This annual list of the best children’s fitness franchises was revised and updated on June 22, 2021.
Every parent wants the best for their children, and these days that includes giving them a leg up on being physically active and fit. This creates a great opportunity for franchisees to run a fun business while contributing to the health of their customers by running a children’s fitness franchise. This has created a $301 million industry in the US.
With the strong pull of electronic devices that can keep kids sedentary for hours at a time, parents are fighting an uphill battle to keep their children fit and active. Successful franchises have countered this by finding ways to make fitness fun enough that participating kids want to keep coming back for more. If fitness itself is a game, then it won’t be drudgery to take part.
These businesses face a tension between changes that have supported and those that have undermined them. On the one hand, a slight contraction in the number of children under the age of nine, together with competition from other sources of fitness such as after-school programs, have reduced the potential customer pool. On the other hand, rising per capita income before the pandemic, together with rising awareness of the dangers of childhood obesity, increased the proportion of customers willing to pay for children’s fitness. As a result, the industry has been relatively stable over the past decade, seeing neither significant growth nor steady decline.
Children’s fitness franchises saw significant losses during 2020, due to shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many struggled financially and had to lay off workers to stay afloat. Some provided virtual workout classes as an alternative to in-person sessions, and this helped the more adaptable businesses to keep going.
The economic recovery, combined with a predicted rise in both the birth rate and the child obesity rate post-pandemic, is expected to boost the industry over the next five years. In 2021 alone, it is expected to increase in value by 6.6%. This may be a good time to jump on board, as the industry hits an upswing, though past a certain point, the same factors limiting growth pre-pandemic will probably kick in again.
The range of activities covered by the companies on this list is diverse, which means there’s something for nearly everyone. Variety helps the different franchises to stand out.
Working with children can be exciting, but it can also be tiring. To work in this area, you need to be sure that you can maintain your enthusiasm and be the face of fun when surrounded by hordes of screaming kids. If that sounds like your kind of fun, then this could be the industry for you.
The Top Children’s Fitness Franchises of 2021
1. My Gym Children’s Fitness Center
My Gym Children’s Fitness Center is a place where kids from the age of six weeks to 10 years can enjoy noncompetitive fitness programming. All the different weekly classes are age-appropriate and cover a wide range of physical activities, including sports, gymnastics, games, relays, music, dance, special rides, and more.
Everything is designed to be fun while simultaneously fostering better flexibility, agility, coordination, balance, and strength. Just as importantly, there is also a focus on developing social and personal skills such as self-esteem and confidence. Families can also schedule birthday parties with lots of fun activities.
Franchisees can choose from three different models, including a standard gym, a compact gym, and a mobile gym. Founded by Yacov and Susie Sherman and Bill Caplin in Van Nuys and Santa Monica, California in 1983 and franchising since 1995, the number of locations has grown to 694 (up from the previously reported total of 604), of which none are company-owned and 524 are located outside the US.
2. The Little Gym
The Little Gym was started by an expert with degrees in motor development, physical education, and psychology. The company’s approach is called Three-Dimensional Learning because it goes beyond physical fitness to include both social and intellectual development in its programs, resulting in a whole-child philosophy.
Its proprietary approach is both noncompetitive and designed to be as fun as it is effective. Most locations also offer summer camps, birthday parties, and creative crafting adventures. Activities are age-appropriate and include karate, gymnastics, and many other sports influences.
Founded by Robin Wes in 1976 and franchising since 1992, the number of locations currently stands at 369 (down sharply from the previously reported total of 430), of which none are company-owned and 177 are located outside the US.
3. Soccer Shots
Soccer Shots owes its existence to three friends who played soccer in college (and two of them went on to play professionally as well) and wanted to find a way to make a living sharing their love of soccer with others. The result was a business model focusing on offering kids from ages 2-8 a weekly opportunity for a 30-40 minute class focused on developing their fundamental soccer skills while at the same time including character development lessons.
The company’s approach is based on the three Cs of curriculum, communication, and coaching. The curriculum is both soccer skills and character formation, communication with parents is constant, and all coaches are certified.
Founded by Jason Webb, Jeremy Sorzano, and Justin Bredeman in Charlotte, North Carolina and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1999 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations has grown steadily in recent years to the current total of 242 (up from the previously reported total of 232), of which eight are company-owned and six are located outside the US.
