How COVID-19 Changed Kids Programming in Health Clubs

Health clubs around the world are making changes to all aspects of their business in response to COVID-19. Here’s how some clubs are adapting to new protocols as they apply to a special population: children.

Health clubs across the world play an integral role in the health and future well-being of children in their communities. Providing a safe and trusted environment for kids in your club offers its own unique set of challenges on any given day, but during a global pandemic there are myriad new challenges. Whether your club offers child care services, year-round kids fitness programming, summer camps, or all of the above, your club now must figure out how to respond to new COVID-19-related safety protocols as it relates to children, in addition to all other areas of your club.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) #HealthyAtHome campaign, “Across the world, due to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), children are affected by physical distancing, quarantines and nationwide school closures. Some children and young people may be feeling more isolated, anxious, bored and uncertain.They may feel fear, and grief, over the impact of the virus on their families.”

Though new challenges will arise, the enhanced value of physical activity for children during this global crisis offers clubs new opportunities for member engagement and ancillary revenue. We talked to IHRSA members around the world about how they are adapting and growing their child care and fitness programs in the face of reopening.

Coronavirus YCRC worker with mask and child column

Photo: Yuba City Racquet Club

Adapting to Changes in Kids Programming

Yuba City Racquet Club (YCRC) in Yuba City, CA, offers Kidz Time—an extensive child care and youth program including a nursery and older child care for children six days a week, as well as two licensed summer care facilities featuring interactive, local field trips.

Though YCRC did have temporary closures, they were able to keep services available in their licensed facilities for essential workers. YCRC staff are trained on new guidelines from state and local authorities. The health club side follows local protocol from the health department, and licensed facilities are governed by the health department with additional direction from a state agency that guides in health and safety compliance. As new information emerges regarding COVID-19, staff is trained on best practices to contain the spread of the virus.

“Our children’s programming is off the charts at the moment,” says Katey Ulrich, Kidz Time director. “Myself, and my staff have been very busy. We feel fortunate to have a thriving business in what could certainly be deemed a shaky time in our state and economy.”.

Ulrich attributes the key to success to YCRC staff, who are trained to welcome families and tune in to the interests of the children in their care.

West Wood Clubs, with six locations in Dublin, Ireland, were permitted to reopen their club doors on July 1, and plan to reopen junior facilities, including swimming and tennis lessons in phases. West Wood Clubs child care program is currently scheduled to reopen mid-August.

“The biggest challenge with COVID-19 ... is compliance with children regarding social distancing,” says Darren Ryan, group health & safety trainer for West Wood Clubs “Teachers are constantly reminding children to create space from their neighbor. We may ask a child to make ‘eagle’s wings’ or stand on the appointed circle to show appropriate social distancing. It is difficult for children. It is our job to model appropriate standards. It is a new norm, and patience must be displayed by all to achieve compliance. We have to remember it is new for all of us.”

Coronavirus West Wood worker at pool column

Photo: West Wood Club

To ensure the highest standards of customer service and safety for staff, members, and guests, all West Wood Club employees must complete a self-risk assessment and self-declaration form prior to returning to work. They will also receive mandatory comprehensive training on COVID-19-related education and safety via video conferencing or on-site.

Baby Gym in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil provides fitness for children between 2 months and 4 years, focusing on improved physical and motor development throughout this age group. The quarantine period forced the business to adapt.

Turning to social media, Baby Gym’s followers have shown themselves to be engaged with nearly almost 800 posts using their hashtag #EmCasaComaBabyGym (Baby Gym In My Home). The company has been promoting educational exercises aimed at young children, using basic items found in the home. In addition, parents are invited to record videos of children playing and interacting to share on social media platforms.

Uncovering Revenue-driving Opportunities

“There are opportunities for clubs to capitalize on specifically regarding children,” says Ulrich. “Parents need to work out. Children need to socialize. If you have space and dedicated staff, it can be a win-win situation for all.”

West Wood Clubs reduced the capacity in their studio classes to allow for social distancing. Members can now enjoy a more personalised gym experience while “social fitnessing.” This gives members increased value for money and boosted access to trainers and facilities. With the return of camps, swimming lessons, and childcare departments at a reduced capacity, children will have access to a more individualized form of teaching, which Ryan hopes will attract more bookings and potential members.

In Brazil, Alcateia Crossfit in Salvador, Bahia prevented a large number of membership cancellations during closures by focusing on educating club members on workouts adapted to follow comfortably from home. To engage children, they incorporated storytelling and playful exercises through professional quality videos.

Coronavirus YCRC worker with mask children at desk column

Photo: Yuba City Racquet Club

Bodytech clubs focused on virtual services for children during pandemic-related closures through live streams, activity tips, and videos. Each week virtual classes for children and parents/guardians demonstrate ways to keep kids in shape at home. In addition, social media posts show member families enjoying virtual fitness together during quarantine, to help engage a wider audience.

A Positive Approach to Kids Programming

Ryan advises navigating these new challenges by allowing time.

“This is new to everyone, give yourself enough time to think out all possible options to suit your club, allow for staff training, set up your club appropriately and don’t be afraid to change things once you put them in place,” he says. “Some things will work perfectly and others may not, all we can do is our best to ensure our employees and members feel safe whilst enjoying their West Wood Club fitness experience.”

“A huge part of our success at the Yuba City Racquet Club and Kidz Time is hiring staff that will go the distance. If you are having success during a pandemic, it is because you are doing something right day in and day out before the pandemic occurs. Hire staff that will go the extra mile. Value your staff and treat them with respect and esteem. Create a workplace of safety and security for your employees, just as you would for the children. Everyone, young and old, wants to be valued,” says Ulrich.

With thoughtful planning and a solid strategy to keep kids safe and healthy in your club, you can create opportunities for revenue, member satisfaction, and community involvement— things that will help secure your future in an uncertain economic environment.

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Carolynn Jordan

Carolynn Jordan previously served as IHRSA's Member Communication Specialist—a position that developed outreach for IHRSA members to gain knowledge on how to best use their benefits and stay engaged in the IHRSA community.