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IHRSA provides guidance on children in gyms

IHRSA provides guidance on children in gyms
July 4, 2019

With the issue of children in fitness clubs a matter of concern to many managers, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has answered questions on the issue, highlighting that clubs can attract whole families when they offer children's programming. 

In an online feature, Kids in Gyms: Frequently Asked Questions Answered, Alexandra Black Larcom, IHRSA’s Senior Manager of Health Promotion and Health Policy, writes “when your gym offers programming for kids, you're doing a huge service to the health and well-being of your community.

“Gyms that traditionally have never offered programs for people under 18 years old may be asking themselves where to start. Well, right here.”

Larcom offers the following for clubs provide quality children's programming that integrates modern technology, we've put together the answers to these questions:

1. How can my club create a family-friendly atmosphere?
Offer services that enable and incentivise children to spend more time at the club, outside of child or day care time by making going to the club with their parents fun. 

Teach Sports Kids Can Play in Your Club Through Adulthood
Your club can embrace a family environment by teaching kids a sport they can play in your club through adulthood, as does Genesis Health Clubs with their ‘10 and Under Tennis’ program’. ‘10 and Under Tennis’ is a nationally recognised program created by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) which promotes tennis to children of all ages 10 and under by sizing the tennis product to meet the needs of that age group.
The mission is to teach kids a sport they can use for the rest of their lives, introduced in an environment that is mostly play oriented. The child can continue playing tennis throughout their life - potentially at your club - which is a program you can offer that grows with your member's and their family.

Consider a Preschool Program at Your Club
The Atlantic Club in New Jersey offers a preschool program at their club. Atlantis Prep School at the Atlantic Club runs from ages 18 months through first grade. Operating out of a second building but still as part of the club, the preschool functions like a traditional school, meaning the club has to follow state guidelines and meet state licensing requirements. The school offers academics as well as gym classes and yoga, and children ages four and up have an activity curriculum that includes swimming, tennis, and other physical activities. The school also offers cultural education, including art, technology, Spanish, and music.

For parents juggling multiple schedules, the preschool offers before- and after-school programs that allow parents the flexibility to extend their child's day at the school, giving parents more time in that busy part of their day. In addition to the school, the club offers after-school enrichment clubs, which kids can still participate in even after graduation.

2. How do I find the right staff to run programs for kids and teens?
Finding the right person to run your kids programming is crucial to your program’s success.

From tennis to fitness to active play, it is important to staff programs with people who:

• Enjoy working with kids,
• Are passionate about what they do, and 
• Have experience with the type of program the club is running.

Bill Parisi, founder and Director of Parisi Speed School, notes that staffing can be one of the biggest barriers to getting involved with kids programming, advising “if you find the right staff you’re going to be 80% there.

"If you find the wrong staff it doesn’t matter the program, it’s not going to work.”
That's why it's crucial to hire people that like being around and who want to coach and mentor kids. 

3. What age is best for adolescents to become full-fledged members?
Children and teens aged six to 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. According to the American Council on Exercise, children can begin their journey with lifting weights around the age of seven or eight, or as soon as they understand how to follow directions.

However, children should never be doing scaled down versions of adult exercising. Often children’s fitness goals can be accomplished through play like a game of tag. We recommend aligning your exercise program to the CDC’s recommendations for children’s exercise. To avoid injury, children - like adults - should be taught proper form before adding any sort of weight exercise.

When adolescents can get out on the adult exercise floor varies from gym to gym, but your club should have a written policy on the age and allowed activities for members of all ages.

This should clearly define the age requirements and expectations as well as the expected amount of supervision for different activities. Consult a paediatrician to give your policy extra validity.

4. Which changing room should children use?
Many club operators struggle with allowing small children in opposite-gender locker rooms.

While most would agree it would be unsafe to leave small children unattended in a locker room, others express concerns about the invasion of privacy children may pose. To best manage this issue, IHRSA recommends:

• Offer free, short-term babysitting (approximately 20 minutes) while a parent showers or changes.
• Establish an age restriction governing children in opposite-gender locker rooms. If possible, consult a physician to give your club’s policy added credibility.
• If an age restriction isn’t imposed, post signs asking parents to use discretion when bringing opposite-sex children into the locker room.
• Additionally, if a family feels uncomfortable taking their child into adult changing rooms, consider making a private or single-occupancy space available as an alternative.

Businesses are not obligated to provide privacy accommodations, such as a privacy screen, curtained area, or private changing room. However, if your club chooses to do so, it must make such accommodations available on the same terms and in the same manner to all patrons.

5. What steps do we need to take to make sure families feel safe in the club?
The more information you are able to provide to prospective families, the safer and more secure they will feel in your ability to care for their children safely. Demonstrate in your literature and preparation that you are informed and capable.

If your club includes a pool, you should take extra steps to limit liability and protect younger club members. Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional, injury-related death among children ages on to 14-years-old. As such, you should post clear, bold signs explaining rules and warnings about pool use at each entrance to your club's pool. Also, ensure your employees are aware of the swimming abilities of all children that have access to your pool as some water features and activities may attract kids who do not know how to swim.

6. How has technology impacted childrens presence or programming in the club?
In many ways, technology has helped improve children’s safety within clubs as well as reduce club liability. Technology like keypad locks and codes to enter the childcare area ensure children are safe in your club.

Electronic check-in technologies such as KidCheck, simplify childcare drop-off and pick up by creating matching security stickers for both parent and child to wear to verify the correct child is picked up by the appropriate adult. Technologies like these allow health clubs offering these services instant access to contact information, allergy information, as well as who is authorized as a guardian to pick up the child. The authorised pick-up list is especially critical to preventing parental/familial kidnapping during custody battles.

One of the biggest positives of technology is the enhanced communication from providers to parents. In many places, parents can now tap into a live feed on their phones of the child care centre to check in visually on their child. When children are in a club’s day care and experience distress or require assistance going to the bathroom, parents can easily be texted or notified.

Opening your club’s doors to welcome kids and adolescents will require a few extra considerations. However, the benefits, both for your club and community, make it worth considering.

IHRSA also offer its members the Keeping Kids Safe in Your Club briefing paper and Getting Kids Active in the School and Community e-book.

For information on these resources go to and

Related Articles

18th June 2019 - Children’s recreation programs and sport academies among recipients of 2019 What’s On 4 Kids Awards 

1st June 2019 - IHRSA reports Health Club Membership to reach 230 million members by 2030

25th April 2019 - IHRSA analysis emphasises why fitness clubs need small group training

2nd January 2019 - IHRSA highlights role of fitness clubs in supporting all needs and abilities

31st December 2018 - IHRSA resource Gives Clubs Tools to Help Members Lose Weight

22nd May 2018 - Decline in family spending on out-of-school children’s sport and physical activity in 2017

8th February 2018 - Belgravia Group commits to boosting physical activity among Australian children

26th October 2017 - MyFirstGym looks to target growth potential in children’s fitness

3rd July 2016 - Australian children slide down global fitness rankings

21st September 2015 - Fun Fit Kidz opens as Sydney’s first fitness facility for children

19th May 2009 - Kids in NZ Gyms

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