Is Your Senior Program Best of the Best?

This issue of the magazine includes a link to information about the Best of the Best contest sponsored by Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro (see the online table of contents on page 4). The annual contest is a wonderful opportunity to show pride in your staff, your programming and the growth of your business.

One of the categories in the contest is Best Senior Program. As you look at your best senior programs to prepare them for entry in the contest, you should carefully evaluate several considerations. If you don't think you have a senior program that stands out from all the others, has not generated an impressive amount of growth to your bottom line or has not added a growing number of participants within the last year, then consider the following five points:

First, professionalism is key when working with seniors. Although professionalism relates to your leaders' certifications and qualifications to work with older adults, it also relates to them displaying outgoing, fun and engaging personalities. Professionals open conversations rather than wait to be approached. They introduce themselves with pride and confidence, and then introduce participants to each other. They inject humor and anecdotes. They use names, remember names and hear their own names used often.

Another element of successful programs is socialization, which means the program involves camaraderie and fun. It includes walking with a group or a buddy, teaming in a recreational sport, or participating in a group sing-along or routine in the pool.

The activity or program, be it physical or educational, is in a group environment. Groups provide a social experience, and older adults have told us they respond favorably and most often to a social atmosphere. A study in the April issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that most adults, if given a choice of exercising alone or in groups, would rather exercise with others within their own age group. Exercising in a group provides a social environment, and the experience is energetic, uplifting and satisfying.

Good programs also involve a sense of belonging. The sense of social connection and the member's response to the professional personality of the leader ensure a sense of belonging — the feeling of a club within a club. The senior member who gets involved in a program or club environment wants to be part of a group or social atmosphere that creates a comfort level of acceptance and an easy venue for conversation, friends and laughter.

A sense of belonging ensures the member's security and compatibility to the program, the club, the leader and the other participants. Members with a true sense of belonging will share that with others. Social situations increase the prospect that members will bring others into the program because they naturally want to share their experiences with friends, family or neighbors, but they will also want to show off their activity, their club and their newfound mind, body or spirit life.

Another element to ensure is that you offer member recognition. Often, the recognition can take the form of a ribbon, prize or just applause for things as simple as attendance, birthdays, persistence, determination or having the most fun. Recognition must come from the leader and occur in front of peers, preferably in a social environment.

And fifth, the program must show significant and real retention and growth. If you have provided these five elements, you have specific and impressive numbers that reflect the growth and retention of the program. That would make it a candidate for being one of the Best of the Best.

Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a training and consulting firm in Bradenton, FL. Coffman specializes in customer service, programming and retention. She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at

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