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How to be a Leader

How to Be a Good Fitness Leader, Youth Leader or Recreation Leader

Being good at a particular activity, or being good at designing program does not necessarily make you good at leading a activity in that thing. Good leadership can make all the difference in whether a class or activity is successful or not.

A popular these days is that a leader is an "enabler", someone who enables others to experience something.  Leadership can come in many forms and is not necessarily a result of being the most boisterous or gaining the most attention. A leader will give direction that will allow those around them to work to their full benefit and capabilities. Not all leaders (in fact very few), are likely to have what might be all of the desirable qualities of a recreation or fitness leader.  But the successful recreation or fitness leader will be identifiable in terms of the results achieved by class participants.

Listed here are some characteristics of successful leaders.  By identifying which you do have and do not have, you can  work on polishing your strengths and improving your weaknesses.  The result will be a continual improvement in your leadership style and skills, which is yet another characteristic of the successful leader.

A REAL INTEREST IN PEOPLE. Recreation leadership is a person to person business which requires a positive attitude about people from the leader.  All people have preferences in terms of the types of people they like to be around. For instance, being around a person with a negative attitude can lead us to adopt a similarly negative attitude.  As a fitness leader, you will be dealing with all types.  Some will only want your advice in regard to proper exercise technique, others will be looking for someone to lean on, both in terms of motivation and technique.  You must have a genuine interest in your clients, but you must also protect yourself.  A good fitness leader will help clients where they can, but also make it clear that results in exercise are the responsibility of the participant too.  You may want your clients to achieve the best results possible, but it is a two way street. Otherwise, you may burn-out, being unable to cope with the pressures of the job, by trying to be all things to all people.

IMAGINATION AND ENTHUSIASM. Imagination allows the leader to adapt to situations which are continuously changing. While keeping to a set routine is desirable in an exercise class, keeping it imaginative and offering alternatives can keep it interesting and exciting. Use of imagination can also help to keep a class involved, especially if they are finding some movements difficult or especially hard to coordinate.  Use of imagination will also keep the clients interested.  Doing the same type of exercise week in and week out can become boring. A good leader will be able to identify when a change is needed and act accordingly.

Enthusiasm is also important, especially fitness leadership.  Enthusiasm doesn't just mean "cheer-leading" or keeping a smile going right through a gruelling work out.  It is a genuine interest and excitement in an activity.  If the aqua aerobics instructor is genuinely having fun with the class, that fun is contagious, and by injecting enthusiasm into the participants, the leader can increase the participants enjoyment and involvement in activities.  You may not be able to get participants enthusiastic about a particularly difficult section of a routine, but you can get them enthused about the results.

SENSITIVITY. Problems, disagreements, apathy, etc. all arise from time to time. The leader must be quick to sense these things if they are going to be stopped before they grow into a real problem.  The fitness leader must be responsive to the needs of the group, and while most participants will be involved on a voluntary basis, their problems and concerns still need to be dealt with.  For instance, many women find they are uncomfortable exercising with men in the same group.  While we can all appreciate that segregation is not always appropriate, it may be appropriate to offer the same class as both a women's only group and a mixed group.  This is not only a good practice for meeting the needs of the clients, it is also good management.  Otherwise, many existing and prospective clients may choose to leave, or go elsewhere.

HONESTY AND FAIRNESS. It is not the place of the fitness leader to judge.  Some participants may have complaints or personality clashes with others in the class.  All complaints, regardless of the feelings of the leader, should be dealt with honestly and fairly.  Without these things, the respect at least, of some of the participants is lost,and the leadership role can become ineffective.  It is also important because, as a fitness leader, you must be able to maintain control of the class at all times.  Otherwise needless injury and accidents may occur, and regardless of how they are caused, you, as the leader of the aqua aerobics class, are ultimately responsible.

RESPECT FOR ONESELF AND OTHERS. Self respect and self confidence are very important. Poor self respect does little to secure the respect of the participants.  Additionally, participants may feel that the criteria by which you judge yourself is also the criteria by which you will be judging them.  If, as an aerobics leader, you are constantly complaining or making mention of your own lack of coordination or lack of confidence in appearance, etc., then you are likely undermining the attitudes and confidence of those around you.  Many people take up exercise in an effort to get fit, but also to feel better about themselves.  Part of your role is to respect these people, regardless, and support them in their endeavour to improve.  Otherwise, respect for you and your organisation is lost and the leadership role can become ineffective.

PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE. Do not become discouraged. Some people you lead are quick to follow...some are impossibly slow.  An important part of your role will be to keep the class interesting for those who catch on quickly while not alienating those who are slower to catch on.  There are a number of techniques that can be used to diffuse the situation.  For instance, if there is a large range of standards in the class, a buddy system can be introduced, so that those who may otherwise get bored can help to instruct those who need individualised instruction a leader may not be able to provide.  Or during early sessions, while people are just getting used to the movements, have a second instructor moving through the group, providing one-to-one support and ensuring that participants have the correct form and posture.  Only as a last result should your suggest that a participant leave a class, and only then if you can suggest a class that might be more suitable for their experience level.

KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. It is dangerous for a leader to try to do something they are not capable of.  Class participants respect the knowledge and ability of the leader, but they must also realise that, as a person, you cannot be expected to know or be able to do everything.  Some participants can be very demanding in their need for knowledge, and it is very disheartening to have to say "I don't know" or "I'll have to check it out" or even "I'm not sure how to complete that movement".  However, you are ultimately responsible for the safety of your clients and it is better to ensure that they are adequately informed than to worry about a perceived lack of knowledge.  Besides, while one person may make you feel you have a lack of knowledge, most others will realise that it is unreasonable to expect a leader to know all things.

BE ABLE TO MAKE (AND BE RESPONSIBLE FOR) DECISIONS. Often a poorer decision made quickly and acted on is better than a better decision which you take a long time to act on. People are impatient. Do not delay decisions too long.  However, deciding not to make a "split second" decision is a decision in itself.  Some things are just too important to be taken lightly.  A leader is someone who will make a decision, and take responsibility for that decision.  If a decision is the wrong one, take responsibility, but keep it in perspective.  For instance, you may elect to refuse a person permission to enter an exercise session if they have no proof of having had a recent check-up by a doctor.  That person may cause a scene, and even make a complaint about your conduct.  But as a fitness leader, you have a right, as well as a responsibility, to ensure that your participants are not exercising in a manner that may cause them more harm than good.  Be prepared to give your sound reasons for making the decision you made.

BE ABLE TO ORGANISE, ADMINISTER AND PLAN.  Even though these functions might sometimes be the job of someone other than the recreation leader, they are an integral part of the leader's job and the leader almost certainly will find him/herself called to undertake these tasks at times.  And a well organised, well planned class is a fun class for the participants.  A leader that is not sure of what they expect of the participants, or who appears to have arrived "just in time" with little thought as to how the class will be run will quickly loose the confidence of their clients.  Those who have chosen to attend an aqua fitness course are there because they have chosen to attend an ORGANISED exercise session.  If the session is anything less, they will likely look for alternatives (or other providers!).

Read more in our Leadership book -click

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