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