This article was published in December 2004 in AKWA Magazine. The topic is near and dear to my heart and I think it makes for a good read as we salute new instructors this month. In order to make a change in our student’s lives, we have to keep them coming to class. How important is the ‘fun-factor’ to exercise adherence? What makes a class fun?
Original article was published in December 2004; edited in August 2015
If you have ever gone to a class and spent the entire hour looking at the clock and scheming early exit strategies, chances are you found yourself in the ‘no-fun’ zone. As instructors, we are acutely aware that fun is the essential ingredient of any class. Where fun is present, students show up. Where fun is lacking, students avoid.
Recently, AEA (The Aquatic Exercise Association) posted a survey on their website and nearly 1,000 instructors responded. One of the questions asked was - What are the top three instructor traits that represent you as a role model to help students increase health and fitness levels? The number one response to this question: The ability to motivate students so exercise is FUN. Clearly, the fun-factor appears to be the make or break issue for a successful class. Why do some classes have more cherry flavor than others?
What makes an instructor fun?
YOU BETTER WORK! No matter how charming, comedic, or engaging the instructor - when the workout is lame the fun dissipates quickly. Woe unto the instructor who fails to keep students moving in a chilly pool. Frosty students will ice any plans for merriment. If a student is challenged, moving, and working hard - FUN is an automatic by-product.
CHOOSE YOUR ROLE CAREFULLY. Sometimes instructors are simply mismatched for the format they are teaching. An introverted person with a scholarly approach to instruction may not be an ideal ‘fun-meister’ for a high-energy class in the evening. This type of person might achieve greater success with a different format or time slot. For the most part, I have avoided mind/body formats because I am just not a mellow guy and I fear my ability to deliver fun in a tranquil environment. At this point in my career, I am a good match for high-energy formats.
THE GIG IS UP. New instructors are grateful for whatever classes come their way and they teach whatever is available. Seasoned instructors choose wisely, knowing that if they aren’t having fun, the students probably aren’t either. Last year, I was certified to teach spinning in the water. After teaching a few spinning classes in the water it became abundantly clear to me why I never taught spinning on land. Truthfully, I don’t have the remotest interest in cycling. Unfortunately, my spinning students were REALLY into cycling. Feeling creatively stifled on the bike, it was only a matter of time before I started doing mambos and syncopated moves with the pedals. Naturally, this went over like a lead balloon. For joy to be present - I had to vacate this teaching spot so that someone else could provide the kind of fun these students were looking for.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE. Instructing too many classes with little or no variety is an excellent way to suck the fun out of teaching. At one point in my career I was teaching 8 step classes a week. My ability to make each class unique and fun was severely compromised by burnout and chronic injury. My performance became rote and stale and I began to resent the pressure to create. Eventually, I wised up and crossed into other land formats and ultimately aquatic fitness. Currently, I teach a variety of land & aquatic classes, including step, ball, shallow, deep, and equipment, and I’ve never felt more invigorated and blessed to teach.
IF IT’S FUN, THEY’LL KEEP COMING! The litmus test for a fun class is often based on smiles, whoops, applause and glowing reviews. In reality, I have discovered that not everyone smiles, whoops, applauds and gives glowing reviews. I have looked out into the pool and assumed that someone’s miserable face was an indicator that they hated me or my class, only to have that person come up afterwards and tell me how much fun they had. Go figure? Loyalty and faithful attendance is the best indicator of a fun class.
WHAT WAS FUN LAST YEAR, MAY NOT BE FUN THIS YEAR. Fun is progressive and whimsical in nature. Change is essential, but change often comes with resistance. When trying new moves just remember that the first time you do them is usually anything but fun. Don’t give up! Sometimes you have to sacrifice a class or two to accommodate a new learning curve. Trust me, I have foisted some real dogs on my students, but for every dog there was a gem that reinvigorated my class for weeks. An instructor who avoids teaching new routines for fear of upsetting their students will eventually bore them with repetition. Never be afraid to make mistakes for the sake of change. Avoid apologizing for new material that results in an epic fail. You do not owe anyone an apology for trying new things.
THE MIMIC EFFECT. Lighten up! A tense instructor creates tense students. If you frown they will frown and before you know it the entire pool is infected with bad karma. If you smile and have fun, they will too. The students latch on to your every move and action. Laugh and the pool laughs with you!
GREENER PASTURES. An instructor can rarely create fun when others factors conspire against it. A cold pool will quickly sap away glad tidings. A class that shares pool time with noisy events will struggle to be fun. An inadequate sound system, mean students, dirty locker rooms, noxious chemicals, crowded conditions, improper pool depth, insulting pay, and other problems, will ultimately undermine the ‘fun factor’ in one way or another. Sometimes fun instructors need to change venues in order to remain fun.
LET THE MUSIC PLAY! When I started teaching group fitness in 1995, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. However, I went to great lengths to search for the most motivating music I could find. As a rookie instructor, I survived on charm and music alone - the moves and knowledge came much later. Never underestimate the power of AWESOME music!
Check out the blog Music Resources
STEALING FUN! Go to workshops. Fun instructors learn fun new things by going to workshops. More importantly, attending a workshop allows you to study the personality traits of highly effective instructors and what makes them fun. In the end, new moves have low mileage - but a fun new attitude and some borrowed mannerisms can be priceless.
VITAMIN E. Takes lots of Vitamin E. High doses of Vitamin E have been proven to make instructors more fun. Vitamin E Ingredients Energy: Mark’s Law of Energy – You get back what you give. Excitement: Excited instructors teach excited students. Enthusiasm: If you aren’t enthused by the material they won’t be either. Earnest: With purpose and effort, you make a difference. Equanimity: Composure under tension. Things go wrong. Pretend they didn’t! Ego: Leave it in the locker room. It’s not about you. Empathy: Life is hard. The class you teach may be the highlight of someone’s week. Enlighten – Teaching a class? I thought I was spreading health, joy, fitness, and love into the world!
Now get out there and have FUN!