Curating Teams

It is rare to find someone who loves to workout, especially a college student. Who would want to spend their time at the gym when there are a plethora of other fun on-campus activities to engage in?

As recreation directors, it can be a constant struggle to discover innovative ways to entice students into the rec center. Besides spectacular facilities and great equipment, group exercise programming is a marvelous way to encourage students to participate.

However, offering exciting classes is only the first step. Students will not be motivated to attend classes if exceptional instructors are not engaging them. Therefore, the next crucial component is hiring and retaining top-notch instructors.

When hiring new group exercise staff, there are a few key factors to consider: previous experience, certifications and of course, personality.

Most recreation centers maintain a balance of student staff and non-student staff. While hiring students provides them with great opportunities, non-student staff might possess expanded experience and can serve as mentors to newer staff.

“We hire professionals — we call them ancillary staff,” said Allison Brown, the director of fitness, wellness and activity programs at the University of Arizona. “They have a little more experience, they already have their certifications and they usually work at other areas in the city.”

Requiring instructors to obtain certifications is also a must, as they provide instructors with the necessary knowledge to conduct an effective and, most importantly, safe class. All group exercise leaders at the University of Colorado Boulder Recreation Center must hold a nationally recognized certification, a minimum of six months professional teaching experience, or have completed their 10-week Group Fitness Instructor Training course.

Finally, it is essential all instructors are extremely engaging and have the ability to teach an enjoyable class. Students will never return to a class if they are not being properly motivated.

“We look for instructors that have a personal touch and can create an experience for each participant,” said Nicole LaRocque, the assistant director of fitness and wellness at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We want instructors who are knowledgeable, welcoming and lead fun and inclusive classes.

According to Brown, another strength of a terrific instructor is the ability to be flexible and adapt exercises based on each participant’s fitness level. “We look for someone who knows how to read the class demographic,” explained Brown. “They might be teaching students or they might have a class with more faculty, so knowing how to read the room, looking for cues and modify exercises is important.”

Once great instructors are in place, it is imperative to make sure they are incentivized to stick around, and the good news is there are a variety of ways in which to do so.

Certification Programs or Discounts: Certifications can be expensive, especially for students. Give them some assistance by offering discounts. “Instructors can apply to receive professional development funds, so if there is a certification opportunity that they want to pursue, they can apply and receive these funds that help offset the cost,” added Brown.

Workshops and Trainings: Offer professional development opportunities for instructors by hosting various trainings in order to expand skill sets in a particular area. “We ask our instructors what skills they want to enhance, for example Pilates, and then we will host a free workshop in that field so they can learn new techniques, so they feel we are investing in their development,” said Brown.

Subbing Policy: Consider hiring full-time instructors only. According to LaRocque, not having a sub-only list keeps employees personally invested. “We want each instructor active and not just waiting on the outskirts for the occasional phone call to sub,” explained LaRocque. “We also give our instructors a ‘thank you’ for subbing by adding $10 to their teaching rate for every subbed class.”

Open Communications: Keep all lines of communication open. Listening to feedback and valuing input will go a long way in retaining quality staff.

“We work to have effective and efficient communication with and among our instructors,” said LaRocque. “We listen to our instructors and many times incorporate their ideas into our program. We work hard to have a strong, supportive team that enjoys working together.”


Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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