For Instructors

No more 'Fill-In' Fear

Regardless of who you are, where you are from or how long you've been an instructor, we have all experienced the not so pleasant 'fill-in'.

I believe most people across the US call it the 'sub'. Here on the underside of the world we call them 'fill-in' instructors. Irrespective of geographic location though the fear of turning up to cover somebody elses regular time slot is familiar to us all.

We all love being able to help out a person in need or the last minute phone call you get from a front desk person with the arduous task of finding a cover with only seconds to spare.

For many years, despite my position as a Spinning® Master Instructor, I too dreaded the sub. Not because I doubted my ability but I think I was always worried if they would like me. I was fearful that in those first few minutes when they realized their regular favorite was not there they would be annoyed with me before I even had a chance to show them I wasn't all that bad. It didn't matter which location or how many years I had been teaching, there was still a certain element of doubt and dread when I said I'd cover the class. Like sending the little lamb to slaughter.

Due to my triathlon training obligations I often do not have the time to fit in any covers, so it has been quite a while since my last sub. Recently though I was tested and it would seem that I have managed to move beyond my fears.

Yesterday afternoon I was called to do a cover a class at a gym I've never taught at or even been to. It was a Sunday morning time slot and he sounded very desperate. I had over three hours of my own training to fit in but I said yes anyway as I really did want to help him out.

It was an all female gym and the ladies were great. I planned my class and delivered it as I normally would and they were very happy afterwards. They thanked me and hoped I would be back neck week.

Clearly this is a positive result - the club covers the class, the members are happy with the cover and I did a good deed for the day instead of sleeping in. 

Even with all this positivity and logically I know it is no big deal, after 16 years of teaching I still caught myself in the first five to ten minutes of the class fighting the teeny tiny voice in my head saying

".....Oh crap - I hope they don't hate me!... Are they bored? ....Do they think I’m talking too much…Maybe they hate my music?..."

Now I know that on paper I am ticking all the boxes but in my head I guess the desire to be liked or in most case just not hated overrides common sense and my ego is trying to undermine my confidence.

Thankfully though over the years I have learnt to turn down the negative antics in my head by setting in place some strategies. These few things not only help me connect with the group but they allow me to calm myself and stop the internal chatter.  I gain greater confidence knowing that other than planning a good ride and wanting the best for the group, I am also making an extra effort to engage with them even if I am only there a short time. 

These few simple steps have definitely not only lessened my own "fill-in' anxiety but I believe have also improved the delivery of my fill-in class.

This is my short list of tips -


- Be confident (not cocky) of who you are, what you know & what you can offer them

- Get there extra early and make an extra effort to greet everybody as they arrive 

- Ask his or her names and introduce yourself to each person

- Ask them what the class is like usually and make general conversation about them, their training

- Offer the opportunity to check set-up rather than force it down their throats (sometimes people don’t want a sub to change things….especially when you are really a guest)

- Show that even though you are only are sub you actually care about who they are and what their goals may bring them to the class

- In your intro say that you are a certified Spinning instructor® (this is particularly relevant if you teach at clubs that have instructors trained in other programs)

- Let them know that although your class could be different from the one they may normally do, the session you have planned is based on road riding and has their safety and enjoyment as your priority.

- Encourage them to be make decisions for themselves throughout the ride based on their own goals if the ride you have planned does not suit their preference, fitness or ability.

- Encourage them to ask you any questions afterwards if anything you mentioned during the class may be very different or confusing to them.

- Present them the plan for your ride at the start to demonstrate you haven't just turned up, pressed play on your iPod and you care about their session ( even if you are a sub)

- Teach off the bike, connect with the group and use their names!

- Finally continue to demonstrate your most friendly disposition....

Although the profile is of the utmost importance to give them a great training session it is you they will or will not remember. They will remember you long after they remember the class if you allow your personality to shine through.

I like to think of the similarity of filling a class to being a guest in somebody’s home. You are extra courteous, extra polite, lots of smiles, you are on your best behaviour and always always say thank you for having been given the opportunity to visit. I believe this genuine consideration is appreciated especially from the people that are regulars and feel a little protective of their class.

You may ask if I have all these steps in place why do I still get the jitters?

Well the little pre-class buzz I get now is more like going on stage before a performance after years of acting. It’s not because I am scared per se or I doubt my ability or think I’ll forget my lines, but it means that I really care about what I am doing. As long as it doesn’t stifle me or hinder me then I believe a little nervousness before a new group is not such a bad thing. It also keeps me accountable and ensures I work for their acceptance a little more than I would if I saw them each week. You have only one class to make a positive first impression and I take that very seriously as I’m sure you all do too.

Friendliness, kindness and sincerity is the secret to being a great sub. They will love you and you will love subbing. 

I’d be interested in any additional tips you may offer to others fearful of the fill-in.

Until next week kids – enjoy! 





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