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Group X Instructors: Finders, Keepers

Wendy Jett earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in therapeutic recreation. She has been teaching group fitness classes for 19 years and holds various fitness-related certifications. She has served as the corporate group fitness director for Global Fitness Holdings/Gold's Gym since 2000. She previously served as the group fitness director for Shapes Fitness Centers in Lexington, KY, for five years.

Don’t let anyone fool you—instructors are the group fitness program. Your instructors’ attitudes, work ethic, demeanor and appearance create the canvas for the classes you present. Instructors can make or break your program, so choosing, developing and taking care of your instructors is extremely important.

Also, integrity is a must for any director. A director must have high expectations for everyone, treat each instructor with respect and hold everyone to the same rules and regulations.

Instructors arrive in one of two ways. They will either be members who love the program and want to become a part of it or instructors from other local clubs, gyms, etc., that are seeking additional opportunities. Which is better? There are pros and cons for both.

An instructor who moves from member status to the instructor status enters the program with a knowledge of how things are done and what the overall dynamics of the program are like. They may, however, lack the actual skills in teaching group fitness. Time will have to be spent training, evaluating and overseeing this instructor.

The instructor who enters the program with teaching experience may have wonderful instructional skills but will have to be initiated into the way you direct the program and the expectations you may have. They may bring with them a poor attitude created by a misguided director in the past or a poorly run program. (That is why developing a good instructor begins before even hiring someone.)

Instructors have often called asking about class openings, stating how they want to teach in our club, yet they have never attended a class there or even visited the gym. My first response to them is, “How do you know you want to be part of this program if you don’t know what the program is about or how we teach?” I follow that statement with, “I would be happy to give you a two-week pass for you to attend classes, talk to the members, talk with the instructors and ask them how they like working at our club and with me. Then after your pass expires, call, and we can set up an appointment for an audition.”

Many times, the instructor has refused the pass, stating that they don’t have time to do that. Chances are, if the instructor does not want to take the time to check out the program, they will probably not have the dedication that is expected. (I am certain that sticking with this procedure has saved me countless hours of meeting with and auditioning instructors who do not possess the desire and dedication I was looking for.)

Most people can be taught the specific instructional skills to lead a group fitness class. But rarely can a director teach that person to be responsible, dedicated, conscientious and humble. Those are attributes that are either there or aren’t, so choose your instructors wisely. Keep in mind you are building a team, not just filling spaces in an empty schedule.

It is not uncommon for fitness instructors to develop a large ego, whether or not they arrived at your door with one intact. People, hopefully large groups of people, show up to take their class and stay afterward to tell them how great they are. It is easy to let this go to your head. As a director, it is your responsibility to keep both feet of every instructor planted firmly on the ground. This will create an atmosphere of camaraderie, not competition. (A supportive, encouraging work atmosphere is imperative for instructor retention.)

One easy way to keep the Ego-beast from rearing its ugly head is to encourage each instructor to learn to teach something new on a yearly basis. An outstanding step instructor may be an average cycling instructor, but the learning process will make them a better instructor in every style class they teach and will help keep them grounded as they become a student once again. Team teaching will also help to develop the camaraderie among the staff. Instructors who share the spotlight with each other learn to respect and support one another.

Directors who take time to find quality instructors with good attitudes will reap the rewards of full classes, happy members and a successful instructor team. What better way to retain instructors than to set them up to be successful and fill their studios with happy members.

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