Feature Article - November 2010
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Finding Space

Making Room for Fitness Programming

By Wynn St. Clair

Opportunities Knock

As a manager of the city parks and recreation department in Poquoson, Virginia, Gretchen Gochenour has the unenviable task of finding programming space for a town with 11,000 residents and zero indoor fitness facilities.

But what some see as obstacles, she sees as opportunities. With a little creativity and a deep commitment to her community, Gochenour offers a stunning variety of programs to her town's residents.

Here are some of her tips for finding the space—and people—you need to offer compelling programming:

  • Partner up: Establish relationships with your high school or local education faculty. They're athletic and recreational specialists, too, and they're well-liked in the community. Many teachers also are looking to make a little extra money, and will be happy to put together programs and classes for you. Their popularity will help attract participants, and their venues often can be used, as well.
  • Find out what others are doing: Look at communities similar to your size and see what they're doing. How are they best utilizing their space? Call for help. Share instructor contacts. If you live in an area where an instructor can drive to a variety of towns quickly, offer something similar—but not exactly the same—using that shared resource.
  • Cast your eyes nationwide: Be sure to use national resources such as the National Alliance for Youth Sports and the National Recreation and Park Association. For some activities, there are grants to help you develop new programs. For example, if you have fields available to host a field hockey program but don't have the equipment, there are grants out there to help you obtain a starter kit.
  • Bridge the generation gap: A great way to economize space is to offer multi-generational programs that allow the whole family to participate. In addition to being a prudent move in regards to space, it also promotes togetherness and a healthy lifestyle. "With the change in our economic climate, this is now a core value that can encourage participation and increases the likelihood of participation," Gochenour said.
  • Stay on top of trends: Keeping your finger on the industry's pulse is a fantastic way of deciding whether your space is being used by the best programming menu possible. Gochenour encourages recreation managers to learn how various age groups are using their discretionary time. Do people want to relax with classes like yoga? Do they want to get fit? Or are they looking for programs that offer both benefits?
  • Plan your programming wisely: Every program you offer takes away recreation space from another potential class. Progressive recreation managers must ask themselves if a particular program is the best offering for a specific space at a specific time. Before signing up any program, Gochenour recommends finishing this sentence: "As a result of this class, my participants will… ."
  • Run your programs well: Nothing wastes recreation space more than a poorly run program. Gochenour stressed the importance of being organized from the very first meeting. Have staff available to answer questions and maintain an e-mail list where you can remind participants of housekeeping items such as holiday schedules and registration dates.
  • Give things time to grow: When you're testing a new class or even a new programming space, it may take a while to build an audience. "Be prepared for failure, but also give things time to grow," Gochenour said.
  • Keep it cool: If you've got a popular new class, keep it hot by not offering it too much. Not only will it conserve programming space, it helps maintain the class's popularity. "Keep it cool and something that people look forward to doing," Gochenour said. "That's the keeping-them-hungry mentality."