What do a 7-year-old uncoordinated kid, a slightly overweight 13-year-old and a star high-school soccer player have in common?

Each one could be your next client. Like your adult customers, kids come in all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. Unlike adults, kids don’t come with disposable incomes. Fortunately, youth fitness camps appeal to parents’ wallets and kids’ interests. For trainers, kids’ programs have the potential to become steady profit centers. Best of all, there’s plenty of opportunity for personal fitness trainers to develop a niche within this growing market base.

The number of health club members younger than 18 reached 4.6 million in 2004, the second-fastest-growing age range after the 55+ crowd, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. “Fitness facilities not focusing on kids will find themselves looking in from the outside,” predicts Brian Grasso, director of athlete development at the Sports Academy Northwest outside Chicago and executive director of the International Youth Conditioning Association.

What’s the key to tapping into this younger age group? “You have to meet the demands of the population,” explains Ken Haman, CSCS, president of A+ Fitness Inc. in Escondido, California. At the same time, “you can be creative in this particular industry,” encourages Grasso. “Whatever you want to specialize in, you can.”

Here’s how five personal fitness trainers created successful, specialized youth programs.

The Fun Factor

Trainer: Jodi Stokes, fitness, aquatics and youth program director at The Paseo Club

Where: Valencia, California

Market Focus: general fitness levels

Age Range: 8 to college level

In her boot camps for juniors, teens and college kids, Stokes specializes in making fitness fun. With the help of her partner, Annette Allen, she has designed creative camps to appeal to kids. Teens enjoy camps based on popular reality shows like Fear Factor (in which kids eat vegetables instead of bugs) and Survivor. The boot camp “U” targets college kids home on breaks. “We believe that by keeping workouts creative and making fitness fun for our young people, [we help them to] enjoy fitness and appreciate the benefits of health,” says Stokes.

To promote her first summer sports camp, Stokes advertised in a local magazine and blanketed the community with 15,000 fliers. “The first time I did a summer camp, I was scared to death,” admits Stokes. Of the 80 kids who showed up, 57% were nonmembers. “We knew we were doing a good job when the kids signed up for another 5 weeks [after the initial 2 weeks].”

Stokes charges $200 for the 6-week boot camps, which meet twice a week. At $16 a class, she found the perfect price point. If a student misses a class, Stokes offers an “extra credit” class, such as a bike outing for the whole family on a Saturday.

Insider Tips

Catering to a large audience base can be challenging but very profitable. Here are some points to keep in mind:

Staff Considerations. Stokes notes that experience working with children or a physical education (PE) background is extremely helpful and an important consideration for parents. “Never be understaffed,” stresses Stokes. She found that one coach for every eight kids worked well.

Logistics. Make sure you have the space to accommodate a large group. Stokes bartered with the high school across the street, offering the school use of her facility’s pool and tennis courts in exchange for use of the school’s track.

Interactions With Kids. “Everything is stupid to a teen,” says Stokes. Speak in their language and explain the benefits of each exercise in a way that kids can understand.

Words of Wisdom. “Be prepared for an injury, bee sting, allergic reactions,” advises Stokes. The first year will always be hardest, she says, but don’t give up.

Sport-Specific Camps

Trainer: Dean Shiels, vice president of athlete training services at Twist Conditioning Inc.

Where: North Vancouver,

British Columbia

Market Focus: elite athletes

Age Range: 12–19

Serious teen athletes head to Twist Conditioning Inc. in North Vancouver, British Columbia, for sport-specific conditioning and training. Best known for its hockey program, Twist Conditioning also offers basketball, baseball, golf and soccer camps throughout the year, including during school breaks. “The number-one focus for athletes is to come out of the program more attuned to their bodies,” explains Shiels.

The high-caliber hockey program, which has been operating for 8 years, draws participants from around the world. The 8-week program costs $3,000 Canadian (approximately $2,625 U.S.) per person and meets for 3–7 hours, 5 days a week. Participation levels are generally high because of the elite nature of the camps. “We found a niche,” Shiels explains, and the summertime camps “capitalize on a time period that is historically slow for trainers.”

Insider Tips

The success of a sports conditioning program depends on your staff and credentials. “Degrees are definitely a prerequisite,” says Shiels.

To market to top athletes, Shiels promotes the hockey camps in industry-specific magazines, through direct mail campaigns and at tournaments.

Logistics. “Look at the demographics in your area and what sports are popular,” says Shiels. He suggests focusing on one sport and allowing 9–10 months to plan and promote your camp. Contact coaches and high schools and build a network by offering educational seminars.

If you already have the facility or space for the type of program you want to develop, sports camps can be very profitable, Shiels says. Determine the size of your camp so you can manage it yourself or bring on the right staff if need be.

