What Do You Do When A Student Comes In Late?

What do you do in that uncomfortable moment when the class’s attention is diverted away from you and to the late student coming in the door? What do your actions say about yourself in that moment?

The key question here is how you regard the late student: as an interruption or an opportunity?

Some instructors take it as an interruption and even an insult if someone comes in late. They feel it is disrespectful, and disruptive, to come in late. They take it personally. And it shows.

Taking it personally is a luxury we can’t afford. I do just the opposite and regard it as a compliment. Here’s how I reframe the issue.


  1. TC, I’m not implying that I condone late arrivals or early departers; of course I get those. I am always willing to accommodate, however, my point was that when you get someone who for whatever reason just wants to ‘hang out’ for a few minutes before the class they really want to attend begins, that is disrespectful to the other people in the class. When I approached this person, I made of point of stating that it is disruptive to the participants, not even included myself. What I also didn’t mention is that this person came for years to my class, and was always on time, left a little early to setup for yoga. I know that there were no issues, as I know this person and her husband well.

  2. Author

    Hi Lisa, I totally agree. New, late, students are a big challenge. It’s easy enough to just slap them on a bike, but how do you give the best possible first experience without taking too much time from the rest of the class. I agree about making a date to see them after class, or before another class. I think there are further articles on ICA about addressing this in more detail. A lot of it is attitude, and it sounds like yours is great. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I would estimate that on average, I have late arrivers and early leavers in about 9/10 of the classes I teach. Most of the time it is not a problem at all. I know the people, and there is absolutely no disrespect – they are doing their best, and I am happy to have them there. The early leavers usually let me know in advance, too, so it is not a surprise. The only exception is when a new spinner arrives late. That’s a challenge. If the new spinner arrives during the warm up, I do my best to set him or her up on the bike and orient them a bit before I move on, and it’s difficult to do that while I am still giving instruction to the rest of the class. If the new spinner arrives after we have already warmed up, though, I view that as too late to allow me to take care of them as I should. I have asked them to come back (10 minutes early) another time, letting them know that it is a safety issue and that I will set them up properly next time.

  4. Author

    T.C. Good observations, especially “we are there for them”.

  5. I get asked by members all the time if I mind if they come in late or leave early.My answer is absolutely not.I would much rather see them get in part of a class than no class at all! The only thing I ask of them is if they leave early to first catch their breath , let the heart rate come down a little and not just run out the door.We have to remember that some people have very busy lives with family ,work,and finding any time to exercise can be a real challenge.I would never want to discourage anyone making an effort.Remember we are there for them , not the other way around.

  6. Author

    Hi Basia, I agree that habitually coming in late, AND leaving early is disruptive. You do have a responsibility to the whole class and I think you show good judgment in drawing the line where you did. It seems to me that if someone comes in late, they should be willing to stay for the whole class. Most classes are in proximity to the standard gym cardio equipment. If she wants only 15 minutes, she should go there.

  7. It is inevitable that we have people coming in late. I’m usually pretty laid back about it; I’ll get off my bike give the person a quick run down of what the profile is and let them warm up before getting into the meat.

    If the lateness is habitual, as I had in one participant, who used to arrive on time for years, then decided to push to boundardies – arrived 20 minutes late, stayed for 20 minutes and left to set up her mat for yoga which was after the cycle class. I let it go a couple of times but when a pattern formed, as in week upon week, I had to shut it down as this was a clear abuse and disrespect and gave the impression that you can come and go as you like in my classes. I told her that this cannot continue as she is disrupting the class.

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