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Recruit Staff Like the NCAA

Learn from college football recruiters about how to hire group fitness staff.

When college football recruiters started taking an interest in my son’s skills on the gridiron, I came to a useful realization: When it comes to attracting talent and developing winning teams, head coaches and group fitness directors have a lot of parallel priorities.

Just like football coaches, we—as group fitness directors—need to anticipate our staffing needs for years down the road. We have to keep a sharp eye out for instructors who can strengthen our team and excite our fans. And once recruits join the team, we have to nurture their talents and develop their skills.

If you’re a group fitness director looking for fresh ideas about hiring talented instructors, you’ll find plenty of guidance in the recruiting tactics of college football coaches. Here’s what I learned when my son’s high-school performance caught the eye of those coaches.

Recruiting Never Stops

College football recruiting does not happen at the last minute when a roster space opens up. It’s never as simple as asking volunteers, “Who wants to play ball?” Coaches recruit year-round for all positions—even if they do not need to fill a particular slot at the moment. They follow a meticulous process to ensure that they’re building strong teams.

Coaches are always scouting for proven talent—and for raw-talent prospects who might be molded to fit the team’s game plan. They always know what positions need to be filled now, and they must also be able to anticipate future roster openings.

Group fitness directors must be savvy in the same way—if they hope to develop a motivating team that will pack the room with raving fans. Recruiting someone who may “warm the bench” while developing the necessary skills can help you avoid hiring the wrong person out of desperation. As we recruit, we must consider whether candidates are right for our program and whether our program is right for the candidates.

Filter for the Future

The coaches who approached my son used several levels of screening to make sure they were recruiting the right person. Consider these four main components:

Initial contact. A college coach visited my son’s high school last spring to get a sense of which young athletes might be a good fit for the college and its team. This is much like the initial phone call you make to a prospective instructor.

Meet and greet. Over the summer, my son visited the college and met more coaches, who questioned him on his technique, his playing style and his attitude toward his current coaches and his high-school team. This is much like the personal interview you would do to determine a potential instructor’s availability, work ethic and professionalism.

Tracking the season. In the fall, my son maintained an online profile of his high-school game highlights, so his potential coaches could assess his on-the-field performance and offer tips for improvement. This tactic is akin to a movement analysis, where you invite prospective instructors to attend a class so you can observe their skills in action and offer positive feedback.

The audition. Later, my son spent a game day with the college team, joining their pregame warm-up and showing off his ability to handle pressure, play a specific position and work with the school’s current players. This final component is much like an audition, where you might have a candidate perform in front of your instructor team and top management.

Target Specific Talents

College coaches are proactive; they do not wait for potential players to approach them. Similarly, you need to prospect beyond the four walls of your facility. While you might be tempted to offer a tryout to that eager, front-row “wannabe” who dreams of teaching, you’re probably better off scouting for specific skills to fill potential gaps on your team.

The coaches who recruited my son knew they would need a long snapper (the player who hikes the ball to punters and field-goal kickers) in the next two seasons. They didn’t seek a stud of a linebacker who could long-snap well on occasion. They specifically sought out long snappers who fit the team’s style of play and who had a strong work ethic, dedication and character.

Group fitness directors must employ this tactic as well. If you need to strengthen your team of yoga instructors, do not assume that your ace kickboxing instructor can jump into that role and be a good leader. Know exactly what you are looking for before you begin your search.

Also, be specific about the characteristics you desire. Prospects should be service-oriented, approachable, punctual, cooperative, neat in appearance and optimistic by nature. Settle for nothing less.

Build a Deep Roster

Can you imagine a football team that uses only 11 players in each game? In this scenario, a player might be a wide receiver on offense, a safety on defense and a kicker on special teams. How exciting is that for the fans? If only a handful of people get to play, the fans get bored, the players get exhausted, and the coach has to scramble if one of these all-stars gets injured.

That’s why college coaches maintain deep rosters of players who are strong at one position, rather than signing up jacks of all trades. Being able to play another position doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a necessity. For example, if my son were to join a team as the first-string long snapper, he might also be listed as a fourth- or fifth-string tight end—a position he can play, but not well enough to make first string.

In group fitness, we tend to have the mentality of high-school football: We play the same strong players in all classes. But as in football, this leaves our programs vulnerable. Members want and need variety in class instruction. Not everyone is necessarily a fan of your all-star instructor. If you limit your team to only a handful of players, you may be in a bind when one of them leaves for another team or gets injured and can’t lead a class.

Depth in your team is good. Just as football teams wouldn’t want only one wide receiver, we shouldn’t feature only one instructor in a program. Every position should have talented players who can be rotated in and out of classes and can serve as backups for teammates who are vacationing or are recovering from an injury.

Make the Team

While college coaches start out casting a wide net and looking at hundreds of players, the field narrows with each step of the recruiting process. My son didn’t even expect to play college ball, but coaches who felt he’d be the best match for their team saw promise in his prospects as a long snapper. As a result, he may well end up playing Division III football next fall.

As we build our group fitness teams, we must engage in a similar recruiting process. This allows us to create a diverse, exclusive team that can deliver a group fitness class experience that surpasses expectations. That experience will keep your members happy and inspire them to tell friends about the motivating classes at your center.

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Using Assistant Coaches

Head coaches don’t always have the time or even the “eye” to select players for certain positions. Instead, they rely on trusted assistant coaches who can identify players’ valuable attributes. Knowing the head coach’s game plan, assistants can help recruit players for specific jobs. While the head coach has the final say on who makes the team, the assistants play a big part in player development.

As a group fitness director, your time is valuable. You may not be skilled in all the formats you are recruiting for, so name somebody as your “assistant coach”—a team leader who can help you find great instructors. An assistant coach who has a greater understanding of a specific job can also play a pivotal role in helping you interview, audition and mentor candidates.


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