The Mentor Experience

by Alexandra Williams, MA on Feb 01, 2005

Information and support are key when preparing the next generation of instructors.

Teaching group fitness is a labor of love for many instructors. A desire to share that feeling is what motivates them to tutor others. “I find it extremely rewarding to mentor,” says fitness consultant and Reebok global master trainer Fred Hoffman, MEd, who’s based in Paris. “What a pleasure it is to take someone under my wing and share my knowledge and skills.”

There are many reasons to mentor, both personally and professionally. Marina Aagaard, head of fitness education at the Danish Academy of Coaching in Aalborg, Denmark, is internally motivated to pass on her 20 years of experience. “I would’ve liked to have had a mentor when I started out,” she says. Danell Dripps, group fitness director at Hawthorn Farm Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon, speaks to the professional aspect: “I mentor to find talent and bring on new staff. I have six instructors I recruited from the membership base.” Ken Baldwin, a fitness presenter and consultant in Brisbane, Australia, mentors to fill in the gaps. “A lot of the courses today cover only the basics,” he says. “New instructors come to me with good knowledge of theory, but they need help with the practical applications.”

Mentoring is catching on out of necessity and perhaps a little obligation. As the fitness industry continues to grow, experienced instructors give their skills, desire, commitment and time to help new teachers make a smooth transition into full competency. Read on to find out how other fitness professionals create a positive mentor experience by offering sound information and unyielding support.

A Mentor’s Responsibilities

Bringing up a new instructor carries with it a certain amount of accountability. In addition to being experienced enough to have earned respect, a mentor must be adept at cuing and breakdown, musical phrasing, movement patterns and exercise selection. She must be aware of member expectations and able to teach to multiple levels in one class. Practical knowledge, such as knowing how to use the stereo and microphone, is also very important. New instructors ask a lot of questions, so the mentor needs to know about the body and how it functions (or know where to get the answers).

Whether the process is formal or informal, paid or volunteer, time consuming or not, the mentor has some responsibilities that are consistent across the industry. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • offering feedback that’s specific, achievable and related to research and best practices
  • showing up to training sessions prepared and on time
  • keeping management apprised of the trainee’s progress
  • supporting and sponsoring the new instructor to members
  • being honest about progress and challenges
  • preparing the apprentice to have realistic expectations and goals
  • being kind and recalling what it was like to be new
  • giving adequate training and preparation

In short, a mentor should have high standards and reasonable expectations so that the new instructor can successfully get past the first few stressful teaching experiences.

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About the Author

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Alexandra Williams, MA, is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal and co-owner of the Fun & Fit blog, column and radio show with her twin sister. Certified since 1986, Alexandra currently teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and for Spectrum Clubs. She loves to write, emcee and edit, especially in a humorous fashion. She can be reached at