The children’s fitness market is booming, and entrepreneurs who want a piece of the action have a decent short-list of proven business concepts to choose from among the 10 best kids fitness franchises of 2018.
One indication that the children’s fitness market is strong and growing is the fact that all 10 of the companies on this list have achieved a spot on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list.
Parents of the more than 74 million children under the age of 18 in the U.S. are more concerned than ever about making sure their kids stay fit and active. This is due, in part, to the strong pull of sedentary screen-time spent watching television or playing video games or being on their mobile devices. The results of these inactive lifestyles have contributed to childhood obesity doubling in the last two decades, with 10% of all children aged 2-5 in the U.S. being overweight.
School budget cuts in many places are also helping spur parents to search for non-school fitness options for their children. Two of the companies are gyms for kids, four of them are swimming programs, three are related to other sports (soccer, baseball, and multiple sports), and one is a dance program.
Here are our picks for the top 10 kids fitness franchises of 2018:
1. My Gym Children’s Fitness Center
My Gym Children’s Fitness Center specializes in fitness programming in a noncompetitive environment serving children from 6 weeks to 10 years of age. Each location offers a variety of structured, age-appropriate, weekly classes that incorporate music, dance, relays, games, special rides, gymnastics, sports, and more.
The focus is on having fun while at the same time developing strength, balance, coordination, agility, and flexibility along with plenty of social skills, confidence, and self-esteem. When kids feel the thrill of acquiring a new physical skill, it gives them a great boost in all areas of their lives.
In addition to all their regular classes and programs, each location also hosts birthday parties jam-packed with exciting activities, games, puppets, songs, special rides, and more.
This company currently ranks #182 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1983 by Yacov and Susie Sherman and Bill Caplin in Van Nuys and Santa Monica, California and franchising since 1995, the number of locations has grown to 503, none of which are company-owned and 340 of which are located outside the U.S.
2. The Little Gym
The Little Gym was started by Robin Wes, who knew a few things about children’s fitness given his degrees in physical education, psychology, and motor development. The company takes a proprietary whole-child approach it calls Three-Dimensional Learning that address not only physical fitness, but also intellectual and social development as well.
Robin combined all of his skills as an accomplished primary public-school teacher, gymnast, kinesiologist, and musician in developing an array of programs that are both fun and effective in a noncompetitive environment that nurtures a love of fitness in children, while at the same time supporting their emotional and social development.
In addition to all the regular classes for kids and parents, most locations also offer birthday parties, summer camps, and creative crafting adventures. Regular classes offer age-appropriate activities in gymnastics, karate, and a variety of other sports.
This company currently ranks #189 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1976 and franchising since 1992, the number of locations currently stands at 389, none of which are company-owned and 187 of which are located outside the U.S.
3. Soccer Shots
Soccer Shots was started by three friends who had all played soccer together in college and two of whom went on to play professionally. Jason Webb, Jeremy Sorzano, and Justin Bredeman were looking for a way to earn extra money during the off-season, creating Soccer Shots for kids in Charlotte, North Caroline and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Their carefully crafted model of weekly programs lasting 30-40 minutes geared towards developing basic soccer skills alongside character-building lessons for kids from 2-8 years of age proved incredibly successful, and worthy of franchising.
The model focuses on the three Cs of coaching, communication, and curriculum. All coaches are certified in age-appropriate techniques, communication with parents is constant and is considered an essential component of program success, and the curriculum of soccer skills and character development was put together with help from both education specialists and soccer professionals.
This company currently ranks #267 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1999 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has grown steadily during the past 10 years to the current total of 191, eight of which are company-owned and two of which are located outside the U.S.
4. SafeSplash Swim School
SafeSplash Swim School got its start in 2005 when the parents of two children couldn’t find any indoor swimming programs in their local community. Since they were both former competitive swimmers, starting their own program made perfect sense.
They teach kids of all ages how to swim, going as young as six-month-old infants! The company approaches swimming as something more than a fun pastime, viewing it instead as an essential life school that impacts a child’s safety around water.
The company’s proprietary, progressive, tested, and proven curriculum has been honed over the course of 10+ years to be both fun and effective in teaching children how to swim. The curriculum is also benefiting from the competitive swimming techniques being brought into the company by new partner and Olympic champion Missy Franklin.
This company currently ranks #325 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2005 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations has grown rapidly to the current total of 133, 18 of which are company-owned and 41 of which are located outside the U.S.
