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Overcoming Uncertainty: Finding a Mentor
By Bob Rebach

Congratulations! You’ve taken Spinning Instructor Orientation, and now you’re ready to go out and teach. Wait—what do you mean you don’t think you’re ready? Sure, after completing Orientation, some people rush off to a club, strap on a microphone, clip in to the bike at the front of the Spinning studio and start teaching. But the fact is: some new instructors aren’t so quick to find themselves in their own classroom. What’s up with that?

For some new instructors, the enthusiasm they have about their newly acquired skills is over-shadowed by uncertainty. This is especially true for people who are new, not just to the Spinning program, but for those new to group fitness instruction in general. If this is how you feel, I’m here to tell you that it’s OK.

I’m sure you appreciate my empathy, but what you really want to know is how to get to be like all the other instructors at your club. Well, you could stalk the popular instructors at your facility, do what they do, wear what they wear, say what they say; however, this is rarely, if ever, a successful strategy.

The answer may be found in a corporate workplace trend that is starting to make its way into the fitness industry. This practice pairs an entry-level person with an experienced veteran to smooth the learning process for the novice. This is a mutual relationship in which parties are willing participants, working for their combined success. This kind of mentorship can be of great benefit to you as a new instructor.

The main benefit of finding a mentor is the opportunity to learn in a non-threatening environment, and to develop the skills needed to become successful. With the support and reassurance of a mentor, a level of self-confidence and experience can be achieved that couldn’t be obtained alone. This is much better than the possible alternative: a lonely struggle ending in frustration and discouragement.

That may sound a little bleak; the road isn’t littered with the sun-bleached bones of people who couldn’t find their way out of the wilderness because they were left with no one to help them. Obviously many people make their way into the Spinning studio on their own, but there is no doubt that having a helping hand makes every task easier.

Watching an experienced professional in action provides you with an opportunity to learn visually.  As you begin to explore things on your own, your mentor also acts as a sounding board for new ideas. The benefit for the mentor, in this mutual relationship, is that his or her own knowledge is reinforced and strengthened by sharing it with others.

So how do you find a mentor? If you’re one of the lucky ones, there is a fitness facility in your area that already has an established program. If this is the case, I strongly urge you to apply for it, and you’ll be fast on your way to becoming a successful Spinning instructor. If can’t find a facility with an established mentoring program, you’re not out of luck; there are a number of other options to explore.

Just ask. Find an instructor you admire and ask that person if he or she is willing to help you learn the ropes. Yes, I know, this may not be the easiest thing to do, but keep in mind that compatibility is definitely a key factor when looking for a mentor. Find someone who shares your sensibilities; this will help ensure that the mentorship becomes a positive experience. Just understand that not everyone has the time, energy or confidence to take on this kind of request.

Just watch. As baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “You can see a lot just by observing.” Part of the learning process is watching how an experienced pro teaches. If you can’t find a mentor right away, you can still watch other instructors in action. If you belong to a club, take a class with all the instructors at your facility. If you’re not a member of a club, many facilities offer a free assessment period, usually a week or two, for prospective members.

Watching other instructors reinforces the positive things you learned in Orientation. It can also underline the things you think should be avoided when you finally find yourself in front of a class. As you watch other instructors, keep in mind that style is a part of presentation. What works for one person, in terms of music and tone, may not work for another. One of the beauties of the Spinning program is the individual expression that comes out of different personalities interpreting the creative component of the class.

In the end, it may be that simply spending extra time in classes with instructors you enjoy and admire will give you the sense of comfort you need to start teaching classes of your own.

Talk to a Master Instructor (MI). Spinning Master Instructors present at fitness conferences, conduct Orientations and teach continuing education classes. Although most MIs probably won’t be able to be there all the time as your personal mentor, they can lend you expert advice on teaching the Spinning program. The Master Instructor who taught my Orientation, Dixie Douville, has been an invaluable resource to me throughout the years.

Go online. There are a multitude of resources at spinning.com for new instructors including Spinning News archives dating back to January 2006, weekly playlists that you can download from iTunes, student handouts, a job board and an instructor forum. The Spinning Instructor Forum offers instructors a place where they can post questions, share experiences, and trade ideas about music and class design.

In the end, finding a mentor is just one of many solutions toward becoming a successful instructor. However you achieve it, the goal is to find the self-confidence and comfort to get into a classroom, and inspire your students.

Bob Rebach is a STAR 3 instructor who has been teaching for almost five years. He lives and teaches in New Jersey, and has a wealth of resources he would love to share. Contact him at SpinBob@optonline.net.


 

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