YMCA of the USA

October 1996

Integrating YMCA Services with Community Health Providers

Bill Hettler, MD

718 Linwood Avenue

Stevens Point, WI 54481

Abstract The successful YMCA's of the future will capitalize on all the major trends that are occurring. "Health is neither achieved nor compromised in isolation. An individual's health and the health or his or her environment and society are inextricably interrelated." - P. Fabiano

In the early 1980's I heard a presentation by Marilyn Ferguson, author of the book The Aquarian Conspiracy. Marilyn's advice was, "There is a major shift coming, from the grass roots level, in which people will be more concerned about their health and well-being." Speaking to a fitness leaders audience, she advised that we "get out in front and pretend you are leading the way!" The successful fitness leaders have done just that.

As we look to the future of YMCA's and their local Communities, several major emerging trends must be recognized and, where possible, these trends must be incorporated into management strategies.

Trend I Diversity Is Reality

Attainment of extensive membership in the future will by necessity include a diverse population. Diversity in race, religious preference, sex and sexual preference, age and socioeconomic level will be an important objective for most YMCAs as we enter the next millennium. The political, financial, and moral support that YMCAs need to be successful will depend more than ever on their commitment to meeting the needs of diverse employees and members. Do the pictures in your publications and publicity reflect diversity?

Trend II Knowledge to the People: The Information Age Has Actually Arrived

The emerging and merging technologies of telecommunications, computer information systems, online services, Internet, expert systems, high density CD-ROM's and digital TV are creating the most significant upheaval since the Reformation. It is likely that in the near future, our YMCA members will know more about their particular health and fitness needs than the professional staff member working in the YMCA. Virtual personal trainers will be able to track and offer suggestions on their clients' progress on a planet-wide basis. The Internet is expanding the access to millions world wide.

Trend III Opportunity Knocking: Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity

The Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health helped kick off a three decade shift in the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of people concerning tobacco. The recently released Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health will give the YMCA industry an enormous opportunity. Even if there is no office of the Surgeon General a year after the report is released, strategic plans to leverage the message in the report are worthy of serious consideration.

Trend IV Health is Wealth: The Old Adage is Even More True Today

While the cost of medical services has not been increasing as much in the last year or so, elevated medical expenditure is still one of the grave concerns for business and industry, including the YMCA industry. Developing or expanding partnerships with local business and industry clients as well as disease care providers can improve the bottom line for all participants. Each year more studies confirm the dollars saved when employees participate in regular physical activity. How many YMCA CEO's have met with the CEO of the local hospitals or managed care executives to discuss how discharge plans could include physical activity options for the people being discharged?

As more of our citizens achieve senior status, let's compete for their time and money. Have you noticed how successful the casinos have been in rounding up seniors to fill their gambling halls during the day? You could explore activity times with the group homes, senior living centers and senior apartment complexes. Often these people have free time that coincides with your less busy hours. There is excellent research documenting the improved physical health and mental health when seniors get involved in weight training. Their numbers are growing each year. The cover of the Jan-Feb issue of Modern Maturity tells a powerful story.

Trend V Physical Education Classes on the Decline: Kids Slipping Out of Shape

The American Health Foundation recently released its 1995 AHF Child Health Report Card. The report rates the overall health and health behaviors of America's children. The grade given was a "D", down from the "C-" grade given in 1994. Many schools have reduced or eliminated physical education. Is there a void in your community that you can help fill? Ask Judi Sheppard Misset why Jazzercise goes into grade schools. Are you only looking to the next quarter? Your long term survival depends on the next generation using your YMCA. Have you met with any PTO or PTA members to explore ways that they can help encourage children to participate fitness activities after school or during school hours?

Trend VI Spiritual Hunger Swells Churches: The Body, the Temple for Your Soul

Many churches have reported increasing membership in recent years. A greater percentage of church leaders are looking for programs that have some tangible results for their parishioners. Does your YMCA have less busy times that would match some of the time slots that churches have typically scheduled for adult and family groups? Can your facility compete with the taverns and bars for recreational league activities?