5. Skyhawks Sports & SuperTots Sports Academy
Skyhawks Sports & SuperTots Sports Academy are two franchise concepts that joined forces in 2013. Skyhawks was started by Jeff Heimbigner back in 1979 when he noticed that regular kids also wanted to develop sport-specific skills, but simply didn’t have as many opportunities as the more serious and elite young athletes.
But he also wanted it to be more than just sports, so he built the concept around his idea of “Teaching life skills through sports.” The life skills include sportsmanship, teamwork, and how to both win and lose with grace. The company offers both camps and year-round programs that cover 15 different sports, serving children between the ages of 3 and 12.
SuperTots was started by Kent Gold in 2002 to provide age-appropriate sports development for young kids from 18 months to five-and-a-half years old in soccer, cheering, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and football.
This company currently ranks #284 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1979 but franchising only since 2007, the number of locations has grown to 125, none of which are company-owned and 63 of which are located outside the U.S.
6. British Swim School USA
British Swim School USA is a swim school started by Rita Goldberg, a former British national swimmer, in Manchester, England. She brought her concept to the U.S. in 1991.
The company takes water safety very seriously because drowning is the leading cause of death in children under five. The most important thing for everyone to learn early on is the back float, allowing the child to rest, breathe, and call for help when needed.
The swimming lessons are fun and age-appropriate, beginning with the “Tadpole” parent-child class for infants/toddlers from 3 months to 3 years old. From there, classes progress by skill development all the way up to competitive swim teams.
This company currently ranks #121 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1981 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations currently stands at 103, none of which are company-owned and two of which are located outside the U.S.
7. Goldfish Swim School
Goldfish Swim School was created by parents (husband-wife team Jenny and Chris McCuiston) and for parents “to give kids the platform to build essential life skills that will help them make waves in life.”
They teach kids ages 4 months to 12 years how to swim in “shiver-free” pools using the company’s proprietary Science of SwimPlay built on the foundational concept that a child’s cognitive growth is best facilitated with two key factors: a safe environment and guided play. This play-based learning in a fun and safe setting puts children on a forward-moving path, gaining momentum to achieve their potential both in and out of the water, giving kids the courage to “dive in.”
This company currently ranks #55 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2006 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has grown to 65, one of which is company-owned and one of which is located outside the U.S.
8. D-Bat Academies
D-Bat Academies was started in Addison (North Dallas), Texas, on the firm belief that every player plays a unique and different game and needs to receive individual instruction in baseball or softball skills that is tailored to their unique needs and strengths.
Each location is a well-lit, climate-controlled indoor facility where parents can be a part of the action and also includes a pro shop with all the equipment needed. Many of the products carried in the pro shops are made by the company, including wood bats, baseballs, gloves, batting gloves, accessories, apparel, and uniforms.
The core demographic served includes kids aged 7-12, but older youth also benefit greatly from the individual instruction offered. Dozens of athletes that attended D-Bat Academies have gone on to play professional baseball.
This company currently ranks #311 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1998 by Cade and Kyle Griffis and franchising since 2007, the number of locations currently stands at 49, none of which are company-owned and one of which is located outside the U.S.
9. Tutu School
Tutu School was founded on the guiding principle that “every child should know what it feels like to dance.” The company is specifically focused on introducing young children to the beauty and magic of ballet. The company’s founder, Genevieve Custer Weeks, was a professional ballet dancer until she retired from performing in 2012 to give more attention to her growing chain of boutique ballet studios and her family.
Age-appropriate ballet classes are offered to children aged 18 months to 8 years. Although it clearly looks geared towards girls, boys are welcome to join any of the classes.
The company currently ranks #298 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2008 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations currently stands at 30, three of which are company-owned.
10. SwimLabs Swim School
SwimLabs Swim School takes a unique approach to teaching kids to swim by utilizing the same techniques used for Olympic swimmers – mirrors and instant video feedback that significantly transform swim instruction.
Recognizing that most kids learn best by seeing, SwimLabs uses both mirrors on the bottom of the pool and instant video feedback to help even the youngest beginners to learn correct techniques that they apply immediately, which speeds up the learning process and gives them the skills needed to be safe in the water.
In addition to beginning swimmers, each location offers its unique instruction techniques to children and youth who are already competitive swimmers, and programs for adults as well.
This company currently ranks #301 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2005 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations currently stands at 11, none of which are company-owned and one of which is located outside the U.S.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.