Skills & Drills
Focus on your strengths instead of trying to be all things to all students.
You look across the hall at Popular Instructor’s class and marvel at how she packs the house day after day, week after week. You’ve studied her style and tried your best to emulate her music, cuing, choreography—even the way she dresses—but your numbers are shrinking instead of growing. What are you doing wrong?
There are many reasons people come to your class, but number one on the list is you. Think about it: You are a leader, a motivator, an educator and a role model. If you try to be someone other than yourself, it’s like teaching a high-impact class in a pair of shoes that are five sizes too big. You fall flat on your face.
The best way to clinch your coaching style and shine like the star you are is to capitalize on your personal strengths and neutralize your weaknesses.
Find Your Coaching Style
To get started on the path to professional authenticity, first see which of these coaching personas rings most true to you:
The Drill Sergeant: You expect a lot from your classes and you’re not afraid to let people know when they’re coming up short. Your cues are short and to the point, and you call out individuals who need to work harder. Praise is rare and must be earned.
Your strength: tough love
Your loyal followers are “people pleasers” who like to meet high expectations.
The Mentor: You know everyone’s name, who’s training for an event, who’s injured and who has a reunion coming up. People seek you out for advice, and you often find yourself talking in the locker room an hour after class.
Your strength: interpersonal relationships
Your loyal followers are people who love attention.
The Cheerleader: You bounce into the gym and infect every class with energy and positivity. You believe a can-do attitude can overcome any obstacle.
Your strength: optimism
Your loyal followers drag themselves into class and rely on you to wake them up and light a fire beneath them.
The Academic: You’re a voracious reader who is up to date on the science behind the workout, and you love educating the masses. You provide a reason-based approach, believing people will perform better if they know why and how they are working so hard.
Your strength: curiosity
Your loyal followers love to be “in the know.”
The Zen Master: When you enter the room, everything calms down. Your voice is measured and even. You ease into the workout and launch an intense and strategic “sneak attack.” The result: People work harder than they thought they could.
Your strength: mental clarity
Your loyal followers use exercise as an escape from their harried lives.
We all have talents that develop early in life, explain Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Gallup 2000). These talents are deeply ingrained in our personalities during childhood and cannot be learned. You can’t teach someone to be high-energy, organized, calming, outgoing or able to forge strong relationships quickly. This explains why some things are impossibly difficult for some people and easy for others.
Should a Cheerleader try to be more Zen? Should a Mentor study so she can answer questions with data and empirical evidence the way an Academic would? Either of these strategies would crash and burn, waste time and leave a scar of failure. It’s better to spend your time developing your talents.
Identify Your Talents
The Greek aphorism “Know thyself” is easier said than done. Even if you see yourself in one of the coaching styles just described, you may not have a solid picture of your unique strengths. To discover your talents, do an inventory:
1. Yearnings. What were you drawn to or repelled by as a child?
2. Rapid learning. Is there a certain type of skill you were able to learn quickly and easily?
3. Satisfaction. Can you recall activities that made you feel you were “in the zone”? One sign that you’re using a talent during an activity is that you feel good doing it.
Do you feel deeply when you encounter the struggle of others? Empathy is your talent. Do you go out of your way to make sure no one ever feels left out? You have a talent for inclusiveness. Do people ask you to do things because they know you’ll always follow through? You’re talented in responsibility. If you plan a dinner party, does the guest list balloon from two couples to 50 friends? You are a maximizer.
If your talents don’t spring straight to mind, there are many strength-finding resources available for you to use. In a follow-up book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Gallup 2001), Buckingham teamed up with Donald Clifton to break down 34 different talents. Gallup Strengths Center provides an assessment that will help you determine your top five strengths for $15 (www.gallupstrengthscenter.com).
Discover Who You Are
You may be getting an idea of what your strong talents are. Now break down the why, how and who that make you you.
Why is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It might be competition, altruism, the desire to be liked, or striving for technical competence. This is a deep desire that never fails to light a fire under your feet.
How is the way you think and make decisions. Do you tend to be focused, or are you open to many options? Do you love surprises or structure? Are you disciplined? Do you always have a strategy?
Who is all about relationships. Do you extend trust easily, or are you slow to let others in? Do you avoid confrontation or welcome it? Do you love to win over strangers, or do you prefer the company of close friends?
The first things that pop into your mind as you think about your why, how and who are probably strong traits. Take inventory each day, noting the traits that appear when you interact with other people and deal with challenges. After a few weeks of monitoring your thoughts and reactions, you’ll develop a more complete picture of what makes you unique.
Neutralize Your Weaknesses
“Don’t call it a weakness; call it a non-talent,” say Buckingham and Coffman. This takes away the fear and redefines weakness as simply an area in which a person does not excel as much as others do. There is no need to waste time trying to build your nontalents into strengths; instead, invest your energy in figuring out how to make them nonissues.
Retrain. Ask yourself if education can help in the areas where you’re performing poorly. If so, this is the easiest fix! Find the class or certification that will bring you up to speed.
Devise a support system. If you were losing your hearing, you wouldn’t go home every night and work on hearing better; you’d buy a hearing aid. Similarly, you can devise a system to work around many nontalents. For example, are you a Mentor who just can’t remember names? Make a file on your phone, and record a few notes right after you meet someone new. Are you a Cheerleader who gets caught up in the moment and always ends class late? Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to start cooling down. Are you a Drill Sergeant who struggles to take it down a notch for your yoga class? Rebrand your class with an intense-sounding name like “Hyper-Flow” so everyone who walks in the door knows what to expect.
Find a partner. Ben has Jerry. You might need a buddy too. Do you want to do a boot camp class on the beach but find self-promotion terrifying? Trade with someone who specializes in public relations. Would you like to train young athletes, but you have no talent for sports yourself? Find a coach who needs a conditioning assistant.
Maximize Your Talents
Once you know your strengths, use them to clinch your coaching style.
Drill Sergeant: If your class has a military feel already, make it a full military “academy.” Bring a whistle to class, initiate new participants, and do team-building exercises. Stress that everyone in the room is in it together and that finishing strong as a unit is an accomplishment.
Mentor: If you love being a mentor, you love connecting with people and helping them. Set up a blog, publish a newsletter, or utilize social media to issue class challenges, address pertinent topics, and allow participants to connect with and help one another.
Cheerleader: Can your already-peppy class become more high-energy? It can with extra attention to cuing. Listen to motivational speakers, seek out new languages, take other classes, and study cues that work. By rewriting your classroom script, you’ll elevate your students’ performance.
Academic: You love the why and how, so design your class in a phasic approach where each workout builds on the next with a specific purpose in mind. Create a 3-month plan with an end goal, and encourage participants to commit to the program. If you have a talent for speaking, you might also host educational events.
Zen Master: Capitalize on your cool approach and bring mindfulness to every movement, no matter what you teach. Remind students that the mind is the most powerful muscle in the body and coach them on how to use it during the workout and beyond. Teach meditations to ease symptoms during flu season or soothe anxiety before a competitive event. Practice in class, and then leave participants with mental homework for the road.
If you’re using your talents, work will not feel like work! Group fitness instructors are experts at creating an environment where people are motivated to make changes, but it’s not always easy to change ourselves. Make small changes designed to enhance your talents; this will help you to shine and become the best version of you possible!