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Private Lessons: A Primer

Private Lessons: A Primer

The good news: Private lessons can certainly add an extra layer of perceived value for gym clientele. The bad news: at times, offering privates can also add more hassle for gym owners between scheduling, pay structure, and other considerations. However, in the end, most gym owners, coaches and parents agree that private lessons offer an array of benefits that make it worth the effort. Find out how gyms around the country handle this popular revenue stream:

About Time

The trickiest aspect of offering private lessons in a gym, most say, is scheduling. Some gyms have set times at which the lessons can be offered, while others leave it up to coaches to handle their own schedule.

At the Wilson School of Gymnastics, Cheer and Dance in Chambersburg, Pa., coaches have freedom to schedule their own private lessons—within reason. According to team coordinator Rachel Roberts, privates can’t be scheduled during class times, so most coaches arrange them immediately before or after the student’s team practice.

At Virginia-based Cheer Extreme Roanoke, coaches also have liberty with scheduling, and several use business cards to help parents contact them for privates. Gym owner Bobby Lozano offers assistance with scheduling and pairing up people for privates. “Parents will come to me and say, ‘My daughter wants to work on her back handspring. Who does a really good job working with that age group and skill?’” Lozano says. “I figure out who would best suit that child [and his/her needs].”

Kristen Shimmel, a coach with Cleveland-based X-Cel Athletics, says scheduling is the responsibility of the coaches, but it’s not always easy. “At our gym, the space is always utilized by squads or tumbling classes, so private lessons use whatever free space is available at any one time,” she says. “Space is often an issue, but you just have to get creative!”

Private Benjamins

Where gyms vary more widely in handling private lessons is how coaches are paid. Some gyms allow coaches to keep 100 percent of the earnings as a means of supplemental income (and extra incentive), whereas other gyms take a cut of the cost or expect the coach to do privates as part of their existing salary.

For instance, X-Cel Athletics pays its coaches, including Shimmel, through the gym’s payroll. At Wilson and CEA Roanoke, coaches are paid directly by parents, although both Roberts and Lozano say there is a standard rate for the lessons. And at Georgia-based Renegade Athletics, private lessons are simply another way coaches earn their hourly salary.

“All of our privates are scheduled and paid through the gym,” explains owner Leslie Pledger-Griffin. “Instructors make their hourly pay regardless of what they are doing—office work, tumbling class, privates lessons, teams or whatever.

Lozano says payment for privates used to go through the gym, but the coaches now make 100 percent. “Coaches do the work for it and deserve the money,” he says. “The added incentive for coaches to work more privates is that they’re getting the full amount of money. In the end, it benefits the gym because the kids they are working with cheer for us.”

Why Privates Matter

Offering privates can help assure parents as to the one-on-one attention and education that their child is receiving—helping to ensure gym retention. For Wilson parent Beverly Musgrave, private lessons are a welcome aid to her daughter’s skill development. “The one-on-one time gives her the chance to really concentrate, and focus more on what the coaches are asking her to do,” Musgrave says.

Gym owners and coaches can also use private lessons to help the team at large—targeting needed areas of improvement. For instance, when Roberts was prepping her athletes for U.S. Finals this spring, she worked privately with one particular athlete to nail a key tumbling skill. “We had one athlete who was extremely inconsistent with her standing tuck,” says Roberts. “She wanted to be really sure she was going to hit.”

For Renegade Athletics, privates are about supply and demand. “Our office always tries to push classes over privates, but some parents and kids are insistent so we try to fulfill that demand,” shares Pledger-Griffin.

Regardless of the reasons, private lessons offer lasting benefits for both gyms and athletes. “At Cheer Extreme, we’ve done privates forever,” says Lozano. “It’s the best way, I think, to communicate with kids. You build bonds on a one-on-one basis.”

-Jennifer Deinlein 

Avoiding the Lazy Coaching Trap

Avoiding the Lazy Coaching Trap

It’s Friday night at the Cheer Pride All-Stars gym in Whippany, NJ. Coach Erin Shane signals The Summit-bound Junior Level 1 team to enter the gym. Clad in fire-colored practice gear with bows neatly placed on their crowns, 15 female athletes quietly line up in four rows, hit a “T” and prepare to perform a timing drill for jumps.

Shane begins to clap to the rhythm of her counting to keep the team’s unified left kicks timed to her beat. The team doesn’t flinch as she pauses to hit a strong, poised “T” to demonstrate proper motion technique. The squad reaches 20 kicks smoothly and quickly, then Shane continues the process again on the opposite side.

No matter what activity her athletes participate in, Shane is highly engaged. She spots tumbling, fills in for missing stunters and works out with the team at the end of practice—all after an eight-hour workday as a special education teacher at a North Jersey high school.

Not all coaches are able to master the juggling act as easily as Shane; after all, all-star cheer coaches are faced with the challenge of managing a winning squad all while balancing multiple jobs, families and personal time. In the face of overwhelm, it can be difficult for coaches to avoid falling into a “lazy funk”—an attitude that affects both the team and the gym as a whole.

“It is important that people learn hard work gets results,” said Jodi Gerhartz, co-owner of East Brunswick, NJ-based All Star Athletic Center.

She adds that irresponsible habits, such as sitting down or answering phone calls during practice, also play a role in lazy coaching behaviors. “I had a coach who was always sitting down, talking on her cellphone and yelling at the athletes,” Gerhartz shares. “I have zero tolerance for that type of coaching. I explained to her that the athletes did not respect her because she was not respecting what they are doing.”

Shane also believes lazy coaches “inevitably hurt the team, and the business will suffer. Athletes will have poor technique and skills, resulting in an inability to grow or be successful at competition. [Eventually,] athletes will leave the program to go where their coaches are an active part of the experience.”

Lazy coaching behaviors can also lead to financial loss, poor reputation and lack of indispensable leadership skills cheerleaders can learn from experienced instructors to become successful athletes, students and professionals in the future.

So how can coaches avoid the lazy funk? Start off right by energetically implementing the following tips in their routine at practices:

Stand up. Coaches must lead by active example. Gerhartz believes that on the “first day of practice [and beyond], coaches need to set the precedent. Stand up to coach, and work as hard as the athletes do.”

Plan ahead. Making a blueprint for practice ahead of time can truly pay off, says Shane, who suggests creating practice plans that change in activity every 30 minutes. Pre-planning helps coaches become more aware of what needs to be accomplished in practice—keeping their focus narrowed.

Cater to individual training needs. Every athlete learns differently, whether it be visual, auditory or kinesthetically. Taking the time to teach skills in different ways can help coaches maximize effectiveness—and avoid lazy tendencies in their effort to meet each athlete’s needs.

Ditch the digital world. Coaches must put the cellphones down during the practice to effectively observe their cheerleaders. Consider practice an opportune time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses rather than respond to parent emails or gym gossip.

-Christina Hernandez is the founder of Rah Rah Routines, a consulting firm specializing in choreography, tumble lessons and routine consultations for cheerleading organizations. She is a cheerleading and tumbling aficionado who has led senior-level All Star teams to multiple local, regional, and national titles. She has more than 23 years of experience as a Pop Warner, high school and all star cheerleader and is contracted to work as a tumble instructor at several cheer and dance organizations in New Jersey. She is a longstanding choreographer for reputable recreation, high school and all–star competitive teams throughout the Northeast region and is a member of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (A.A.C.C.A.), USASF and NFHS. She believes perfecting the fundamentals of cheerleading and tumbling are the key to achieving excellence. To find out more about Christina and her business, visit rahrahroutines.com