How to Make Individuals Feel Seen and Heard in a Group Class Setting
It goes without saying that coaches are crucial to the success of a CrossFit community. While you can certainly achieve world-class fitness without one, it’s undoubtedly more efficient, and dare we say, a lot more fun, to do it with a great leader in your corner.
As the Director of Coach Development and Education at Invictus in San Diego, CA, Kirsten Ahrendt coaches the coaches, as well as several classes per week at the affiliate to keep her skills sharp. In a crowded class or busy gym setting, it’s easy for members to get lost in the shuffle and feel like the general group fitness program is a little too, well, general. How can you make sure everyone feels seen, attended to and coached individually?
“Know your members as humans before you know them as athletes; that’s the foundational principle of coaching at Invictus. If we’re going to deliver value to our members as coaches beyond the 60 minutes, we have to know them as humans, because we’re not just trying to make great athletes, especially in our GPP (general physical preparedness) program,” Ahrendt said.
“I believe that group fitness is this insanely powerful tool that can shift human existence, human health and large swathes of community — so coaches really need to elevate their game. You can make somebody feel like they got value by checking in with them, following up on something that they told you a week ago, two weeks ago, a month ago, (or) asking about what else is going on in their life. When somebody tells you they have an injury, proactively seek them out the next time they’re in class.”
One crucial part of Invictus’ success is their weekly staff meeting, where they go over each new member that has joined — including their athletic background and any potential movement modifications they might need based on their individual goals, injuries, experience and the like. Armed with this information, coaches are able to empower the individual athletes to create their own experience and results from the greater overarching programming.
“A huge thing at Invictus in our group classes is the idea of building a culture of customization, and that is a very coaching intensive way to lead a class. What it means is that we try to educate our members to have agency over the experience they want in the class, and that might mean that they are doing something different than what is written on the board in a big way or small way.
“Instead of back squats, it might be that they’re doing lunges, and that’s a really simple change. Instead of kettlebell swings, it could be that they’re doing a sandbag-over-shoulder or something like that. And when coaches know every member in their class as a human, they can go up to them and help them proactively customize the workout,” Ahrendt said. “It’s not foreign when you go into one of our GPP classes to see 10 different people doing 10 slightly different things, but all getting the right stimulus that they want and need out of the class. They (members) know that takes a lot on the coach, and I think that they respect that and they know that that is a way that the coach is giving them value.”
Ahrendt maintains that this attention to detail among each of your class participants is also key for helping them reach their goals, stay at the affiliate long-term and be bought-in to the greater gym ethos.
“I just think that the longer you’re a coach, the more you have to realize that it’s these softer skills that can change how somebody experiences your coaching, your gym culture, the gym environment and the class setting,” she said.
“Are they getting an incredible experience? Are they being coached every day? Are they getting value from their coach beyond just technical cues? Are they taking what they’re learning in the gym and is it changing their lives outside of the gym? If you’re having that kind of impact on people, that drives membership.”
Taking the task of empowering athletes individually a step further, there is an opportunity to be had during the sacred time at the whiteboard (or your gym’s version of a whiteboard) where you break down the workout for the day.
“Change the language to help people see themselves, and they should feel invited to make a choice…even with how coaches give cues. When you give a cue, are you inviting a member to explore the change or is it a demand? Do you tell them they have to do something or the words you use, giving them an opportunity to reflect and feel freedom to try something new? Because it can be really scary to change how you do something in the gym,” Ahrendt said. “So the language that coaches use, I think, is super powerful.”
Keeping these things in mind as you embark on your next class to coach can help deliver a next-level experience to the members who showed up to, hopefully, the best hour of their day.
Additionally, if you’re an affiliate owner or head coach, Ahrendt has some parting advice to consider; helping you apply these principles at large.
“Double-down on getting to know your members as humans; that will help you guide them in their athletic pursuits. If you haven’t sat down with every single one of your members or it’s been a really long time…we all have those members that have been with us for three years, four years, six years, even longer. If you haven’t touched base with them on what they want out of their time in your gym, give them the opportunity to tell you.
“Even just giving them 15 to 30 minutes of your time will reinvigorate them, and they will end up telling you something, or they will get very clear on what they want out of the time and energy they’re putting into your space, and then you can guide them better as a coach or an owner,” she said.
In our Coffee Break Conversation with her on Friday, October 7th, we also discussed how to create community in a gym of 400+ members, specific things Invictus coaches do to increase retention and more. To watch or listen to the full interview, click here. Please note that Coffee Break Conversations are exclusive to our RX members, which you can join for just $1 here.