“Do I attract you, do I repulse you
With my queasy smile?
Am I too dirty? Am I too flirty?
Do I like what you like?
I could be wholesome, I could be loathsome
I guess I’m a little bit shy
Why don’t you like me, why don’t you like me
Without making me try?”
Do you remember this great song by Mika? It was just so fitting to start with this quote as these are the questions that we as instructors ask ourselves when our class numbers are low.
It is normal to start a new class with low numbers or even see the numbers plummet when you take over from a popular instructor. We know it takes hard work and time to build up the following. But what about situations when the numbers stay low as the weeks go by?
IS IT ME?
Firstly, before you take anything personally, take into consideration the timetable. Are there popular and busy classes on at the same time? How busy was this class before? What time of the year is it? Is it school holiday, peak of summer, close to Christmas? Is the studio plagued with bikes/ sound system/air con issues? If none of the above applies, then you need to do some detective work.
It’s good to ask the riders directly but some members may not be willing to pass on any critique to your face. Plus, what you are really after is understanding why the ones who are NOT there are not interested.
I have been doing my own feedback forms that I leave out with a bunch of pens before and after my classes about once a year. I also leave a pile of my business cards with my e-mail address throughout the year if someone does not have time to stay for a chat but would like to contribute.
You can ask the management to get feedback on reception as people leave the classes.
However, the best source of feedback is the talk in the changing rooms… Pay attention to what you hear when you are there as soon as you walk in right after the class.
From the feedback you may learn that your music may not be to the taste of the population – ask for suggestions. Do not be afraid to try new genres but remember YOU have to enjoy the music you teach to. You may need to have different playlists for the 5:30am classes and the 8:30pm. Not only because it’s a different group but also because of the time of day and how our bodies react to an indoor cycling workout if it’s only 30 minutes after you wake up. The morning classes may need some more motivation.
EDUCATION. EDUCATION. EDUCATION.
Your cuing and class planning are instrumental. If the riders lack instruction or are unable to understand it, they will abandon the ship. Attend other instructors’ classes. Attend professional development courses. Read up on stuff – Joe Friel’s “Cyclist’s Training Bible” should be a required reading for cycling instructors. Sign up to ICA. The more you know the more types of riders you will attract and will be able to retain.
TREASURE THE ONES WHO TURN UP
Do not underestimate those few that do turn up! If you start your class from: “Where is everyone else?”, it will only discourage those present making them feel like they are not important. Bring your “A” game every week whether you have 4 or 44 riders.
Do not forget that a small group that is motivated makes teaching a pleasure, creates a great atmosphere and in time the word will spread. You can drop little remarks that this class is becoming famous for its energy and focus.
Since you are able to give them a lot of individual attention encourage them to talk to you about their individual fitness goals and see if you can tailor your classes to accommodate those. Make your class stand out. Make it the talk of the changing room.
TO CANCEL OR NOT TO CANCEL?
Some gyms allow you to cancel the class if there are fewer than 3 riders or may even require it (or you will not get paid). If this is not the policy, just be open to change the plan and make it an individual training session. Do not discount someone’s commitment by cancelling.
Think of it as a PT session. You have the opportunity to have one on one with an eager student. Go through their bike set up, ask if there is anything they would like to work on. Focus on form, technique and discussing WHY you’re doing the things you are. It is a great chance to gain loyal riders. They will come back and bring their friends.
I had one person turn up to one of my regular classes. I asked her if she was OK with me doing a one to one session with her and she was happy to do it. I have never ever seen her work so hard. It was the first time she crossed the discomfort line she had been petrified of. We were both elated at the end. I was jumping up and down as if she had just won TDF stage! Then a few weeks later I got called in by the management who said they have annual awards for special staff members who go the extra mile and the nominations were given by the members. I got a nomination from that rider and I was so touched.
TEACH FROM THE FLOOR
The key is to give your best every time you take that position in front of the group of riders. Ride next to them – if it’s only you and 1 or 2 people take a bike in between them. You may even teach off the bike the whole session if your coaching skills are at that level but remember that it’s not about just yelling at them.
Try using social media to promote the class by posting the playlist, class objectives, pictures, promote competitions etc. Make them work for you.
PACK UP AND LEAVE
If you notice that your own enthusiasm fades when you are heading off to that one class where you know you will only have 2 riders, AGAIN, then quit. Drastic solution it may be but they may find a better match for the group/slot/gym. I have done that before and picked up the same time slot at a different gym when I was able to attract 30 people each week. You have to be able to be you. If you are forcing yourself to teach a format you don’t like just because this particular crowd likes it will come across as fake and will not work. If you know you have used everything in your toolbox and still failed, set yourself free before you become bitter.