By Christine Allen for the Business Advocate
Gymnastics is a little like starting a business - you need be super flexible, have persistence to learn new skills and have the support of an awesome team.
For young Whangarei entrepreneur, Ashleigh McCaw, 26, creating a business from a passion for coaching gymnastics has allowed her to do the business back flips that she’s always dreamed of.
While she was in her final year at Kamo High School, and just 18 years old, she took part in the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme with some classmates and kick-started an idea that would soon turn into the business that now employs seven part-time coaches and teaches gymnastics, swimming and athletics to about 400 children from Dargaville to Waipu and across the district.
On Monday, Ashleigh and her team opened the Active Attitude headquarters on Commerce St, after running an outreach service for more than two years and having started with nothing more than her own skills and a humble van.
“I’ve always been a sporty kid and when I was 14, I started coaching gymnastics. I just had that passion for it,” she said.
After completing her final school year and a children’s aerobics DVD called Beat The Feet, she undertook the Northland Young Entrepreneur Programme during her gap year, where she built networks, solidified her passion and direction for the future and established the Active Attitude brand.
Leaving Northland to get a Bachelor of Sport and Leisure at Waikato University and further courses in all three codes, including coaching courses, was a necessary part of the journey.
“There wasn’t a huge range of options here [Northland]. I knew I would return home, that was all part of the plan.”
Once armed with a swag of qualifications, in 2012 she turned north and made her way home and bought a van and some gymnastics equipment. She started offering coaching to children in a number of communities at community halls and clubs.
“I was taking sport out to communities that didn’t have coaches or clubs. So many parents are too busy to volunteer to coach with clubs.
The communities love it - we have around 400 children training with us now.”
Ashleigh kept her business idea simple and overheads down. Starting with 50 children to coach with equipment in the back of a van.
“Time was the biggest challenge for me. I was a oneman band delivering classes, and had to do admin while I was just developing skills.
“Also, this type of gymnastics coaching coming to the community was a new concept. People were unsure about what equipment I could fit in my van.”
She said being a young business person had its challenges.
“You don’t have contacts at that age and are just going through it all, learning as you go.”
She said the region needed a networking group for young business people. But confidence in her own ability and a plan were the keys that unlocked potential.
“There’s no point worrying about what people who are older
than you perceive you to be. Have an end goal and stay positive and professional.”
By term two she had some part-time help. Two years later, the team and the service have grown.
Active Attitude is affiliated with GymSports New Zealand, which Ashleigh previously worked for, and the centre is training six others to coach children.
She said the programme allowed her to pay it forward. Her youngest coach was just 15 years old.
“We have a great team - its exciting and we are all following a vision.”
She said the service would continue to reach communities but she hoped the Whangarei base would also grow, with services provided on site. It will also be the home of the Active Attitude Aerobics Academy.
“I thought it would be a struggle to get the support from communities, but we didn’t. We are expanding because the communities, including teachers and schools, have supported us,” she said.
“Sport teaches us persistence because, in sport, the games don’t always go right.’’