Finding a creative way to boost your club's retention rate does not have to be a struggle if you make a game of it — literally. Incentive games are center-wide activities that are fun and can be an inexpensive way to keep your members committed to their exercise program as well as to your center.

A carefully planned game can motivate members to keep up their fitness regime, and at the same time, improve your retention rate. An incentive game allows members to earn “points̵ as they complete specific activities throughout your center and work toward winning the grand prize.

Games generate excitement. Competitive members will even make the extra effort to fit in an additional workout at your facility to progress further in the game. This excitement will keep members engaged in your club.

Incentive games are great advertising tools that can be used to boost attendance at programs in your center. For example, if your group exercise numbers are slipping, use the game to offer bonus points so that more members will be encouraged to take classes. If you would like more people to attend the center during off-peak hours, offer double points to participants who work out at those times. You can tailor your game to meet the current needs of your center.

Games can also be used to educate your members about health and wellness. The more members know about the benefits of exercise, the more likely they will be to stay committed to their fitness routine and to your center. Members are hungry for knowledge, so find creative ways to share it with them. You could create a crossword puzzle based on wellness information and require its completion or post articles that contain the most up-to-date health information and have members answer questions related to the article.

Finally, incentive games provide an opportunity to orient your members to your center and its staff. Communication between staff and members often increases during the course of a game because participants will want to discuss game rules and their individual progress with your staff. This contact helps your members feel comfortable in your club, building loyalty to your center.

So, are you ready to create an incentive game of your own? Here is a checklist to use as you get started:

  • Timing

    The first step in developing an incentive game is to determine what time of year the game will run. Consider situations that affect the flow of traffic in your facility such as holidays, summer vacation schedules, etc. Do not plan a game to run during a slow period at your center if you want maximum participation from your membership.

  • Length

    Incentive games should match the attention span of your membership. Members enjoy participating, but after a while they may get bored with the activity and want to drop out. Two to three months is generally a good length of time for an incentive game.

  • Theme

    Make your game relevant to what is going on outside the center; take into account the time of year and current events when planning your game. For example, in October hold your own World Series. The game will be most successful if you tap into the current events and interests of your members.

  • Advancement

    Create a system for the members to advance through the game. Designate points for every minute of exercise, or for the number of calories burned. Make the game as fair as possible. The super athletes should not be the only participants with a shot at winning. Points should be rewarded for effort too.

  • Monitoring

    Create a game board on a bulletin board in a prominent location in your facility to display members' current standings in the game. Design a game piece for each member. As they earn points, move the players' pieces across the board. Be sure to have your own record of each player's progress as well.

  • Rewards

    Rewards are motivators and help to create a sense of competition within your game. The effort of every participant should be rewarded with a small prize such as a certificate of achievement. The top prizes should appeal to your members and keep them coming back for more. Consider giving away free memberships to your center. This will encourage participants to continue at your facility.

  • Advertising

    Generate a sense of excitement about your upcoming activity. Inform members about the game well in advance. Post colorful flyers at the front desk and in the locker rooms and designate a bulletin board to display the rules of the game.

Incentive games have a positive effect on your members as well as your retention rate. Consider implementing one today.

Mary Kennedy is an exercise physiologist at the Be Well Tanger Center for Health Management in Boston. She can be reached by e-mail at maryakennedy@hotmail.com.