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Meeting Future Needs

Kris Thomas, group exercise coordinator at Rochester Athletic Club, talks about how her in-house program prepares trainees for the “big time.”

Kris Thomas knows group exercise, as she’s been involved with it in one form or another for 22 years. She brings a strong background in dance and movement,
along with her management skills. Thomas, who is the group exercise coordinator at Rochester Athletic Club (RAC) in Rochester, Minnesota, helped the facility get up and running in 1993 with
a solid program. Now, in partnership
with group exercise director Jane Hein, Thomas oversees a thriving department. Still, she sees the value in training for the future. RAC has a private mentorship course that works in consort with an in-house training program. Thomas shares her insight and expertise on how to ensure members have a good group experience for the long term.

Was your program created out of need or was it more entrepreneurial? What have been the biggest challenges?

Our New Instructor Training Program (N.I.T.P.) is more entrepreneurial in that we saw gaps coming up in our teaching schedule and wanted to be prepared for possible future instructor shortages. There really haven’t been any big challenges. I can say that one obstacle I have encountered is finding the best times for all the trainees to meet. We give them a 3-month time period [during which] the training session will be held, and they send us back dates that will not work for them. I try my best to make sure I don’t schedule trainings during times when people can’t make it.

How/where do you recruit people for your program? What qualifications do they need to have?

We recruit primarily from word of mouth. We ask current instructors to keep their eyes open in classes for potential teachers. We also put information in our monthly member newsletter stating when our next N.I.T.P. will be held and what it includes. The trainees do not have to have any specific qualifications to enter our program.

Do you offer some type of
compensation for mentorees? What about mentors?

We charge a fee to participate in our program. Mentors do get paid for their time. The mentoring includes class demos and team-teaching time. I ask mentors to give me feedback, as well as offer constructive criticism and feedback to trainees.

Do you require some sort of
financial or time commitment from mentorees? What about exclusivity or long-term loyalty?

We do take a look at the trainees’ attendance in our program (with an eye
toward future hiring). Obviously, if a trainee does not make it to the majority of our training sessions, that is not a good sign for future dependability.

Our training program is approximately 36 hours, broken down into 12 training times/sessions. We charge $250 for N.I.T.P. No one is guaranteed a position. We hold an audition at completion and, at that point, we look to see who is a good fit for our program.

If a trainee is hired, she is reimbursed the training fee over a 3-year period as long as she continues to teach at the RAC. She receives $75 after the first year of instruction, $75 after the second year and the remaining $100 after the third year.

Once mentorees finish their
internship, are they promised a job or is the mentoring separate from the hiring process?

The hiring process is separate. Trainees are not promised a job. If an instructor is interested in training for a new class format, she first meets with the lead of that program to get all the details and appropriate training information. They meet one or two times to make sure they have covered all the information and training needed. Once that is complete, the trainee teaches a demo class for the lead. If the lead feels the trainee is ready to begin team teaching, he or she schedules three team-taught classes (first half of a class, second half of a class and a full class).

Team teaching allows members to slowly get introduced to the new instructor. It allows the new instructor to focus on smaller portions of the class, which helps make her feel successful and comfortable. It also allows the new instructor to receive feedback from the team instructor. This is a great way to learn and receive constructive feedback.

The lead instructor attends the third and final class to make sure the training instructor is ready to “fly solo.” If the trainee is not ready, the lead schedules more team-taught classes or the trainee works on the class format solo [until] she feels ready to come back to the lead.

The lead team teacher and the program lead are paid for their time. The training instructor is paid minimum wage.

If your mentoring program
focuses mainly on new instructors, is there a component that focuses on class design, prechoreographed programs and specialty certifications/instruction?

Yes. Our training program basically includes the following topics:

  • introduction/program design
  • the value of group exercise
  • class components
  • musical phrasing
  • warm-ups/stretching
  • building combos
  • first impressions/confidence
  • cuing and voice projection
  • microphone/sound system procedures
  • heart rate information
  • sculpting/muscle work
  • pre-class organization
  • feedback and class corrections
  • theme classes
  • cool-downs/stretching
  • special populations—seniors and pregnancy
  • building relationships with staff and members
  • certification information
  • class demos taught by staff
  • 2-hour anatomy review
  • certification exam through the RAC (in-house)

Are mentorees required to learn how to teach specific types of classes, or do they choose solely on personal preferences?

It depends on the needs of our programs. If we have areas of need, we recommend those areas to our trainees.

Do you offer help (financial or otherwise) with certification training? Why or why not?

In the past (prior to our program), we did reimburse for certification. Now that we conduct our own program, we feel very strongly that it includes all the areas important for instructors; therefore, we no longer reimburse for outside certification. However, we do reimburse
instructors up to $100 per year for continuing education classes, and they can use that $100 toward their certification fees if they want to.

How do members benefit from your club-based program?

Members benefit from the outcome itself. We end up with top-notch instructors who custom-fit the needs of our program and members.

What advice can you offer for other group exercise managers who are thinking about starting a mentorship program?

I strongly believe in a mentorship/
training program. It allows you to mold trainees into high-quality instructors who meet your needs. It’s a great way to satisfy your members’ needs and to plan ahead and prepare for your future staffing needs. It also allows your entire team to offer input. This, in turn, guarantees a successful program!

Read this column every issue to find out how universities and fitness facility mentorship programs are bridging the gap between “veteran” instructors and “newbies,” group fitness professionals who are just getting started. Learn what you can do to help support and foster continuing and robust growth in this important area of health and wellness.

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