Just some thoughts on what is necessary to have a successful gymnastics gym, business and program.
1. Corporation Strategies
Of course, it is a requirement to have a corporation, if for liability reasons only. Most every legal expert agrees that a Subchapter S corporation is the best and most common corporate form for gymnastics facilities. It combines the best of liability protections with single taxation. If there is ownership of property involved, it is likely that a separate LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) will be a tax benefit. Most teams are also separately incorporated as non-profit organizations so they can solicit and receive deductible tax-free contributions.
2. A Clear Understanding of the Gymnastics Business
Many gymnasts, coaches and parents who go into the gymnastics business are often unclear exactly what business they are really in. Most gymnastics businesses depend primarily on their preschool and class programs for profitability and many gyms run in order to be in the team competition business. It is often not apparent to many gym owners that only a minority of their customers (about 5%) have any interest in eventually having their child on a high-level gymnastics team. Parents put their children in gymnastics for much different reasons. The gymnastics business is also a more complicated business in some respects than some other businesses. While gymnasts usually pay in advance for classes eliminating the common business problem of receivables, the clientele of a gym is not just the gymnasts but the also the parents doubling the need to please the customer.
3. Risk Management
Even discounting the legal liability landscape, gym owners have their hands full ensuring the safety of their young gymnasts. Virtually every gymnastics gym business decision has safety implications, from the gym design to ordering and maintaining equipment to hiring and training staff. It is a full-time job to manage the risk inherent in the gymnastics business and gym owners and employees need to be fully cognizant of the risks, so they may minimize them and protect our gymnasts. Many gyms are designed to please the gymnast, but have no real plan on how to please the parents (or even how to communicate with them).
4. Long-Term Strategy and Goals
Many gyms operate in crisis mode, reacting to problem after problem. While problems (disguised opportunities) are a fact of life, businesses need to have goals and a long-term view in order to be successful. Business strategies such as differentiation, pricing model, niche focus, SWOT analysis (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), core competencies, competitive advantages, etc. Business is business and every business, including gym businesses which are capable of providing such great value to young gymnasts, need to plan strategically in order to achieve their goals.
5. Business Plan and Annual Strategy
There are cycles to a normal gymnastics business. September and January are typically two of the best months of the year financially. The summer is normally a very slow season for the gymnastics business. While the cycles are not as radical as the retail business, where the Christmas season makes or breaks the entire year, gyms must have a plan and a strategy to deal with the annual cycles of business.
6. Management Systems
Many gyms have no computerized management system in place and the few gymnastics management systems do not cover all aspects of the gymnastics business. The result is that many gyms have no formal management systems for dealing with many or all areas of their business. Common examples are that many gyms have no advertising tracking systems so that they have no idea how successful (or not) that their advertising campaigns (if indeed they are organized campaigns) are.
7. Staff and Coaching Training
There is currently no place in this country that gymnastics coaches and staff can receive formal comprehensive coaching and gymnastics staff training for all of the coaching and business areas of the gymnastics business. Coaches, in general, coach, either how they were coached themselves or how they have observed someone else coach. Gyms are left to develop their own patchwork of staff and coaching training. While it is true of many businesses that they do too little staff training, it is certainly true of the gymnastics business.
8. Knowledge, Education and Experience
We are tremendous believers in (and developers of) innovation in the gymnastics business, but there is much to be said for the place of relevant knowledge, education and experience of gym owners and staff members. Innovation in the sport needs to be built on the back of currently successful business and coaching models. Knowing, for example, that that a pricing strategy is likely to be successful (or not) because you have either the knowledge, education or experience pertinent to making the right choice is a necessary business requirement.
9. Sufficient Equipment of the Right Types
As a part of my book research, I pay careful attention to gym design, gymnastics equipment choices and gym layouts. Gyms need enough of the right equipment to match their gym population, that is, enough preschool equipment for all the preschoolers up to enough team equipment for all the team members. There are a number of interesting choices that I see. As one of the most popular pieces of equipment in the gym, there are far too many gyms that have only a single trampoline, if any trampoline at all. And since a trampoline is limited to one person at a time per turn, one trampoline means there is often too much sitting around waiting for each gymnast to get their turn, much less each group. If the team is on the trampoline, the preschoolers can’t use it.
10. Clean, Organized Facility
The clientele of gymnastics facilities have an expectation that the businesses they patronize will match their expectations and lifestyle. They expect the businesses where they drop off their children to be as clean as their own homes are. Any gym that does not know that or live up to that expectation is damaging its reputation with its own customers and jeopardizing their continued patronage.
Any business and gymnastics businesses, in particular, can benefit from strong positive leadership. The normal position in a gymnastics gym for a powerful leader is either the gym owner or the head coach. One strong leader can move a gym team and/or business far down the road to success. Young gymnasts and young staff members can always benefit from positive leadership and anyone in the position of gym owner or head coach must accept the mantle of responsibility to be a strong leader.
12. Enthusiastic Staff
Because I have always been confident in my ability to train gymnastics gym staff members and teach them everything they need to know to be successful, I place a high premium on the character, personality and attitude of potential staff members. The first trait I look for in a potential staff member is enthusiasm. Staff members who are enthusiastic about teaching young gymnasts are one of the biggest advantages a gym can have over its competitors.
13. Gymnast Centered Programs
Too many coaches emphasize their role as being the most important in the gym. The star of any gym should be its students and every program, at every level, from preschool to Elite team members, should emphasize the primacy of gymnasts and their development. Everything else about a gym and the gym business is, and should be, simply a function of providing the best possible gymnastics/life experience for all of its gymnasts.
14. Professional Team Coaching
The term, professional, is often used more to indicate that a coach has paid their dues to USA Gymnastics, than to indicate that they are, indeed, a gymnastics professional or professional in any sense of the word. Traditionally, this has meant a person who has obtained a degree in a professional field, which is not a possibility in the US. Another hopefully more accurate use of the term, would be that gymnastics professionals are highly knowledgeable, highly educated, creative, intellectually-involved have an impressive level of competence.
15. Sharing and Delegation of Responsibilities
One of the truths about the gym business is that no one person can run a successful gym alone. For one, I know of no successful Elite gymnastic program anywhere in the world, where there is a single coach responsible for the success. It seems that there must be at least two good coaches to produce an Elite gymnast. It takes far more than that to produce a whole gym full of successes. The typical gym owner is a head coach, a gym manager and a parent – all potentially full-time jobs. To b e successful, a gym must have employees and volunteers who take some of the work load in order to provide gymnasts with the best possible gymnastics experience.
The gymnastics business has been extremely slow to adopt and adapt the already available technology into the gymnastics business. A 2009 announcement that the National and Olympic training center at the Karolyi ranch had added eight cameras around the gym, which can recorded and played back on six 42-inch plasma screen TVs. It was described as state-of-the-art. Really? Twenty-five years ago, I had four video cameras and four TVs in my gym (one for each event), including one “portable” video camera for floor that had a good size camera and a video recording unit, that also had to be carried around in a shoulder pack. The National and Olympic training center just barely beat that two years ago. That is somewhat indicative of how well (not!) technology is being used in our sport.