Top 10 Traits of Group Exercise MVPs

by Shannon Fable on Sep 07, 2012


Inspire your staff to rise above mundane expectations and shine.

In many sports the Most Valuable Player, or MVP, award is one of the most coveted. MVPs are chosen for creating big plays or big numbers. It may not be as easy to choose the MVPs among your group exercise instructors. First, there are no winners or losers in group exercise; ideally, we’re all trying to do the same thing. So figuring out who’s contributing the most is tough. You’d need to watch team members over a season or a series and monitor their “stats.” As manager, you’re lucky if you see your instructors once a week, and there’s probably no way to monitor every action. If you try to boil the contribution down to numbers, you might create a team focused less on winning and more on trying to impress you with their individually packed classes. Quite the predicament!

It’s time to change the score card and think more broadly about what you value in employees. An MVP needs to be more than simply the best instructor. MVPs must contribute to the department, the facility and the organization—not just to the participants in their own classes. Your vision of an MVP shapes your team’s culture and, subsequently, your program. Define what you believe are MVP qualities, hire instructors who showcase MVP-like attributes, and cultivate these qualities in your employees. Then hang on to those who achieve MVP status.

What to Look For

Keep this checklist handy when scouting, interviewing, auditioning and hiring.

  1. Talented, yet teachable. All managers want talented instructors who can step into a room and rock the regulars. But at some point, you’ll introduce new formats or you’ll need help with new programs. If your most talented instructors have no interest in learning, you’ll be up a creek! MVPs know how to teach, and they also understand how to be students. Continuing education is important not just for the sake of a successful program, but also to help keep the “empathy gene” on high alert so that a wide variety of participants are taken care of.
  2. Confident, yet humble. Obviously, someone who can command a crowd and take charge of a room is an MVP. However, a confident instructor can sometimes turn into your LVP (least valuable player). While instructors need to be confident, they also need to be humble and respect their managers, co-workers and class participants. Every person in the studio made a choice to show up at that particular time, thus providing a platform for instructors to do what they love. Isn’t this a humbling thought? Shouldn’t we show gratitude for the people who provide us an opportunity to live out our dream? Also look for instructors who are thankful for the work you do and are respectful of your time and energy.
  3. Unique, yet similar. When you build your team, find instructors who suit the needs of different participants. Everyone has particular tastes, and some people will not respond to even the most popular instructor. As an example, think of the items on the menu board at Starbucks. All the drinks have a theme (caffeine-inspired), but different drinks appeal to different customers. The same holds true for group fitness instructors. Select employees based on their values and character versus circumstance. Seek out unique talents, quirks and abilities to put together the perfect roster—so there’s something on the “menu” for each group exercise participant.
  4. Creative, yet compliant. You want teachers who think outside the box. At the same time, you don’t want them to be so creative that the rules fly out the window. Whether teaching is a hobby for your instructors or is their full-time career, you have a department to run. Each instructor must understand the need to stay engaged and to comply with policies and procedures. Reward creative solutions, but also reward adherence.
  5. A leader, yet a follower. Instructors are leaders. Hire and incentivize instructors to take on this expanded role and to teach for more than the ego stroke. Remind them that people look to them for motivation, education and information, in addition to a great class. Find ways to enhance their leadership skills. At the same time, they need to be able to follow: they need to appreciate who’s driving the bus (you), and they need to be willing to sit in their assigned seats while loving—or at least appreciating—every minute of the journey.
  6. Seasoned, yet yearning. It’s not always possible to be a seasoned veteran. Instructors have to start somewhere, and it may make sense to take a chance on a newbie every once and a while. Experience is a plus, of course. Consistency is also important. MVPs show up regularly to get to know the programs, people and protocols of the facility they’ve joined. But sometimes veterans decide that resting on their laurels is good enough, so it’s equally important for you to value instructors who are hungry. Build a team that yearns for more knowledge and expertise. The industry is ever-changing, and instructors who continually “up” their game are keepers.
  7. Visionary, yet aligned. Hire people who think as big as you do, if not bigger. The more ideas the better when it comes to keeping your program fresh. Still, make sure those big thinkers are also capable of standing behind your decisions and the facility’s decisions. Your team may not always be 100% behind every choice you make, but they must understand that they work for you, the members and the organization. When interacting with members, MVPs communicate from the club’s perspective, and they serve as positive liaisons even if they don’t agree wholeheartedly with a decision, concept or change.
  8. Structured, yet adaptable. MVPs know how to keep track of everything you throw at them. Instructors who are always in the know, show up when they’re supposed to and remain predictable with their schedules make your life easier. Sometimes, however, structured folks may be annoyed by the ever-changing world of group fitness. Therefore, it’s equally important to value and incentivize adaptability.
  9. Entrepreneurial, yet company-focused. Instructors who understand the business of fitness are invaluable! Look for people who know how group fitness contributes to the organization’s financial viability. Your star instructors will relate to the power of marketing beyond self-promotion. MVPs use their star power to raise the profile of the facility; they market their club, their fellow instructors, the other departments and the organization’s campaigns.
  10. Independent, yet group-oriented. Last, and probably most important: MVPs can take the ball and run with it. Of course, you need to do a thorough job of on-boarding and explaining expectations. But once the training period is complete, MVPs work independently. They find their own subs, show up for classes and stay on top of communications. The group fitness position is fairly isolated. Foster ongoing engagement to support team development.
  11. What You Stand to Gain

    MVPs are not born—they are made. Some of your instructors may already be well on their way to MVP status. It’s more likely, though, that you will have to set the stage for MVPs to shine. Start by clearly articulating MVP traits, and then reward those traits when your instructors show them. Make it known when people meet or beat your expectations. Create a celebratory community where MVPs thrive. It may take time and effort, but developing a team of MVPs will provide an enormous return on your investment.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 24, Issue 5

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable IDEA Author/Presenter

Shannon Fable, Top 3 Finalist for 2009 & 2012 IDEA Instructor of the Year and 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, is the founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources, a fitness consulting ...


  • Log In to Comment
  • Shannon Fable

    Thanks, Heidi!
    Commented Nov 04, 2012
  • Heidi Bodenheimer

    Thanks for this simple, yet thorough list! It will definitely come in handy as I not only look for my MVP's, but also as I complete my instructor evaluations! Thanks Shannon!
    Commented Oct 30, 2012
  • Shannon Fable

    Thanks, Nicholle. Glad there folks that agree and nurture these traits in instructors :-)
    Commented Oct 18, 2012
  • Nicholle Bankston

    Fab, comprehensive list that showcases the invaluable skill set of the industry's most effective instructors. As a manager, I've found that the integration of seemingly contradictive traits is essential for instructors to be successful (confident and skillful yet empathetic and willing to learn, leadership-oriented yet a team player, and so forth). Thanks Shannon!
    Commented Oct 09, 2012

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