What to do when you are the ONLY one at your club that teaches a “real” cycling class.

I”™ve received this question quite a bit.  “How do you handle teaching a class that is so different than what other instructors offer at your club?”.  One of the reasons we have gravitated to ICI/Pro is because of the sound teaching and training concepts.  Although we can be really excited to learn something new (or just get reinvigorated), the excitement can wane when we think of how it will be received by our riders or our club as a whole.  Those who love our rides, are also bombarded by other indoor cycling classes that have little resemblance to biking or training.

Try to Avoid Bashing Other Instructors

We can find ourselves in an awkward situation from time to time when we are the only one who teaches a cycling-specific class at our club.  Our classes tends to have more structure and purpose with a greater emphasis on proper form and technique.  It is not uncommon for someone to approach me after class and ask why my classes are so different.  We never want to speak bad about another instructor or even give off the impression that we think we are better than anyone else.  This NEVER looks good and is not professional. But it is a tricky questions to maneuver around.  My response is that it is more an issue of “style” than right or wrong.  Since I”™m a coach, my approach is “training”.  Other classes that may just be random fun rides for example, are not wrong or inappropriate, but just a different “style” of indoor cycling.  Of course we know there are elements (sometimes many) of these other classes that are unquestionably incorrect (from a cycling or group fitness prospective), but it is never a good policy to “point” them out.  I”™d rather focus on why I approach the class the way I do and relate it to my experience.

Now bike setup issues are another story and harder to talk your way around.  I had a person approach me after class who was visibly and verbally frustrated. She was new to the area and club and told me that she had been given 4 very different ways to setup her bike in the last 4 days. Each instructor was adamant (and apparently a bit condescending) telling her, that what she was told previously was all wrong.  Now here I was watching her recount everything she was instructed to do and thinking to myself “ah man, none of what she was shown was correct.  Now I”™m going to be instructor number 5”.  I tried to focus her on some changes she should try based on her injuries and fitness instead of focusing on why she was put in various positions in the first place.  She would not let it go.  “This is so different than what the other instructors told me — none of them knew what they were doing!”  I was put in serious back-pedaling mode... “I”™m sure they based your settings on what they saw at the time”.  Then I tried to focus her on how she felt and made some recommendations for shoes and clothing.

I”™ve talked to my various group fitness directors many times asking that we establish a standard so we are not providing members with a mixed message.  I hate being put in that position.

Set The Expectation

Be different, but set expectations. Let your class know how you approach your ride and don”™t be afraid to leverage your experience or credentials.  As part of my introduction, I let riders know that because I”™m a USA Cycling Elite Level Coach, my classes more closely resemble a structured training session.  I mention what we”™ve been working on over the last few weeks, the day”™s plan and a peak into the upcoming weeks.  For me, these sets up the expectation.  It indicates my teaching style (coaching), and that my class is organized (structured), cycling specific (USA Cycling ...blah blah blah) and purposeful (planned classes).  Yeah Tom, that works for you, you braggart!  Wait a minute, don”™t dismiss this too quickly.  Everyone has a purpose in how they approach and build their classes.  What is yours?  What motivates you?  What are your “convictions” about cycling, fitness and training.  Seriously, think about this and craft an opening that sets the stage for your class.  When people ask why your class is different, you won”™t have to answer - your riders will answer for you. They will simply repeat what you told them, which IS, why they continue to come to your class.

Get a “Special” Class Description

See if your club will post a description of your class. You may not want to call it “special”, but it is good policy to set member expectations when they are making decisions about which classes to take.  Many clubs have an area or board (or page on their website) that gives a description of each class.  Think about what makes your class different (your above assignment) and ask if they can post a description with an appropriate title.  This approach resonates well with most group fitness directors or coordinators, because it is member-focused.  It also let”™s them “advertise” something about their program that is different than maybe what other clubs in the area are offering.  My classes have been called everything from “Stage5 Cycling” to “Performance Cycling” to “Road Cycling” to “Ride with Coach Tom”.  One of my directors even came to my defense when a regional director took my class and felt it was too “coach-y”.  He apparently had a tough day and just wanted to chill (sorry, not my “style”).  My director simply turned his focus to the board where the classes were described and said, “you should have read the description, that is why people take Tom”™s class”.

Try not to focus on “right” or “wrong” but rather on what makes your class and experience different.  Set your riders expectation with a short and sweet description of your approach and see if your club will post (advertise) it.  Being different can be tough, particularly when everyone wants to quickly jump to comparisons and finger pointing.  Be professional, humble and confident — even that may appear different.

Add Your Thoughts...