This article first appeared in February of 2013. It has been updated and edited.
Bogna, an instructor in the UK sent me an email and described the following challenging scenario. I have encountered this in the past and know that it is not uncommon. It can be a frustrating position to be in, especially for new instructors. Therefore, knowing what you should do beforehand will provide you peace of mind.
First of all I would like to thank you for your endless support—your website and blog help me to become a better and wiser instructor and consistently improve my knowledge. I qualified only a year ago but I must say I never expected this amount of positive feedback and good energy from my riders. I would like to thank you for that because you are my biggest support and reliable source of knowledge.
I am writing to you because of the situation I encountered today in class. What I am about to describe raised many questions in my head.
After becoming an instructor I learned a lot about myself and about people in general. I became much more aware of peoples’ fear about joining a spinning class. There are a lot of misconceptions about spinning like “you have to be fit in order to join it” or people being traumatized with unpleasant experiences from other clubs. I promised to myself that my new riders will always get as much support and personal advice as possible to make their first experience positive. (I remember my first Spinning class, which put me off for nearly two years before I joined another class again.) This approach includes always being early for my class to set it up and be ready to receive my riders, get to know them better or support my newbies. So far this approach has been very successful. It helped me build much more patience and empathy for people.
Today however I was pushed to the edge of my nerves and honestly at some point I felt totally helpless.
On Sundays I teach in a small club with only a few riders. I managed to establish a regular audience and my relationship with my riders is much more personal than in other, bigger clubs. On this day, I also had 2 new ladies. Lady #1 arrived a bit earlier but still later than everyone else. She was so stressed that she was hyperventilating. It took me a while to calm her down, we discussed her injuries, I explained to her how to work at her own intensity and that she is welcome to take a break at any time. I got her water (she forgot to bring her own) and was ready to start class when my second lady arrived. She was late and unprepared, also didn’t have any water with her. I took time to set her up.
I started my class 15 min late. My regulars became impatient and made some comments about the class starting late. But that wasn’t the end of the show: we didn’t finish warm-up when my lady no 2 started commenting really loud about how tired and unfit she was. I was all the time giving supportive comments. She managed to drop her bottle, so I got off the bike to give it back to her, a few minutes later she lost control and slid both of her feet from the pedals so I got off the bike and strapped her in again. After 10 min into the class she announced she had enough and she is going to leave. I don’t know how I managed to do it but I asked her politely to just sit in the saddle and roll her legs slowly and focus on breathing. She stayed till the end of my class. Both of my ladies not only survived the class, they thanked me for the encouragement and support and both bought further credits.
Although I am happy with this outcome, my question to you is this: how far are we supposed to go in supporting new riders? Because I felt today like I abandoned my regulars. During the class I spent time to observe this one lady who not only arrived late and unprepared, she also got all my attention. So in a way I felt like I rewarded her for this. She wasn’t focused and was disruptive but on the other hand I was afraid she would do something silly.
I just need to know how to draw a line; when someone arrives late, very unprepared and announces “I’ve never done this before…” and on the other hand you have your devoted regulars who arrive on time, prepared and ready to roll, who simply deserve the best of your energy.
After this incident I decided to speak to the manager because I think we need leaflets with guidelines for the first timers. This club focuses more on Pilates training and indoor cycling is still fairly small here.
Wow, Bogna really had her hands full! Those of you who have been teaching a long time have encountered similar scenarios, I’m sure. I have, but it was never two unprepared, unfit, late, new students at the same time! Kudos to Bogna for a job well done.
I have three suggestions to help the instructor deal with this.
In part 2 of this article, I will describe how I handled a similar situation and went back and forth between my regulars and my new, unfit rider who needed my attention.