4. Skyhawks Sports & SuperTots Sports Academy
Skyhawks Sports & SuperTots Sports Academy give kids and youth the opportunity to learn life skills through sports. Yes, there are all kinds of programs out there for star athletes to reach peak performance, but what about regular kids who just want to learn some sports skills but aren’t obsessed with being the best?
The year-round camps and programs the company offers include 15 different sports for kids and youth ranging in age from 4-14. SuperTots sports programming is for kids ranging in age from 18 months to five-and-a-half years and covers football, volleyball, baseball, basketball, cheer, and soccer.
Founded by Jeff Heimbigner in 1979 but franchising only since 2007, the number of locations has grown to 187 (up from the previously reported total of 167), of which 62 are company-owned and three are located outside the US.
5. Kinderdance International
Kinderdance International got its start when the founder realized a lot of young kids weren’t appearing in dance studios because they were in childcare centers or preschools. Why not take the dance classes to where these young children were already spending time? From there the programming has grown to include dance, motor development, gymnastics, and fitness programs blended with numbers, colors, shapes, words, and songs for children ages 2-12.
Programs include Kinderdance for girls and boys 3-5 years old; Kinder “Dance with Me” for infants and toddlers 15-24 months old; Kindertots for two-year-olds; Kids Yoga (for ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12); Kindercombo for ages 6-8 focused on ballet, tap, and modern dance; Kindergym gymnastics programming for ages 3-5; and Kindermotion fitness and sports (for ages ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12).
Founded by Carol Kay Harsell in 1975 and franchising since 1985, the number of locations has expanded in recent years to the current total of 175 (up from the previously reported total of 163), of which two are company-owned and 82 are located outside the US.
SafeSplash/SwimLabs/Swimtastic brings the same tactics used for Olympic swimmers and uses them to teach kids how to swim, which includes both video feedback and mirrors that take swim instruction to a whole new level. When you think about it, these approaches make a ton of sense for kids, many of whom learn better when they can see what’s going on. The results are faster corrections for better swimming form and technique.
Whether it’s teaching beginning swimmers or helping advanced swimming competitors reach new levels of performance, kids (as young as six months), youth, or adults can find the swim programs they need.
Founded in 2005 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations currently stands at 171 (up from the previously reported total of 163), of which 21 are company-owned and 49 are located outside the US.
7. i9 Sports
i9 Sports takes a different approach than most of the other companies on this list. Rather than being devoted to just one sport or activity, franchisees operate a variety of local youth sports leagues, clinics, and camps that can include basketball, cheer, flag football, soccer, baseball, softball, and lacrosse depending on what people in the local community want. The programs are open to all skill levels without the pressure of tryouts, and everyone gets to play no matter what.
The emphasis is more on having fun than winning, as well as good sportsmanship, inclusivity, and safety. Constant, accurate communication with parents is also a key pillar of the company. And the company name reflects nine i-words important to its philosophy: Imaginative, Innovative, Interactive, Integrity-driven, Impassioned, Inspirational, Instructional, Insightful, and Inclusive.
Founded by Frank V. Fiume, Jr. in 2002 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has risen in recent years to the current total of 159 (up from the previously reported total of 155), of which only one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
8. Aqua Tots Swim Schools
Aqua Tots Swim Schools has a core mission of preventing drownings by making sure kids learn how to swim through excellent instruction that includes water safety. Each instructor goes through more than 40 hours of intensive classroom and in-water training. Each Aqua Tots Swim Schools Water Safety Instructor (AT-WSI) has passed an online exam and has obtained CPR training to receive AT-WSI Certification all before teaching a swim lesson. Certified instructors are also regularly assessed for lesson quality and consistency.
Levels include Tadpoles (ages 4-12 months, with parent), Minnows (for ages 13-30 months, with parent), Leapfrogs (for ages 2.5-12 years), and Seahorses (for ages 4 and up). There are an additional 4 levels for intermediate and advanced kids based on swim ability (Starfish, Seals, Sharks, and Stingrays) along with Swim Club (recreational skill maintenance) and Swim Team (for those who want a competitive experience).
Founded by Ron and Jane Sciarro in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1991 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations has grown steadily in recent years to the current total of 111 (up from the previously reported total of 103), of which only one is company-owned and 17 are located outside the US.
