Feature Article - April 2005
Find a printable version here

Catch Those Kids

How to make and market kids’ programming to not only fight fat but rise above a bloated marketplace of leisure choices

By Margaret Ahrweiler


And while old-fashioned games in the backyard—albeit with a network-branded slime and cartoon twist—may work for some kids, others need more structure, along with a place to get fit, especially in an urban environment.

At the vast Chelsea Piers complex in New York City, a 30-acre sports and entertainment complex on the storied piers of the Hudson River, a new series of kids' fitness programs, just introduced this spring at its Field House, is getting an encouraging response. Fitness Director Peter Kormann's background as an Olympic gymnast and Olympic coach brings a high level of knowledge about kinesiology and coaching, but his passion for getting kids moving runs deeper. His brainchild, the center's Fun Fit and Easy Fit programs are designed to get kids moving and help foster a lifetime love of fitness, along with the knowledge essential for a healthy lifestyle.

The classes mix cardio work, strength training, and fun and games, all with liberal applications of positive reinforcement throughout and a low teacher-to-student ratio. The classes integrate a new type of European exercise machines designed specifically for kids with plenty of interactive features for the video-game set. With a design that looks right out of a Jetsons cartoon, the weight and cardio machines include such bells and whistles as a light that flashes if a child is seated incorrectly. The machines also track repetitions and speed and even talk back with encouragement.

"The kids really like the machines because they turn it into a game," Kormann says. "It also lets them know when they figure something out on their own—it gives them something to be proud of."

Beyond the machines, the programs offer rock climbing, some sport-oriented games and training, and plenty of opportunities to learn to make proper nutrition and exercise part of a typical urban kid's lifestyle.

The classes, which run for 17 or 35 weeks, just kicked off in late January. So far, Kormann has received many positive comments from kids in the program, whom he says have become motivated to making changes in their lives.

"I have one little girl who's become really devoted to this program," he says. "She's really excited and she's told me she's committed to losing 10 pounds. She tells me all the stuff she's doing at home, like taking the stairs whenever she can."

Programs like Fun Fit and Easy Fit can help kids find a niche where they feel successful, Kormann says, especially those who haven't been exposed to the team sports culture that often dominates youth fitness.

"They shouldn't be excluded from fitness just because they didn't learn sports when they were young," he says.

The Chelsea Piers program also bows to the realities of the urban world when helping its charges change their lifestyles. Kormann notes children are instructed to take the stairs only when they feel it's safe, for example. Another by-product of urban living he charted: In the Spinning segments, many children did not initially pedal well, since they had no access to a place to ride a bicycle regularly.

Part of the program's challenge, of course, is reaching the children who need it most, Kormann says. Typically, children of health-club members enjoy a head start over others by having parents motivated and fitness oriented enough to join a health cub. Chelsea Piers is working to reach out to kids in need of a fitness program. One place, in retrospect, that was a good place to reach

this market: television. After a segment on the new Chelsea Piers program ran on a local new station, Kormann says he received a number of phone calls from parents interested in the program. The moral: The sedentary market is tuned in to their TVs. While full-blown advertising may likely bust the budget, rec facilities can jump on the media bandwagon and try to get free publicity for their offerings.

Kormann and Chelsea Piers also are working to offer the program to anyone who needs it by creating scholarships, looking for sponsors and working with after-school clubs.