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Top Fitness Instructors: What’s Their Secret?

In many sports the Most Valuable Player, or MVP, award is one of the most coveted. MVPs create big plays or big numbers—so picking candidates for the award isn’t too difficult. It may not be as simple to choose the MVPs among your fitness instructors. First, there are no winners or losers on your team; ideally, they’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 the 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 scorecard 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. 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 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.
  4. 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.

For 6 more traits of instructor MVPs, please see “Top 10 Traits of Group Exercise MVPs” in the online IDEA Library or in the October 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager.

Photo credit: Len Spoden Photography.

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable is a sought-after speaker, author and thought leader in the area of fitness business development and strategic innovation. She has spent more than two decades helping impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, ACE, FIT4MOM® and BOSU® with business and program development. Fable served as chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the co-founder of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool that she successfully sold to Daxko in 2019. As a certified Book Yourself Solid® business coach, she helps fitness professionals navigate the industry to build scalable and sustainable careers.

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