Coach Your Class to Success

Use simple techniques to facilitate progress.

For many, the thought of a coach may conjure up the idea of a stern person wearing a whistle around his neck. This image, however, does not reflect the current coaching trend, which is growing to include members from many professional arenas. Coaches are trained to listen, observe and customize action plans. They elicit solutions and provide support to enhance preexisting skills, resources and creativity. For an athlete, having an effective coach can mean the difference between mediocrity and winning. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the same holds true for the group fitness participant?

Recognizable Skills

The interactive aptitude required of an instructor is evident in many coaching skills and core competencies, according to the International Coach Federation:

Active listening is the ability to focus on what the client is saying/not saying, to understand its meaning in the context of the client’s desires and to support the client’s self-expression.

Powerful questioning involves asking questions that reveal the information needed to maximize benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.

Direct communication uses language that has the greatest positive impact.

Creating awareness involves integrating and accurately evaluating multiple information sources, then making interpretations that lead to results.

Designing actions involves creating opportunities for ongoing learning and for new action steps that lead to agreed-on coaching results.

Planning and goal setting involve developing and maintaining an effective coaching plan.

Managing progress and accountability entail keeping attention on what is important and leaving action up to the client.

The following scenarios illustrate how these competencies can be quickly adapted to your group fitness classes.

Scenario One: Beginning Participant Not Comfortable in Class

Coaching Opportunity: You’re teaching your regular 5:15 PM class and you notice that someone at the back of the room looks uncomfortable. You finish your cool-down, and as you walk around the room, you stop to ask her if she would stay behind for a moment to chat.

Dana (instructor): How did you make out in class today? You looked somewhat uncomfortable. Would you like to discuss it?

Jane (participant): Well, I seemed to do okay, but this is my first time coming to your class and I’m not really sure if this is where I need to be.

Dana: What were you looking for in the class?

Jane: Well, I like this time slot and it works for me, but I seem to be farther behind than everyone else.

In the preceding dialogue, the instructor was actively listening to the participant, asking some powerful questions and communicating directly. She can now lead the participant to create awareness and find a solution, thereby designing positive actions with planning and goal setting.

Dana: What are some options you think might help you? Have you taken an introductory class before?

Jane: I remember there is an introductory class on the schedule. Maybe that’s an option, but . . .

Dana: Is there something else?

Jane: When I’m in the class, I find it hard to see your movements as I try to follow the routine. I really don’t want to be at the front because I’m very self-conscious. Do you have any ideas?

Dana: Well, occasionally I have experienced people set up their steps in front of less experienced participants. I know someone who would be willing to do this for you.

Jane: That sounds helpful.

Dana: It sounds to me as though you know exactly what you need to do.

Jane: That’s right. I can start by taking the beginner class for a couple of weeks and return to your class afterwards. I’ll let you know if I want someone to follow when I get back.

With Dana using powerful coaching questions, Jane developed a greater understanding and awareness. Jane actively chose a course of action to bring her closer to her goal of being comfortable in Dana’s class. Note that Jane made the decision; Dana didn’t impose it.

Two weeks later . . .

Dana: It’s great to see you. Is there anything I can do to ensure that you have a terrific class tonight?

Jane: I think I would feel more comfortable standing behind someone I can follow. As I said earlier, I sometimes have difficulty seeing the pattern.

Dana: I spoke to Jennifer last week and asked if she would be open to doing the step moves in front of you. She is very happy to assist you. I’m so excited that you’ve taken the time to work through these challenges.

Jane: Yes, I feel much more confident and want to thank you very much for taking the time to help me out.

By initiating a conversation on Jane’s return, Dana was able to reassess Jane’s state and provide positive feedback. Jane took responsibility for solving her problem and is now aware that she can approach Dana for further support in reaching her goals.

Scenario Two: Participant Needs Differ From Class Offering

Coaching Opportunity:You have observed Jane coming to your exercise class weekly, for many years. You recently noticed that she appears frustrated and tired when taking class. You decide to initiate a conversation with her to identify if there is a problem.

Dana: How are you doing in class these days?

Jane: I feel physically and emotionally exhausted. My work is so complicated and I am very stressed. I find it difficult just to get through class. I have been coming for more than 4 years and I’ve enjoyed it. However, I find that lately my body feels just as stressed after the class as it did before. I used to feel refreshed after a good workout.

Dana: You appear to be experiencing a lot of changes and stress in your life. It sounds like you’re running from one situation to another. Are you getting much rest and relaxation?

Jane: No. My company is merging with another and we’re taking over all its accounts and integrating many of its employees, which leads to a lot of uncertainty. I’m not sleeping, and I don’t have any time to relax. I seem to be going so flat out. I feel I don’t have time to think, rest or even breathe.

Dana: Have you had a look at the class schedule lately? I know you have been coming to my class for 4 years. Let’s go over and look at it right now and see if there are other options for you.

Jane: I see what you’re getting at. Maybe taking some other classes will help. I’m so stuck in a groove of doing the same things week after week that I’ve never even looked at the schedule. There is a relaxation class after your class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In fact, you’re actually teaching that class.

Dana: I am. Do you feel you might benefit from a relaxation class?

Jane: I’m always rushing to get to the 6:15 PM class. If I come for the 7:15 PM relaxation class, then I would not have to rush. I want to start your relaxation class on Thursday.

Dana noticed that something was amiss with one of her regular students. She asked powerful questions about Jane’s problem. Jane had been so weary that she had not taken time to assess her situation. With direct communication she was able to recognize that she needed to make some changes. Once Dana asked strategic questions, Jane developed the insight she needed. She could then set attainable goals and move toward a positive solution.

Scenario Three: Participant Frustrated by Lack of Weight Loss

John has recently approached Dana regarding his lack of weight loss. He is concerned the class he is taking is not intense enough. He has been going to the gym regularly for approximately 3 months and feels that he hasn’t made any progress in reaching his desired goals.

John: I’m becoming very frustrated with trying to lose weight. I’ve been coming diligently every week since I joined. I feel I am not making any progress at all.

Dana: I understand this is a concern, because of our discussion following the last class. Are you familiar with our dietitian’s expertise?

John: Yes, I know you have a dietitian on staff, but I’ve always felt I could lose weight just by doing cardio classes regularly.

Dana: You’re on the right track with the cardio classes, but many factors affect weight loss. I can introduce you to Mary, our staff dietitian. She has a lot of experience developing weight loss goals and plans for people.

John: I think I will take you up on the offer to meet her. When will that be?

Dana: I’ve just noticed her over at the main desk. Let me introduce you to her right now.

The benefits of this client’s interaction with a dietitian will become obvious over the next several weeks as John learns how to integrate the dietary information provided by a qualified professional. John will likely be able to meet his weight loss goal thanks to Dana’s coaching techniques, which increased his awareness of how dietary measures can impact weight loss.

Me, a Coach?

As a fitness instructor, you may find coaching a great way to help a participant move toward a goal without overstepping your professional boundaries, thus staying within your scope of practice. When coaching, I always follow the acronym WAIT (Why am I talking?). The situation is about the participant reaching her goal. Coaching’s focus is always on the client’s self-discovery. The participant should leave the interaction with a greater feeling of self-esteem and self-respect. She has worked through a challenge and appreciates the instructor “holding a space” while she figures things out.

Teaching group fitness is about empowering your participants to reach their goals and unlock their potential. By incorporating simple yet powerful coaching techniques, you facilitate personal growth, self-discovery and responsibility for health and well-being.

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Dana M. Marcon

IDEA Author/Presenter
May 2003

© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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