With over 3 million children in the United States playing soccer (USYS 2014) and even larger numbers batting baseballs and running bases, parents are often at the mercy of their children’s practice schedules and games. These parents are literally “standing around” when they could be working out. Although humorous at best, the depiction of the soccer mom—a suburban woman who shuffles her overprogrammed kids around in a minivan—does point to an untapped market. If the number-one reason people don’t work out is that they lack the time, trainers can help carve out a window of opportunity for busy parents. Instead of waiting on the sidelines for their kids’ practice to end, the soccer moms and dads of the world could be exercising with a trainer at the site. Here are some ways to expand your training business by taking it outside the gym and onto the field.
Before launching a full-board “sidelines” business, it’s important to benchmark the idea and learn as much as possible about kids’ sports and activities. Start with your greatest source of information and leads: your clients. Find out whether their children participate in organized sports or activities. If the answer is yes, share your idea of training a parent group while the young ones are being coached. If this piques your clients’ interest, ask if they would meet with you outside their regular training session for a fact-finding conversation.
Prepare your questions in advance. For example, you’ll want to ask your parent-clients which sports and activities are popular at what times of the year, determine which leagues happen within the neighborhood, find out where and at what times practices are held and ask if the clients think there would be uptake for your program. Most important, find out if they would be open to advocating for you if you approached other parents with your sidelines business. Flesh out your idea, and, if possible, get your clients’ support from the start.
Most sports practice happens after school, which makes that timeslot ideal for your training sessions. Generally, the target groups during this window are parents and caregivers with younger kids. As kids get older, parents can probably drop them off at the programs. For the younger ones, however, parents will very likely need to be present or at least close by; for the trainer to come to the practice location is a huge selling feature.
As in any outdoor training session, trainers need to ensure that they are allowed to train at the locale they’ve chosen. Some municipalities have strict permit requirements for the use of outdoor spaces. Pam Findlay, assistant fitness programmer for the Corporation of Delta in Ladner, Canada, advocates the use of outdoor spaces but says the corporation requires users to have permission. “As a municipality, we find that promoting the use of our parks and fields is a great way to show the full community member experience when it comes to recreation.” But, she adds, getting a permit is a must. Findlay says that trainers are required to have a business license and third-party liability insurance and that they must pay a fee of approximately $13 per hour. It’s also important to note that not all outdoor spaces are available for use. Always check first to confirm that you can train at your desired spot.
Once you’ve got the go-ahead, it’s time to further define the structure of the program. Start with a 6- to 8-week session plan. Even if soccer or lacrosse runs for 4 months, avoid creating a 16-week training schedule; the commitment is too long, and retention will suffer. It’s also more advantageous to offer a shorter program multiple times, re-registering current clients and signing up new ones. Determine a rate schedule based on training fees generally charged in the area, and include any associated expenses. Decide on a minimum and maximum number of clients. Small groups will garner greater visibility and be more fun for all the parents. However, you may need to run the program as a loss leader (no revenues earned) the first time in order to get it off the ground; revenue would be generated at future programs.
Your current clients are your greatest source of leads and your most successful starting point. Ask your clients if they would be interested in attending an additional sidelines training session—perhaps complimentary—during the time their children are at practice. If they say yes, ask if they would be willing to reach out to other parents for a group training session. This is an organic method of getting started, but it’s a necessary one; without visibility, the program will never get off the ground. Sharing contact information without permission is not legal, so trainers cannot ask parents for a list of other team parents to solicit. The initial marketing approach has to be very specific and targeted.
A flier or an information sheet that describes the training program you’re offering is a valuable marketing tool. The handout doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does need to look professional. When you’re preparing the content, keep in mind that “everything you do” is marketing. From your business card to your website to your social media posts, from the way you present yourself to how you answer the phone—marketing is a reflection of all aspects of your business.
Ask your clients if they would be willing to pass out your flier to the other team parents. Some clients may not be comfortable doing this, so keep the information handy in case other parents approach you with questions or are curious about what is going on. Once people are on board, engage them through your preferred social media channels. Last, invest in training gear that says who you are or what you are doing. You are your best marketing tool, so promote yourself accordingly.
If the children’s team practice is 60 minutes long, stick to a 30-minute training format. This gives parents time to get their kids settled and time to watch the kids at the end of practice. The actual design of the sessions will depend on the surrounding outdoor space. Use what is there. Is there empty field space, or are you limited to the perimeter around the field? Is there an adjacent playground? Are there bleachers or park benches? Is there small equipment (bands, suspension equipment, small balls) that you can bring? For the most part, run the program like a fun, outdoor boot camp. Be creative, but avoid disrupting any coexisting practices or games.
The Small Print
Administratively, training occurs rain or shine. A no-go practice means a canceled training session. No kids equals no parents. The session will need to be made up on a future date. Ensure that this caveat is written into the details of the trainer–client contract.
Regarding liability, as a trainer you must ensure that you have the correct insurance. Have registered clients follow the usual prescreening client procedures, and bring a portable first-aid kit to every session.
Providing opportunities for parents to exercise while they wait at their kids’ practices or activities is a win–win. Trainers can increase their revenue potential, while parents use the time wisely and demonstrate positive, lifelong habits for their children. In the end, everyone truly does benefit from a sidelines training business.