How being an instructor teaches you resilience

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of experiencing a moment when resilience pays off. After not getting the rating I wanted the first time I participated in an advanced instructor module for BodyStep, I finally achieved the coveted ‘elite’ rating by going back and trying again.

It got me thinking about how much I can credit my strengthening resilience to my journey as a group fitness instructor.

Becoming an instructor is not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It works like this:

  • You do your initial training, learning the moves and what the basics are. Depending on the program, this could be over a weekend.
  • You start team teaching with a mentor … for weeks and months, you can team teach without ever teaching a full class or getting paid. Along the way constantly getting feedback – often negative – and slowly building up from teaching one track to two, then so on until you can teach a whole class.
  • With Les Mills programs, you then need to get certified. This means filming yourself teaching and sending it off for assessment. This is by far one of the most nerve-wracking things you’ll ever do. You might need to film yourself multiple times until it’s good enough to send off, and even then there’s no guarantee.
  • Let’s say you get certified – great! But that doesn’t mean you magically get your own permanent class. You might just get covers for a few weeks, even months, before something becomes available. And even then, you might need to audition in front of a very experienced group fitness manager and you’re competing against far more experienced instructors for the spot.
  • So eventually you get your own permanent class. It’s then up to you to win over the members – they may not know you from a bar of soap, and they would be used to their other instructors (even if they hated them), so you’ll hear about everything you do wrong, and very little about what you do right for quite some time.
  • You settle in to the club and the members start to love you … but the journey is never done. Continuous learning and upskilling is the aim of the game – constantly honing your craft. So that means advanced instructor modules, learning new programs, going to other instructors’ classes and learning from them … until the rest of time. In many clubs, the group fitness manager will undertake yearly assessments, reviewing your classes and feedback from members.

 

The short story is – it’s not easy. Like any job, you’ll hear about it when you do something wrong (or something that’s perceived as wrong) and very rarely hear about it when you’re spectacular. You’re also constantly learning choreography, trying to make sure every class is an amazing workout experience, and constantly questioning your talent as an instructor. “I’m so shit at this,” can be a fairly regular thought!

You have to harden up really, really quickly, but part of that is also being able to take feedback on board and work with it, rather than taking it personally. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about you – it’s about the people in your class.

In the five years I’ve been instructing I’ve seen a lot of people not continue on the journey. Here’s some of the top reasons why:

  1. It didn’t happen as quickly as they thought it would: I believe some people think they’ll be amazing from the word go, and when the mentoring phase takes weeks or months, or they’re not given a permanent class right away, they become disillusioned or angry – they can’t imagine why they’re not a rock star instructor already! They don’t realise that you need to earn your place through hard work and persistence. They let their ego get in the way of their progress.
  2. They haven’t learned to deal constructively with feedback: Yes, being told that you have a million things to improve all the time is hard to take. But if you don’t know what to improve, then how will you become a great instructor? Feedback is a gift – it provides you with a really simple way to know what to work on. It’s not about you personally, it’s about the role of the instructor and what’s expected of that role. It’s also going to happen in all facets of your life, so you may as well get used to it now.
  3. They fail to learn from failure – You might not get certified the first time. You might not get that class you auditioned for. You might not pass the advanced instructor training. That doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should try again … and again … and again if it’s something you’re really passionate about. Imagine the feeling ofย FINALLY nailing it after so many misadventures! It’s an amazing feeling and one you should not cheat yourself out of by simply giving up.
  4. They’re in it for the wrong reasons: Let’s face it, group fitness instructors don’t do it for the money. If you’re lucky, you might get paid $50 for a one-hour class, but it’s probably more like $40 on average. And you need to pay tax on that too. It’s nice pocket money, but it’s not going to pay your rent or your mortgage. You have to do it because you absolutely love it, and not because you need a job or you want to be ‘famous’ and boost your ego. These are the people that drop out really quickly – even after they’ve been through the effort of certification and auditions. It’s so obvious when an instructor doesn’t have their heart in it, or is just there to be the centre of attention and build their Instagram following! Members are not blind – they know when someone is not being genuine and it annoys the hell out of them.

The great part is that not only does teaching build your resilience, but it also keeps you incredibly grounded. And it’s these skills that you then start to apply to other aspects of your life, like personal relationships and work. I’ve become a much more resilient at work and better at taking and giving feedback.

Finally, if you make the effort to build relationships with your members, not only does it help you keep and gain more permanent classes, it can also be super fun every time you teach. I love my classes – they’re such an awesome, mixed bunch of people and I learn from them as much as from anyone else. When you have those good relationships, you’re not afraid to ask for feedback, and you might even be pleasantly surprised by what you hear!

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