9. Goldfish Swim School
Goldfish Swim School offers swimming instruction for children as young as four months up through 12 years of age in “shiver-free” pools that are kept at 90 degrees, so being too cold is never a barrier to learning how to swim. The first school opened with 500 students, and by 2008 this inaugural location was serving 2,000 students—and this was in a town with a population of only 20,000!
Part of the key to success for this company is its proprietary Science of SwimPlay because kids learn best and fastest when they have two key things: a safe environment and guided play. This also makes learning to swim a lot of fun for the students. A big part of the programming is devoted to self-esteem to nurture children so they have the courage to “dive in.”
Founded by husband-and-wife team Chris and Jenny MCuiston in Birmingham, Michigan in 2006 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has grown to 108 (up from the previously reported total of 90), of which one is company-owned and two are located outside the US.
10. TGA Premier Sports
TGA Premier Sports believes strongly that sports change lives, and it combines athletics, academics, and life lessons in its youth enrichment programs. Programming is offered at elementary and middle schools, seasonal camps, and year-round leagues for a range of different sports, including tennis, cheerleading, golf, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, floor hockey, lacrosse, and flag football.
In addition to physical activity and sporting skills, the programming emphasizes character development, rules, etiquette, and the importance of keeping up with academics. The company’s approach is also aligned with American Development Model (ADM) principles, including age-appropriate activities, foundational skill development, multi-sport participation, and a progressively challenging atmosphere.
Founded in 2002 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations rose steadily but recently dropped to the current total of 107 (down from the previously reported total of 125), four of which are company-owned and two of which are located outside the US.
11. British Swim School USA
British Swim School USA puts a big focus on teaching water safety as part of its swim school, and for good reason. After all, drowning is among the leading causes of death for children under five years of age. The company’s swimming and water safety programs are available to children as young as three months and all the way up to and including adults. It all begins with the most basic and important skill of all – being able to float on your back, which allows a person to rest, breathe, and call for help when they need it.
Like other companies, there are progressive levels of programming beginning with the Tadpole water acclimation class (for ages 3-36 months, with parent), Swimboree water survival class (for ages 3-36 months, with parent), Seahorse advanced water survival (for ages 18-36 months), Starfish water acclimation class (for ages 3+), Minnow beginner water survival (for ages 3+), and on up through Turtles, Sharks, Barracudas, and swim team.
The British Swim School USA is now part of the Buzz Franchise family, a multi-brand franchising company that includes Pool Scouts and Home Clean Heroes. Founded by Rita Goldberg in Manchester, England in 1981 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations currently stands at 104 (up from the previously reported total of 69), of which none are company-owned and four are located outside the US.
12. D-Bat Academies
D-Bat Academies developed its baseball and softball programs on a very basic, foundational belief: Every player has different and unique needs, which means they each need individual instruction tailored to their strengths and improvement areas. The company brings its clinic-style baseball and softball programming indoors for climate-controlled comfort where parents can watch. The main audience served are kids ranging in age from 7-12, although older youth can also receive individualized instruction.
Each location also includes a “pro shop” where families can purchase any equipment they need, much of which is also made by D-Bat (baseballs, gloves, wood bats, batting gloves, apparel, uniforms, and accessories). A surprising number of athletes who participated in D-Bat Academies have ended up playing professionally.
Founded by Cade and Kyle Griffis in Addison (North Dallas), Texas in 1998 and franchising since 2007, the number of locations currently stands at 101 (up from the previously reported total of 80), of which none are company-owned and five are located outside the US.
13. Tutu School
Tutu School introduces both girls and boys to the intrinsic beauty and magic of ballet, including not only the fundamental skills of this form of dance, but also the music. Classes that combine creativity, movement, and music cover multiple levels starting with Tutu Toddlers (level A for ages 18-24 months, level B for ages 24 months through 3 years), Exploring Ballet (level A for age 3, level B for age 4, and level C for age 5), and Primary Ballet Prep (level A for ages 5-6, level B for ages 6-8).
Each location also offers Tutu Camp programs that include ballet classes, costume decorating, and learning the stories of different ballets from the classical repertoire, such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, and Cinderella.
Founded by professional ballet dancer Genevieve Custer Weeks in 2008 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations currently stands at 40 (up from the previously reported total of 37), of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
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.