Louise Nicholson set up Little Superstars Sports Club after realising that most young children were channelled into football without having the chance to try out other sports. Now she is franchising her business across the UK. Workingmums.co,uk spoke to her.
Louise Nicholson was working as a dog handler in the prison service, but after her second child was born she realised there was a dearth of sports sessions for young children which focused on fun.
She had taken her oldest son to football sessions for toddlers and her husband, a PE teacher, was appalled at the way they were taught. “They were putting too much pressure on the children,” says Louise. “It was too serious. There was no fun.”
She decided to do something about it. Before becoming a dog handler, Louise had worked at Belmarsh prison as a sports instructor in the high security wing, doing volleyball with IRA prisoners on remand. “The prison was looking for things to do to keep them busy and for many it was the highlight of their day. It took their mind off their situation.”
Her experience had given her a taste for the benefits of sport. She decided to set up a sports club – Little Superstars Sports Club – aimed at children up to the age of six which would offer them a range of sports to try out and would emphasise fun. Louise says she sees a lot of boys in particular who are forced into football because that is all that is offered to them. When they get to the age of eight or nine and are not picked for the top team they lose motivation, but by then, she says, they are afraid to start a new sport that they might have to learn from scratch.
Louise says it is vital to give children a good start in sport and to give them the skills they need to have a wide range of choices and stay motivated. “Sport teaches them so many life skills,”she says. “It improves self esteeem. It teaches them team skills and to stick at something.”
It is also important for combatting childhood obesity and Little Superstars is linked to the Government’s Change for Life programme.
Little Superstars offers after school clubs, holiday clubs, nursery sessions and sports parties. Children who show an interest in a particular sport are put in touch with local sports clubs. Louise is thinking of starting up a clubs page on her website to give more detailed information of what is available locally.
When she started Little Superstars, she only offered a few sports, but she is continually incorporating new activities, like cheerleading and dance sessions. The sessions are lively with children running up and down a hall, for instance, looking for bean bags.
Little Superstars also runs fitness sessions in 45 preschools and nurseries which are geared around the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.
Louise now has four different holiday club sites in her area, all with 100 kids a day. They do activities like hide and seek in the woods. “It’s very physically active,” she says. She hopes to increase this to six or seven sites this summer. She says demand is growing. Partly this is because other holiday and after-school clubs tend to do more than just sport and have to be Ofsted-registered which pushes up their costs.
Louise, whose children are now aged five and eight, employs PE and dance students and qualified sports instructors to teach some of the sessions and focuses her attention on marketing and business development. She gave up her dog handling job a long time ago and says she now has a turnover of around £200,000 a year.
The potential of the clubs was clear early on, she says. After the first year she began thinking of franchising the business, but she only really set the wheels in motion in earnest in the last few months. Potential franchisees are offered a pack of information about the business and invited to an open day. Louise takes them to a setting to show them how it works. “I’m happy to go to somewhere we haven’t been before,” she says. “I’m that confident that the majority of children will join in,” she says.
Franchisees pay £5.5k for equipment for 14 different sports. The money they spend is broken down into three packages. The first package costs £5K and includes the franchise, initial training, marketing advice and a website page. The second costs £2K for the rest of the sports equipment and the parties package, but they do not have to pay this until four months later. The third package is optional and costs £2K. It covers the holiday clubs and after schools clubs.
Louise says the main qualifications franchisees need is to be able to show children how to do the sports correctly, to be reasonably outgoing and not too self-conscious and to have a natural rapport with children.
Franchisees can decide what hours they work. For instance, some might like to work term time only. Louise calculates that if a franchisees offers 15 sessions in nurseries a week they can earn between £375 and £400 a week.
“You don’t have to know lots about sports,” she says. “We can teach that.”
*Look out for Little Superstars at Workingmums LIVE in London on 27 March.