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Recruiting From the Front Row

Your next best instructor may already be active in your facility.

Recruiting group exercise instructors can be a challenge. It’s an ongoing assignment, not something you do only when you’re faced with a hole in the schedule. Be proactive and seek out talent on a regular basis. This allows you to build a stronger, more dedicated team. Start with the participants in your existing classes.

Some of the best instructors are regular participants who may never have considered teaching a group exercise class. These “homegrown” instructors have a connection with other members, and they’ve shown that they want to be part of your group exercise team. They are moldable, they have already embraced your club’s mission and they’re loyal—all pluses considering that instructor turnover is high. The best part: you are choosing them, just as a talent scout recruits players for a professional sports team.

While some may think that pulling in members to teach is a negative, consider that it can be easier to shape these “groupies.” Outside applicants come with pre-existing expectations and, sometimes, bad habits. Also, many talented instructors became passionate to teach group exercise while they were participants. This article offers advice on what to look for when recruiting from your membership base.

Look Beyond the Front Row

Die-hards tend to find their way to the front of the room, but these participants may not be the best choice when recruiting for your team. They may be more focused on their own performance or on a strong desire to be noticed (see the sidebar “Candidates to Avoid When Recruiting Members”). There is plenty of talent beyond the front row.

The best candidates will stand out in a variety of ways. They possess confidence, good technique (although it may not be perfect) and a sense of musicality. Their personalities mirror the format they wish to lead. For example, to lead a strength class you wouldn’t want to recruit a member who is soft-spoken or isn’t physically strong. However, this same person may be a valuable addition to a mind-body class or a beginner class in which participants need more of a nurturing leader.

Look for participants who are open to feedback about exercise technique during class. These individuals show respect for your expertise and leadership and usually are eager to learn more and continue to grow, whether as instructors or as participants. If class participants are resistant to your constructive criticism, how will they act as members of the team? Their reactions to your input are significant.

For example, I recently recruited Scott to lead a Group POWER&reg class. He was having trouble refining the technique used in the back and legs exercises. When I connected visually with him during class to correct the movement, he smiled (acknowledging me) and did his best to improve. After class, he asked how best to perform the exercise and he shared his gratitude for the help, as well as his interest in learning the “hows and whys” behind the movements. His good attitude showed a lot of potential.

The World Outside “Me”

Participants who interact willingly with members and instructors make good recruits. Their mindsets demonstrate respect for the instructors and an understanding of the member experience. This evolves from their experience as participants. They are eager to help newcomers gather equipment, they set expectations and they create a comfort zone, making all feel welcome. Some assist with exercises that newcomers may not understand, while others offer encouragement throughout a class and then follow up afterward.

A new instructor on my team, Naomie, went above and beyond as a participant. She remembered how she felt as a newcomer, and she made it a point to help others bridge the gap. She greeted everyone with a cheerful smile and even put aside her own workout to help others improve their skills. She often invited new attendees to join her in trying other classes, so they would have a workout partner and a motivator for a new experience.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Members who attend various class formats and explore intensity levels taught by different instructors often make good recruits. They are not keyed into one particular format, so they are more apt to support and promote your entire group exercise program, not just their favorite class. In addition, these participants interact with a wider section of your members. They also have a basic understanding of how to “connect the dots,” and they are likely to see how one format enhances another. That they attend a variety of formats taught by a variety of instructors also shows their respect for multiple fitness levels and promotes cross-training. These potential recruits have access to many different coaching, cuing and connecting techniques, thus adding more tools to their teaching toolbox.

The Positive Professional

When looking to your club members for recruits, choose people who genuinely sell the program by sharing their positive experience with others. Members and guests are more apt to attend a class that is being promoted by a fellow member. Groupies will openly share not only their love of classes, but also what a class has done for them personally.

Fitness instructors are professionals, not unlike business professionals in other industries. Consider your recruits’ dress, body language, attitude and communication skills; these are all good indicators of how well they will fit into the big picture. Look for people who wear clean fitness attire, not crumpled T-shirts and torn shorts. If they dress professionally, they will act more professionally. You can tell a lot about people by how they carry themselves. They should walk and stand proud, yet be comfortable and relaxed.

Attitude and communication are critical. It is inevitable that participants will have comments about classes or the club. How they convey their message speaks volumes. What if members approach you with an onslaught of negative comments about certain classes or instructors, rally other members, start petitions or circumvent management? These actions may indicate that these people would not be good team players. Seek participants who can personally approach you and who offer fact-based information that will improve the program.

Hungry for Education

Don’t dismiss the importance of education and proper training. Recruits must be willing to obtain certifications and go through continuing education in order to lead classes. In addition, they may have to be willing to front their own money, because many facilities do not pay for education. Look for candidates who truly want to learn about a format, not for those who simply want a piece of paper stating that they have completed training.

Recruits should be enthusiastic about and energized by education. They should be passionate about embracing the information gleaned from those trainings. Through ongoing mentoring, their growth and focus will eventually shift from their own performance to how they might enhance the experiences of other members. A good recruit will want to share knowledge about a safe, effective workout.

Constructing a successful group exercise team is an ongoing process. Scouting for talent from your roster of members can provide an endless source of candidates. Start by making your expectations of team players concrete; then keep a watchful eye on your club’s members to see who would fit the bill as an exceptional instructor and employee. By seeking out people who are already invested in your center, you are more likely to find recruits who are dedicated to your team, your club and your members. Many skills can be taught through education and mentoring, but attitude and desire are intrinsic.

Candidates to Avoid When Recruiting Members

Some members may want to teach, but don’t know what it takes to be part of a team. They view the position of instructor as an opportunity to do their own workout, get a free membership or be the center of attention. Many do not understand the dedication and work required behind the scenes to prepare and lead a class that fits the needs of your members.

Choosing the right person goes beyond choosing someone who simply wants to teach or is currently teaching at other centers. Just as if you were recruiting for a professional sports team, the best players may not always be the best choice for your team and its mission. The following qualities should raise a red flag when you’re recruiting from your membership:

  • front-row people who connect with only themselves in the mirror and do not interact with the instructor or other members
  • “hot dogs” who don’t respect the movements of the instructor, and instead consistently go solo or do movements intended to draw attention
  • people who feel that “high” is the only valid intensity level and that every class needs to be hard to be effective
  • people who have an unhealthy workout ethic, spending hours at the gym overtraining
  • people who stalk the director, are demanding and constantly feel the need to explain why they would be great instructors
  • people who have a negative attitude about the club, the program, your instructors or management
  • people who feel that simply being participants makes them experts or qualifies them to lead classes without possessing the proper credentials
  • people who start a petition to get hired
  • people who do not want to go through training or auditions
  • people who do not respond well to your feedback in class
  • people who go over the group exercise director’s head to other management to get hired.

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