If you teach at multiple locations and average 20 to 30 riders per class in numerous classes per week, you may end up in front of a hundred or more riders each week. Many of these participants will be your regulars but there will constantly be new faces. If you only see some of them once a week, it can be a challenge to connect with them on a more personal level and learn their names and their reasons for taking your class.
There are things that you as an instructor might pick up on even without speaking to the rider—for better or worse. What you do with that information then depends on you. Do you form an opinion? What often happens is the instructor builds an image of the rider and their personality based on what they are reading into the situation. This is a form of judgment. Alternatively, you can make an effort to get the facts about that person. This is especially important when it comes to understanding why people come to your classes regularly but you notice they still seem to do their own thing and not always follow your directives.
Let me tell you a story about a woman I didn’t know much about, but when I found out more about her, it changed everything!
She has been coming fairly regularly to my classes. I noticed her because she always meticulously cleans her bike before getting on it (antibacterial gel, two hand towels, etc.). I approached her in the last couple of classes, trying to get her to increase her effort as it looked like she was sticking to lower intensities than what I was asking for in the profile. She never looked bored or distracted, though, so after making my point once or twice, I just let her do her thing.
Recently, she came up to me before class and said she fell down the stairs that morning and her bum and lower back were sore but she decided to still give it a go. I told her that if it felt too uncomfortable, she was free to leave at any point.
As it turned out, she stayed for the full 45 minutes and she did most of it in the saddle. She was very focused and I loved her determination. I did not get a chance to talk to her after the class as someone had approached me with a question and she left while I was talking to them.
I went into the changing rooms, still in my sweaty gear, and saw her wrapped up in a big towel ready to go into the shower. I approached her to say well done and asked her about her back pain. She showed me a bruise on her arm from the fall and said that she was determined to still get her workout in as keeping fit was her priority.
She then told me that she had been in remission from a rare form of leukemia for over a year! This is the reason why sometimes her power numbers may not look impressive—she is still building back her strength after years of living with fatigue even before she got her diagnosis. But her heart rate responds the right way and she always gets the best she can out of the class even though she may not look like it. This is also why she cleans her bike so religiously.
We then chatted away—me still in my sweaty gear, her in her towel—comparing notes on going through cancer and dealing with the process. We didn’t even sit down because we thought we were just having a “quick chat.”
However, when I looked at the clock, I realized we’d been talking for two hours! This woman’s story should be made into a movie—she is a freaking superhero! Part of what helped her keep her sanity through the battle with cancer was attending indoor cycling classes regularly but also being aware of her own limits and accepting them.
This story proves that making that extra effort to get to know a bit more about your riders may bring a great benefit. It is another reminder that the first impressions we tend to form about a person—let’s not kid ourselves, we all often form an immediate judgment of that person in front of us despite our best efforts not to—can be so far from the truth. I could have mentally tagged her as an eccentric clean freak who was always trying to prove that she didn’t need me to be there. But that is not at all who she is and I am so glad I didn’t judge her!