Whether you choose to mentor other instructors, or to be mentored yourself, you stand to learn a wealth of career-enhancing lessons.
There are many great ways to develop yourself as an instructor, but one surefire tactic is to be a mentor, be mentored, or both. Whichever you opt for, and for whatever reason, you’ll learn many lessons that will evolve you both professionally and personally.
The term ‘mentor’ often conjures up the image of an older, wiser and more experienced ‘Master’ passing on their wisdom to a young, energetic and sometimes naïve student. What this common misconception doesn’t acknowledge, is the ability of the student to mentor the master in this process.
Instructing is certainly about learning skills such as choreography, cueing, creating an atmosphere and choosing appropriate music, but it’s also about connecting with who you are as a person, becoming aware of your blind spots, making the most of your strengths and embracing those traits you label as weaknesses.
In my experience, mentoring facilitates the transfer of these skills in a safe and supportive environment, but more importantly ignites a relationship that will bring awareness to – and enable you to capitalise on – previously hidden strengths. The process can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but if you have the courage to proceed it can bring incredible growth and opportunity.
Mentoring evolves our industry
Aside from the personal benefits, mentoring benefits the industry as a whole. Just think about it, the skills learned (as well as the outfits worn) by instructors back in the 80’s and 90’s are very different to those taught in today’s certifications. Fitness culture has changed from having a heavy choreography, music-based focus to a split focus of multiple training styles including HIIT, CrossFit, dance fitness, yoga, Pilates, strength and conditioning. You name it, you can get it somewhere in a group fitness class.
The skills required of an instructor today, therefore, are incredibly varied, but in having such a broad focus one can miss out on perfecting, or even understanding, some of the basic foundational skills that older instructors trained in previous decades do as second nature. And on the flipside, these more experienced instructors can have a challenging time getting across the new disciplines and developing the skills required to keep them up-to-date.
As instructing is generally not a career one can do forever, due to its physical demands, as instructors retire and move on, the industry is at risk of losing years of knowledge and experience unless it is shared along the way. Mentoring allows this transfer of knowledge back and forth across the generations, enriching the quality and credibility of the industry as a whole.
So, now you’re realising the value of this mentoring business, how can you get involved?
Some fitness businesses have formalised mentoring programs in which you must apply to be a mentor or a mentee and follow the structure provided. However, mentoring may also be informal, and there is usually no reason why you can’t be a mentor or be mentored outside of a formal program.
Often, as the ‘face of fitness’ in the studio, members will approach you for advice on how to become an instructor, or you yourself might be interested in learning a new program or style taught by a colleague. Mentoring can start here, with advice about the right training and qualifications – though as you will be aware, trainings are just the beginning when it comes to starting an instructing career or upskilling into new programs.
There is a big jump from being a group fitness participant, to attending a training and then to being strong and confident enough to facilitate a group fitness class solo. Think back to when you started: the nerves, the dry mouth, the multiple rehearsals, deliberating over what you would wear, and whether participants would judge you, feeling that fear and doing it anyway… it’s a big deal. Some people have the confidence and natural skill to be able to make that leap alone, but most of us need a little support.
The mentoring that I have most needed in my career is that which I have been sought out to provide by up-and-coming instructors. I have a personal preference for mentoring confidence in others (and as a result, confidence in myself) and find that I attract instructors who have a natural ability, yet need assistance with developing the absolute self-belief required to put themselves out there in front of a crowd. Because I’m dealing with people like myself, most of the time I intuitively understand the approach that they need.
Generally, my mentoring process starts with spending a little time helping the instructor get in touch with their passion, find the right program and, after completing the initial relevant qualifications, a little further time teaching or refining some specific skills relevant to that program.
The majority of my mentoring with these individuals involves working with their confidence and awareness on a more personal level so that they can build trust in their own ability and knowledge, and in turn build the courage to step out there on stage.
Generally, I like to apply the 80/20 rule to my mentees, whereby 80 per cent of what the instructor needs to learn is done during the mentoring, and 20 per cent is learned on the job. Sometimes, no amount of feedback can be understood or accepted until one experiences its consequences, but if a mentee is at 80 per cent then they are good enough to teach a class without complaints, and still have room to develop their personal style and make adjustments based on the feedback they receive from the participants.
Getting a mentee to start teaching a whole class once they have hit that 80 per cent (even if they don’t think they’re there yet) may sound risky, but a good mentor will be able to weigh up the risk/benefit and make the first teaching experience a gentle and enjoyable one for both the instructor and the participants. As a respected and influential instructor yourself, it will be relatively easy to muster the support of participants and to encourage them to be unwavering cheerleaders for the fresh face looking at them from the stage.
I’ve had countless ‘lightbulb moments’ about myself and my own teaching when I’ve been both mentor and mentee. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, talk to your group fitness manager and see what opportunities may evolve, or if you have a talented regular who lights up the room every week with that passion you once felt and still feel, offer some words of encouragement: sometimes that’s all it will take to bring a new star into the group fitness family. Conversely, if you’re looking for a little guidance yourself, find that superstar trainer who makes you want it, and have the courage to ask them to help you. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and chances are, they won’t. The more sharing we can do in this industry, the greater both it, and we, will become.
Caroline Hynes is an experienced fitness professional currently employed as an instructor, teacher, tutor and group fitness coordinator within the industry. With a passion for group fitness and education, she is committed to doing all she can to see group fitness continue to thrive through the development and education of current and future fitness instructors.