Chanda Fetter is the group ex director for the Santa Barbara region of the Spectrum Health Clubs. For samples of documentation helpful for facilitating a mentoring program, e-mail her at cfetter@spectrumclubs.com.

The most loyal patrons of your club are avid group exercise attendees. In light of this, it is our commitment to members to make sure that every aspect of their club experience is the best it could possibly be. Just as we cultivate our personal training and sales departments, we should do the same with group exercise. The product we offer cultivates longevity and community in ways other departments just can’t.

Mentoring is the perfect way to maintain the quality of your product so that the gift of group exercise is always a unique commodity. To get everyone on board, organize a meeting for your group exercise staff and management team to get input and launch the idea.

Mapping Out Your Mentors. Every club has its popular instructors. In many cases, these individuals make for amazing mentors, but in some cases they do not. Be careful who you choose to leave their legacy on an influential talent. Make sure you select leaders who portray all the important qualities of a solid instructor. Your criteria should include an up-to-date certification and someone who airs on the side of safety and appropriate guidelines but also knows how to make the room come alive. There is nothing more flattering in a somewhat ego-based profession than offering an individual the chance to help mold your team. You can compensate them by setting aside money in the budget, trades made through the club or possibly a higher class rate. I try to reward special help with something tangible. However, due to budgetary constraints, I have found that simple recognition and status offer a much higher reward value most of the time.

Mentoring Structure. An appropriate amount of time for a mentoring program is five to six weeks. Once a new instructor has passed his or her certification exam and is ready to teach, there needs to be a practical application period. Select two optimal slots on your timetable that would culture the growth of your new instructor without compromising the integrity of the time slot. Mentor your new instructor in one program format at a time to ensure his or her maximal growth potential. Depending on the number of classes you offer on a daily or weekly basis, be careful not to offer too many internships at one time. Finally, introduce the mentor to the potential intern and make sure personalities blend before sealing the deal. At that point, sit down with each one either together or separate to explain their responsibilities and expectations. This is where a soft contract can be entered into providing guidelines for the mentoring program, access to the clubs (if not already an employee) and a structured calendar of assignments that the intern will be responsible for. Structure is key, and as the director, it is essential that you are an integral part of the entire process.

Five-Week Calendar
When putting together your intern’s assignments for the week, simply take the hour workout and divide it into a five-week plan. For instance, when working with a step format: Week 1: Cool down/abs
Week 2: Last 15 minutes of cardio and cool down/abs
Week 3: Entire cardio section
Week 4: Warm-up
Week 5: Entire class
Week 6: (optional repeat of Week 5)

Within these weekly assignments, put together a grid that lists all the specific items you want to make sure the instructor covers. Look at areas such as cueing, how they build choreography, how they work with the phrase, how their body alignment and movement techniques are displayed, and whether or not they’re working in the correct bpms, etc. Your mentor should be grading them on a weekly basis and providing them with immediate feedback so that the next time they meet, each necessary issue can be addressed.

To Hire or Not To Hire. Although mentoring does not always lead to employment, in most cases it does and the instructor and club as a whole are more successful for it. Your new instructor will walk away with a much higher self confidence, the members will have taken a personal interest in their growth, the mentoring instructor will take more ownership of the program and the team will be more unified and consistent with the product it delivers.