Learn from your failures and maybe you'll run on water like these guys.

By Team ICG® Master Trainer Chuck Cali

The standard ‘spin”™ class was my comfort zone.  I got my energy from my music.  My riders got their energy from the music and from me — classic rock, high-energy pop and me, coaching in classic Vince Lombardi style.  My classes got good reviews, but, mostly, I was subbing.  I wanted my own class.

Opportunity presented itself.  My first break from my comfort zone was teaching power.  I sold the idea to management, buried myself in preparation, bought the wall charts, put together a training plan and playlists, and printed cards for recording baseline numbers.  I practiced.

The program flopped.  They thanked me and replaced me, but what I learned was invaluable.

What happened?  First, the management of the new facility was not ready for Indoor Cycling 2.0.  Second, my desire to have my own class was so powerful that I agreed to anything.  Big mistake.

When I pitched the power program, I erroneously believed that anyone with the title Group Exercise Director would understand what it meant to use power as the fundamental training metric.  (It”™s an Indoor Cycling 2.0 concept.)

My pitch was to open the studio to outdoor riders, many of whom would be non-members.  In the bike shops within five miles of the studio, I would advertise a small-group, fee-based program that ran twice a week for 10 weeks and offered a bike, an education, and a shower.

Instead, I slammed head-on into the culture of indoor cycling.  (I will cover the “culture of indoor cycling” in a future post.)  I was told I could teach power but had to keep it open to all members and only members, with no fee.  I agreed.

Crash and burn.  Imagine the nightmare of explaining power principles to a group with diverse, even random, skills.  Halfway through, anyone who had ever ridden outdoors — or actually understood training with a plan — was gone.  I had lost those I most wanted to reach.  And my credibility was quickly eroding.  All management saw were dwindling numbers.

Worse, the CEO and his lieutenants attended the first few classes.  In the second class, a 73-year-old woman in Birkenstocks walked in after class had started.  She”™d heard cycling might good for her and demanded to be shown how.  With the CEO looking on, and everyone else looking impatient, I set her up.  She disliked cycling and left, wasting almost 15 minutes.  Such a disruption to this sort of class is catastrophic.

The only alternative was to abandon power training (save for a few power comments here and there) for a more standard cycle class.  At the end of ten weeks, management wanted to go in a different direction.  With a different instructor.

What did I learn?

LESSON 1.  Don”™t let passion overrule common sense.  I agreed to a policy (members only, first-timers welcome) that doomed the program before it started.  If outside requirements conflict with, and compromise, a successful outcome, don”™t proceed.  That”™s lose/lose.

LESSON 2.  Don”™t over-rate your skills.  My basic error was thinking that every participant had read the class description and understood it.  When that turned out not to be the case, I was unprepared (read inexperienced) to deal with it.  This is about improving your craft.

LESSON 3.  Don”™t forget Chuck”™s Rule:  Connect With Your Riders.  Because this was an open program, every class was an exercise in getting the regulars on their way, while doing bike fits and explaining power training to first-timers. “Frustrating” can”™t begin to describe it.  I had wanted to get a lot done.  But it”™s not about me; it”™s about them.  If I had connected, we could all have had a good laugh, queued up Def Leppard, and poured some sugar on it.  So connect — and don”™t lose your sense of humor.

LESSON 4.  Once you know something you didn”™t know, use it.  I kept subbing.  Many studios had bikes with power.  Using my experience, I integrated power (in small steps) into my classes, tested stuff here and there, and learned.  Subbing is a great way to try stuff — there”™s little to lose and much to gain.

Since then, I”™ve gotten involved with some excellent programs and presented to the best public speakers in our industry. Not only have I acquired valuable new skills, I”™ve learned how to deliver the message.  With team ICG®, for example, I have to lead rides at conferences like IHRSA and IDEA.  I did an epic closing ride at IDEA this year.

Today, I”™m back at the studio that canned me, teaching two of my own classes for the past two years. They”™re almost always full.  I incorporate power in my “regular” classes and teach cycling-specific power training only under controlled conditions.

After Tiger Woods”™s best seasons, some people didn”™t understand why he”™d rebuild his golf swing to improve his craft.  How could it get any better?  Well, neither he nor we can know how much better things can get without making the effort.

Permit me one last analogy.  As a flight instructor, I often say I don”™t teach students to fly, I keep them from crashing while they teach themselves.  They”™re learning from failure all the ways not to fly.

At least an indoor cycle is on the ground.  How hard can you crash?  Learning from failures is a part of life.  Do it.  Embrace it.  Pay the knowledge forward.

Chuck Cali
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