"I always forget - for losing weight do I eat protein or carbs before coming to Spinning® class?"
"Ugh...I haven't been in 6 weeks...I feel like I have to start over. Is it okay if I don't stay for the entire class?"
"I'm going to ride with really light gear - I don't want my legs to bulk up."
Like it or not, your contact with your Spinning® class participants is much broader and deeper than simply the 45 minutes you spend in front of the them as the instructor. Those "book end" inquiries (questions and comments before and after the class) are typically an understated component of your role, but constitute a significant part of your interaction with participants. Your approach can have a profound impact on the safety and retention of clients as well as your reputation as a professional.
Among the many approaches to fielding these questions are four distinct attitudes: The Helper, the Expert, the "not my job" and the Coach. There is a time and a place for each, but it is not always easy to know the best route for your, your employer and the participant in the moment, so considering them before you need them is worth while.
The Helper has his heart in the right place. When someone genuinely has a question or a problem, the helper is ready to answer and offer up a resolution. "I forgot my water bottle today..." The helper will sacrifice and offer the client his own water bottle. "I don't like to sit right next to the fan, can you help me ask someone to trade bikes with me?" When an instructor jumps in to resolve issues, they are exhibiting "helper" traits.
The Expert approach is an easy role to slip into, given that the management and the membership have expectations that the instructor is the expert in the room. "I was feeling fine today, but on the way to the gym this evening I started feeling sick. I think I have a fever, but I'll ride anyway since I'm here." An instructor who responds with "It is not safe for you to exercise with a fever and not good to be here if you are contageous - it is better to pospone until you are well," is takeing an "expert" approach.
The it's not my job" (for lack of a better label) instructor will call on this approach when the request is outside the expected role, or more formally, outside the scope of practice, or a Spinning® instructor. "If my boyfriend...my EX-boyfriend...shows up, I'm going to leave. Don't take it personally - it isn't you - it is HIM. Can you tell him to not come to your class because this is the time that I can come?" "No," will suffice in this instance. "I might be late...can you hold a bike for me?" "Can you tell the management that the other instructor uses profanity in his class?" "My foot is cramping...can you massage it?" There are times when requests fall outside of what would normally be expected of an instructor. A well rehearsed, polite but decisive way to not enter into these discussions is valuable, but sometimes it is not so clear when "not my job..." is appropriate. "The speaker is fuzzy," might fall under the instructor's duty to make sure equipment is maintained but "That mom allows her 7 year old son into the women's changing room," might be better addressed to the facilities manager.
The coach approach is a useful technique in interacting with people, which doesn't disable participants from resolving their own problems and realizing self-efficacy. Coaching is more about listening than talking, reflecting and inquiring, more than telling. This is my first class, but I have to admit, I'm pretty intimidated. I don't know if I can keep it up for a full hour."A response to self-doubt, lack of experience or fear is often best angled from under the hat of a coach. "Have you ever attempted something new before? How did that go?" "What would be the worst thing to happen today if you tried my class and didn't feel like you could do the entire class?" For the most part, people have the answers to their questions - they sometimes just don't know what the questions are. A coach can kick open the door of self-discovery by simply reflecting and inquiring rather than laying out facts and informing.
All have their pros and cons. A helper might be exactly what is needed for client retention, but have an unseen negative consequence of building dependence, rather than independence. An expert might be exactly what the client wants, but without a thorough background on the client, a simple response like "you need an energy drink," might be completely wrong without knowing first that she is diabetic.
There are probably other approaches to fielding questions all with an underpinning of questions regarding ethics and fair compensation for consultation. (ie: if you're on the clock, you may be expected to advise and wear the hat of a personal trainer, even for a 3 minute consultation on knee pain or pre-exercise nutrition. In some gyms, it may be expected and in other gyms it may be inappropriate to hand out your personal training business card to drum up clients - so knowing the expectations of your employer is key when deciding what is most appropriate.)
Noticing your interactions with clients before and afetr your teaching a class is a first step toward distinguishing which approach is best. Having clear expectations from the management is crucial to keep you within professional boundaries. And considering the best response from the point of view of the participant will make it easier to decide which approach is more appropriate, given the situation and the expectations of the moment.