When Your Class Is Rude to a Sub

Q: A:
Theresa Stelly Goleta, California

My class members are consistently rude and unwelcoming when other teachers sub for me, making it hard to get subs. No one wants to enter the “piranha pit,” as the other instructors put it. They imply that the participants’ bad attitudes are somehow my fault. I don’t get it, since my regulars are great when I am there. What can I do to improve this situation?

embrace and enjoy the difference. Instructors who create a positive and friendly tone in their classes rarely have trouble finding and keeping good subs. Someone who is doing you a favor should never have to walk into a “piranha pit.” If the atmosphere is welcoming and less exclusive, everyone will have a much more rewarding experience.
Theresa Stelly is a fitness veteran with 21 years of teaching experience. She is the group fitness assistant director for Gold’s Gyms of Santa Barbara, Goleta and Simi Valley, California. Although she rarely misses a class, when she does need a sub, she is gratified to hear how great her participants were to that instructor.

One of the main aspects of my job is helping our instructors find subs. With 160 classes, three gyms and more than 70 instructors, it is a constant challenge. The process goes a lot more smoothly if the instructor prepares the class for a sub ahead of time. Here’s an example of what you might say: “Hey everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I will be out of town next week and Susie will be subbing for me. I know you will make her feel welcome and appreciated. Subbing for a class can be tough, but I’ve told her you’re a wonderful group and she will do fine!” By letting the class know when you’ll be gone and what your expectations are, you create a more welcoming climate. Those who don’t want to take the class don’t have to go, and those who do go know that another instructor will be teaching and may have a different style. They are better prepared to

A:

Jay Blahnik Laguna Beach, California

I have taught at many clubs over the years and have seen this problem at most of them. Members become very attached to their favorite instructor, and although they may not actually be rude, just being less than welcoming can often be perceived as rude. Who wants to teach people who resent your presence? As a short-term solution, speak frankly to your regular students. Let them know the situation, and tell them the difficulty you have in finding a substitute. Kindly ask for their cooperation in welcoming any future substitutes, and ask for their

input on which instructor they would like to have sub for you. By alerting your regulars and asking their advice, you automatically put them in a different frame of mind. The next time you have a sub, they will likely be more welcoming because you asked them to be, and also because you asked for their advice. As a long-term solution, partner with someone at your club and be each other’s “stand-in.” Try to find someone who shares a similar style, music taste and choreography approach. At the very least, you should really enjoy this person as a teacher and vice versa. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. Fostering a relationship with the other instructor takes time, but this approach will help both of you and is well worth the effort. Apologize to the other instructors for your students’ rudeness, perhaps at a staff meeting. Let them know that you’ve spoken to your students, asked for their cooperation and expect a better response in the future. Humility goes a long way in this business, and taking responsibility to improve the situation will sit well with your coworkers.
Jay Blahnik is the 1996 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. He is also the spokesperson and education consultant for the Nautilus Health and Fitness Group, which owns Stairmaster, Schwinn, Nautilus, BowFlex and Quinton.

APRIL 2003 IDEA FITNESS EDGE

A:

Lily Rose Double Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

We spend a lot of time building relationships with our participants, but we sometimes forget about building relationships with other instructors. Although we work independently, we must also think of ourselves as part of a team. The fact that other instructors don’t want to sub for you indicates a breakdown in the team as well as with your participants. We all know how good it feels to be thought of as the most fantastic instructor on earth, but other instructors are also fantastic. Let your class get to know you as part of a team. They will feel better when one of your team members subs for you. When I worked at Rancho La Puerta, the guests had their favorites, but they also had a chance to get to know other instructors. As a sub, I would joke with them about their regular instructor, saying something like, “I know I’m not as cute as Joe, but I can make

you sweat like he does!” Participants enjoy a playful atmosphere and can tell if you have a good relationship with other instructors. Plan your subs in advance and prewarn your class. Let them know to expect someone different. If possible, bring the sub in to meet the class– maybe even “team-teach” a few classes. Subbing is not just about a trade off; it’s also about working with others as part of a team. Once your participants realize this, they may actually look forward to a little variation from time to time.
Lily Rose Double completed the fitness instructor training program at the University of California at Santa Barbara before working as an intern at Rancho La Puerta for 3 months. She is now the activities and entertainments attendant at DayDream Island Resort and Spa, Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia.