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In Part 2 of this “Life After COVID-19” series, John Mikos from the YMCA of Greater Kansas City discusses the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on program participation. Is virtual the new standard? Or will members come back to in-person classes as frequently as they did before COVID-19?

In response to concern over members’ wellbeing while abiding by stay at home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, most facilities throughout the country pivoted almost exclusively to virtual health and wellness programs. If the people couldn’t come to the gym, they brought the gym to the people.

Group X classes, mind-body programs and even activities for the whole family have become a regular part of daily routines everywhere, allowing community rec centers to keep their members engaged while they’re apart.

However, as beneficial as these exclusively virtual programs have been, the question remains: Will the popularity of, and access to, virtual programs diminish in-person program participation once facilities reopen?

John Mikos, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, doesn’t believe so. In fact, he believes the emergence of more virtual offerings won’t cancel out members’ desire for personal connections.

“I think it’ll just expand them both — people are saying they’re tired of being at home, and they’re ready to be able to get out of the house,” said Mikos. “People still feel personal engagement and connections are very important for us as human beings, and I don’t think that changes.”

Furthermore, the inability of virtual programs to offer the same level accountability for participants will always keep the door open for in-person programs. “One of the things we run into with video on-demand programs is that people still like to be held accountable and see a familiar face — a person they can interact with,” explained Mikos.

That’s not to say virtual programming won’t play a bigger role once facilities reopen, however. The Kansas City Y, for example, will use information on virtual participation to drive its decision-making about programs post-COVID-19.

“I believe everything gets accelerated now, and there will be greater opportunities for live streaming,” said Mikos. “Our ability to expand and reach members outside our four walls is important. We’ve been wanting to expand our weight loss program and other types of services to include an online presence.”

The world is going to look different on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, and incorporating virtual offerings into your programming might be the best option for delivering what members need while meeting them where they’ve been for several weeks.

Virtual fitness was a growing trend in the industry before the pandemic, and now that the average consumer has gotten accustomed to working out in an isolated location, it’s critical for community rec centers to adjust their programming options based on what members are looking for.

In-person workouts aren’t going away, but virtual fitness is going to play a bigger role from here on out. “We certainly understand now that online programming is something we’re going to have to explore further,” said Mikos. “I also think that puts the Y in a great position to have a combination of both online and in-person workouts.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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