Words of Wisdom. “Take time to develop your program.” Constructing a large program can be costly, especially if the registrations don’t come in. Shiels recommends starting small and building your program as needed. “Definitely make sure you deliver what you say you will,” advises Shiels.

For Teens Only

Trainer: Pam Pedlow, MES, MHK, CSCS, founder of Fitness, Function & Performance Conditioning

Where: North Vancouver,

British Columbia

Market Focus: athletes with injuries,

dance students

Age Range: 13 and up

Pedlow offers a core dance program for teenage girls at a local dance studio, designs PE classes and fitness-based charity events for two area high schools and provides a 10-week program at a rehab clinic for teens recovering from sports-related injuries . “It’s important to show kids the link between science, exercise and long-term health,” says Pedlow.

Insider Tips

A kids’ fitness education or background is really important, especially if you’re helping teens recover from sports injuries.

Working With Teens. Understanding teens isn’t always easy. Pedlow often has chat sessions with the teens after class. Keep in mind what you say, especially to teen girls, she cautions. Topics like weight and eating disorders are touchy subjects. Pedlow would never use “weight camp” to describe any program for kids. “The focus needs to be on healthy living and lifestyle rather than weight loss,” she says.

Being Prepared. Working with kids can be physically draining. “You have to have a Plan B and a Plan C every day,” Pedlow advises. Teens will challenge you; they aren’t afraid to ask why. Realize that what you say has an impact on their lives.

Something for All Kids

Trainer: Brian Grasso, director of athlete development at the Sports Academy Northwest and executive director of the International Youth Conditioning Association

Where: South Barrington, Illinois

Market Focus: all fitness levels

Age Range: 6–19

The Sports Academy Northwest caters exclusively to youth participants. Programs ranging from sport-specific camps for elite high-school athletes to classes for children with developmental disorders are offered to more than 200 kids in the greater Chicago area. Five or six camps are offered daily, and most programs run for 1 year. In addition, Grasso markets 10–15 supplemental programs during school breaks.

A monthly membership costs $120, and kids have an appointment with a trainer twice a week. Class size varies, but typically there are three to six kids per trainer.

Insider Tips

“Get credentialed to lend creditability [to your program],” urges Grasso. Know your market to take advantage of opportunities. After a top-ranked high-school volleyball player suffered an ACL injury, Grasso presented a free seminar to parents, teen athletes and coaches on preventing such injuries. Grasso believes “getting in front of people is the best way to generate interest” and relies on word-of-mouth referrals.

Pricing Structures for Kids’ Programs. Parents won’t support much more than the current $15-per-session rate at the Sports Academy. No make-up class is available if a child misses a class.

Interactions With Kids. “Personal trainers are like chameleons on a daily basis,” says Grasso, who varies his coaching method depending on the group. Matching the kids’ energy levels is important. “You can’t be businesslike or cranky,” explains Grasso. “Once you’ve lost them, that’s it.” Grasso’s programs are preset, but he’s always prepared to change on the fly to meet the needs of the class.

Words of Wisdom. Grasso suggests testing the waters through a low-risk partnership with a neighborhood YMCA, a local nonprofit or a parks and recreation department, especially if you’re short on facility space and advertising dollars. In exchange for your professional services and a cut of the profits, these organizations often have established promotion and advertising outlets.

Filling a Home-School Gap

Trainer: Ken Haman, CSCS, president of A+ Fitness Inc.

Where: Escondido, California

Market Focus: home-schooled kids

Age Range: 5–10

As the father of home-schooled children, Haman identified the need for a fitness program specifically for this population. Home-schooled kids between the ages of 5 and 10 meet in a local park each Wednesday for 1 hour. “The class is about creating lifelong fitness habits in kids,” says Haman.

He promotes the program on his company website and through a local academy that works with home-schooled kids. Parents pay the $75 fee upfront for the 8-week program. “It’s important to make the program affordable,” explains Haman.

Insider Tips

“Go with the flow,” suggests Haman, noting that working with kids can be unpredictable.

The Importance of Experience. “The trainers who have a passion for working with kids and the education to match will do really well [with kids’ camps],” says Haman. He offers an apprentice program for personal fitness trainers who have an interest in working with the youth population but lack experience. Volunteering to coach a youth sports team is also a good way to get started.

The Right Fit for You?

Before you start offering boot camps to kids and teens, you need to make sure you have what it takes to work with this market segment. “Working with kids is the most fun I’ve ever had,” says Pedlow. But you definitely have to like being around youngsters, she explains. Haman agrees. “Some people are better with kids and have the personality to work with them,” he says. If you enjoy working with this age group, you’ll certainly enjoy the profits they can add to your personal training business.