp route, and come in and do a nutrition or speed clinic. The options are endless. Shoot, maybe there’s a team looking for an assistant coach on a sport you played back in the day.
This is exactly what happened to me. When I heard my old high school rugby team needed another coach, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve seen my biggest return on investment over the last ten years of coaching high school rugby, and rugby players currently account for 80-90% of the athletes I work with on a daily basis. Now, I didn’t go into it with this grandiose plan to start a teen program, nor was I trying to land a team to train; it simply started as an extension of my passion. But, during my time there, I had the opportunity to do all of things I talked about above, along with building relationship with the athletes. This was also one of pieces of advice that Andrew gave me; he told me that he regularly gives his time for free to attend coaching meetings, showing that he’s bought in and is willing to invest his time in the kids.
Athlete Coach Connection
The greatest strength and conditioning coach with the perfect program and a baller marketing strategy will mean nothing at the end of the day if you are not able to connect with the athletes. This was Marc’s second biggest bang for his buck, especially when working with teens who are not involved in organized sports. He has found that teens who don’t play sports are usually not the type that are going to be self motivated most of the time. Coaching performance is great, but a valuable component is lost if there is no connection, ESPECIALLY WITH TEENS. In his classes, athletes are working hard and accomplishing a lot, but many times he finds himself having conversations about random things from how to floss to more serious things like money management. His recipe for talking to teens is to keep conversations light-hearted, somewhat educational and inclusive. Without developing this connection with your teen athletes, the program will dwindle within a couple months.
When I talked to Chad Hobbs, owner of Crossfit Bloomington-Normal and Athlete Factory, his biggest piece of advice came down to building those connections as well. Chad pointed out that when working with athletes, you need to know and understand the language of the sport(s) and the demands they will be facing. If you are unfamiliar with their specific sport, a bit of research can go a long way in your aiding your ability to connect. Athletes aren't looking for the scientific answer; all they are looking for is the answer to the question: "how does this help me." The more you can use analogous and familiar terms that are easy for them to relate to, the better.
Along with this comes creating a culture of hard work and fun with an atmosphere that they can embrace. Chad accomplishes this in a few ways; 1) he doesn’t rock khakis and polos, 2) lets them choose the music, 3) isn’t afraid to talk smack to them like their peers do, and 4) cares about what they are doing outside the gym. Things like this will show them it is about them and not you!
Putting it All Together
A lot of this comes down to building strong relationships and listening to your athletes. Do this and you’ll have yourself a successful strength and conditioning program designed to empower the next generation. Whether you are looking to work with athletes or gen pop teens the same concepts can be applied. These four point areas are a great place for you start and adapt your program appropriately.
What has worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.