Trend VII People Tend to be Less Intense about Their Exercise: Moderation Is In

There is evidence that Americans are exercising less intensely than in our recent past. How are you positioning your YMCA to respond to those who are not interested in maximum effort? Do you have program leaders who appeal to the less fit and less motivated client? I recall one program in New Jersey in which the fitness leaders were selected because the were not models of fitness. Their clients, beginners in fitness, reported that they felt more comfortable and felt that the leader understood their limits better than the super fit, lycra clad , leaders they had previously encountered.

See cover story CBI February 1996

Trend VIII The Science of Understanding Personality Types & Communication

Sophisticated YMCA leaders are gaining an appreciation of the growing science that relates to personality typology. There are several national training programs that enable people to assess, by observation and/or paper pencil tests, the various personality types. One of the simplest to use is the True Colors SM approach introduced by Don Lowrey. Leafgren and Sullivan have written Corporate Communications Guide. This guide and other materials can be used to enhance employee communication and increase sales. A sales force that can identify types quickly, can tailor their communication to increase the likelihood the potential client will join.

Staff communication can be enhanced with modest investments in training time. We all view the world with the bias of our own type. One of the original books on typology was entitled Gifts Differing . As we begin to use the science of types and preferences in our personal and professional lives, we can increase our effectiveness and decrease the strife that leads to wasted time and effort. I have often referred to the Myers-Briggs instrument as a tool for human understanding. How could typology help you or your YMCA?

Trend IX Flat Organizations Are In, But Still Need Direction

Self directed or self managed work teams are just one example of the consequences of the organizational flattening that is occurring in many businesses and organizations. Many variations of Continuous Quality Improvement, Total Quality Management or Quality Improvement exist in modern YMCAs. Implementing self-directed work teams has improved the service or products in hundreds of settings. Have you considered how you could experiment with these approaches?

Trend X When It Seems You Might Be Hitting The Wall, Build One

Indoor climbing walls are growing in popularity throughout the nation. In addition, many facilities have expanded their offerings to include experiential team building activities through the use of low and high ropes courses. You can become a training facility for many of the large and small businesses in your area. By offering people a chance to use your facility, you may gain long term users.

Trend XI Alternative Medicine:

A New Division Within The National Institute of Health

There is a growing interest in and acceptance of the field of Alternative Medicine. What new opportunities does this present for your YMCA? While there is often skepticism among the traditional medical care providers, there is a growing body of knowledge and research that document the benefit of these new (often actually very old) approaches to the pursuit of optimal health.

Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Relaxation Training, Massage, and many other activities once thought to be fringe may add to your members health and your bottom line. Do you have facilities that are available to support these activities?

Trend XII You Know You Are Good, But How Do You Prove It?

There is a growing trend for service providers to be anointed, certified, accredited, fellowed, or otherwise approved by this or that body/organization. This approval or affirmation that you or your YMCA are in compliance with some set of standards can increase your credibility, and in some cases decrease your liability exposure. Standards are available from the National YMCA office. There is a growing list of employee certification programs offered by a wide variety of organizations.

While there are some who tend to minimize the importance of having staff and facilities meeting standards for accreditation, the paying member/customer will usually opt for the facility or service that appears to be high quality. The competition for the accrediting dollars will likely expand over the next five to ten years.

As you assess your YMCA and its perceived professionalism, you may wish to focus on three main areas.

Facility Do you have a public area that displays the following?

Health department inspections

Meeting standards of the YMCA of the USA

OSHA compliance

Staff Does your staff have any of the following certifications?

Red Cross (or some other) CPR Training

American College of Sports Medicine

American Council on Exercise

Aerobics & Fitness Association of America


If yes, how do you display their accomplishments?

Program Are you affiliated with other national bodies that give your programs

increased perceived value ?