Coach to Win

by Donna Meyer on Jun 01, 2001

Winning teams have a common factor: a fantastic coach who can bring out the best in each player.

How do you make your programs successful? Approach the challenge as you would a game. When you play a game, you want your team to win, right? Winning the game as a program director means creating a great staff and offering classes that meet the current and future needs of members. To do this, you need to bring out the best in each player on your teaching team.

Communicate Your Game Plan

A team cannot succeed if the coach doesn’t fill the players in on the game plan. So a good coach always lets team members know what is going on and how it will affect them.

As a program manager, you need to be a great communicator. Amanda McNutty, a group exercise instructor from Reno, Nevada, explains, “Good group exercise managers have good people skills, not just good computer skills.”

Coaches do not just send team members e-mails and memos. They show up at practices and games. They “get in the face” of a player if necessary. If at all possible, regularly attend your instructors’ classes; call them to let them know they are appreciated; when you see them, make a point of asking how their lives are going.

Provide Quality Equipment and Training

No coach would ever expect his or her team to practice or play a game without the proper equipment. Pay attention to the details of your environment. A dirty stereo area, old batteries in the microphones, and mirrors with more streaks than a truck’s bug-filled grill indicate a lack of pride.

Make sure you are in top form too. If your staff sees you frantically running around with “Stress” written on your forehead, they will know you are not on top of things. A team has a tough time winning with a frazzled coach. If you find yourself spiraling out of control, identify your “assistant coaches” and ask for help. For example, to relieve some of the anxiety of training new hires, ask experienced instructors to work with novices to help them improve their technical expertise and develop their people skills.

Make Calls That Will Win the Game

Recently, my husband and I were discussing a difficult staffing decision one of my associates was struggling with. My husband suggested, “Tell her that the idea is to win the game, not score a touchdown on every play.” Sometimes, to win the game, you have to make some tough calls. Patti Jasinski, program director at Gainey Village Health Club & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, can still recall the day she made some changes in her prime-time classes to give members an opportunity to sample a new program. The members revolted. They created petitions. They wanted her fired. But in the end, that new program became the most popular class on the schedule. Like Jasinski, you may need to make some tough calls about your program. That’s okay, as long as they help you win the game. (The program Jasinski introduced? Step!)

Believe in Your Team

Being a winning team has something to do with the players’ skills, but everything to do with coaching. When you became a program manager, you accepted the unselfish role of coach-mentor. Your job is recognizing talent in your team members and placing them in the right positions to succeed. Perhaps you have an instructor who is uncomfortable teaching highly choreographed class formats, but would star as the leader of an indoor cycle program or a “boot camp.” Your job is recognizing that instructor’s skills and steering him or her into the right area.

To bring out the best in your staff, do what great coaches do: Focus on the fundamentals. Let your team members know you expect them to practice their skills. Make sure they constantly work on the day-to-day plays.

Balance this emphasis on continuous improvement with continuous faith in your players. You have to believe in your team more than you believe in yourself.

Be a Leader

If you want your staff to follow the rules, first make certain they know what those rules are. You have every right to expect them to continue their education, keep their certifications current, arrive on time and prepared for classes and assist with room and equipment maintenance. But make sure they know what you expect of them—and then set an example by following the rules yourself.

At the same time, don’t become a rule monger. To avoid alienating your staff, make certain your communication technique is not focused solely on rules.

Play Fair

Great coaches do not build a team around one or two players. They know that every position on the team is necessary for success.

Suya Colorado-Caldwell, western regional group exercise director for Bally Total Fitness, is firm when she tells her staff, “I will not treat my instructors differently. Who . . . is the most important instructor? The favorite instructor of the members? The instructor who supports club events and activities? The one who is always willing to substitute at the last minute?”

Treating staff members equally is one of the greatest challenges for a manager. Here is a coaching tip: Treat your top instructors as “Most Valuable Players.” In sports, MVPs might receive additional compensation or extra media attention. But an effective coach insists that even MVPs attend practices and are “good sports”—both on the team and in the public eye.

Your all-star instructors should be expected to follow the same rules as the rest of your team. They need to attend meetings and support your programming and scheduling decisions. Colorado-Caldwell advises, “Compensate them, ask them for their ideas and opinions, and recognize and honor their abilities. Give them respect— not favoritism.” You can’t build a unified team of instructors when you play favorites.

Motivate Your Team

Pat Riley, head coach of the Miami Heat professional basketball team, once said, “I spend most of my time thinking what will motivate players.”

How can you motivate your team members? Try praise. As Imad Askar, group exercise supervisor for Balboa 24 Hour Fitness in San Diego states, “A happy place is where a manager praises you for your work—in front of others. Everyone needs to be encouraged to remain motivated.” Recognizing your instructors’ contributions will boost their confidence and performance.

Fast-paced, productive meetings that are energetic and fun are another way to motivate players. A good coach never wastes a practice or training session.

Your expectations for your team’s performance will facilitate its success. Put your players in a position to win, and they will follow you anywhere.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 13, Issue 4

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About the Author

Donna Meyer

Donna Meyer IDEA Author/Presenter

Donna Meyer is corporate director of group exercise for 24 Hour Fitness in the United States. She was named the 2000 IDEA Program Director of the Year.