Wednesday, March 28, 2012

AIM 2: Issaquah, Washington

I didn't really announce this beforehand, but as some of you know, I had the amazing opportunity to attend AIM 1 last year with Lisa Osborne. It was truly a career highlight and something I always think fondly upon. Here in the United States, AIM 2 has been a bit of a frustrating wait. There were only a couple of them for Pump only since the new AIMs were announced last year, and then they virtually disappeared. I wanted to attend the first one for Attack last year in Georgia, but didn't have the funds available. As I continued to stalk, I finally was able to locate one in the Seattle, Washington area that was feasible for traveling purposes. Interesting that my Attack journey has literally taken me to opposite ends of the country.

I decided to sign up, albeit at the last minute. The week leading up to it was absolutely insane, as I drove from Phoenix to Salt Lake City for a mini vacation (although when you spend 2 hours at Starbucks every day doing homework, it doesn't always feel like a vacation). I then flew from Salt Lake City to Seattle, and then flew from Seattle to Phoenix after training. Phew! As such, the only real prep I did for AIM 2 was to memorize the release we were presenting from (BA76), and I even cut corners here by asking ahead if we needed to know the strength tracks or cooldown (luckily we didn't).

I don't want to spoil too much for other people who might go, but I will briefly touch on what we did, before spending a few minutes talking about what I got out of it.

AIM 2 is, hands down, the absolute best training I have ever attended. I've been to 4 quarterlies, 3 initial modules, and now AIM 1 and 2, which I know isn't a huge amount when compared to others. However, when put into practicality of what is actually useful to improve your teaching and become a better instructor, this one is the absolute best. I almost wish they would flip it and do AIM 2 first, and then send you to an AIM 1 format-specific training. I just feel like EVERY instructor needs the up-skilling that AIM 2 aspires to, although I understand that this is an organic process, meaning that it's a combination of what you bring to the table AND the insights provided. In other words, if you aren't ready or willing to learn, you aren't ready for what AIM 2 offers, and you will struggle.

I should also say here that my module was facilitated by Amanda Scales (who trains Step, Attack, and Pump), and Josef Matthews (who trains Combat, Pump, and Flow). Therefore, those are the formats that we were able to present. I'm glad that at least you get feedback from a trainer in your core format. It would be difficult for me to stomach feedback on how I was teaching from a non-Attacking trainer.

So what did we do? Let me start by saying that this training is, physically speaking, the least challenging I've ever done. Other than the presenting you do (and participating for the other presenters), there are a few team-building things you do involving physical activity, and even those are designed to be fun and team-building. In other words, we really didn't spend any time working on technique, unless you personally took the time to ask the trainers.

The vast majority of the module consisted of learning about how to advance your coaching and connection skills, and that is a VERY simplified summary of it. Basically, they try and instill that your classes are not about you, they are about the participants. They teach you how to coach 1 outcome or goal per set of repetitions, and then to shut up and let what you're saying sink in. They teach you how to use your general track objectives, specific track focuses, and any other class focuses you might have, to script your coaching. They teach you how to try and connect with the music, how to reach out to participants that aren't the same personality as you, and then finally, to watch your class. If you see that your class needs something, you deviate from any pre-conceived script/plan you had and help them, and then come back to it.

I have been so frustrated the past year or so, because I have known that my teaching has been focused on me. Anyone who doesn't believe me, ask Jeremiah who is my sounding board. I spend a good 30 minutes post-class processing how I did, what I could do better, what worked and what didn't. I have known that I spend my time worrying if I am saying all the right things, showing all the right technique, and if I impress my fellow instructors, my participants, etc. My entire thought process has been focused on me. Yes, it is because I want to do better, but I have been focused on being a really great actor, and no one wants to take a class from an actor. It's really strange to realize that you spend an entire hour in front of a group of 20-50 participants, but you never really see any of them. Check this video out and you'll see what I mean.

The other thing that this was great for? Organization. I often feel that I fly by the seat of my pants as far as what to say and when to say it. It seems a bit random at times. This module taught me how to turn that focus around and organize what I say, when to say it, and most importantly, why we do it this way. This way, you truly understand the process, which allows you to deviate from that plan, but then come back to it afterwards.

One thing they tell you when you sign up (which I whole-heartedly agree with) is to NOT attend the module focused on attaining Advanced or Elite status. You need to be a sponge and just open yourself up to everything that's being thrown at you. Make no mistake... just because this training isn't physically demanding does NOT mean it's not hard. You really have to stretch yourself. Keep in mind that the kind of instructor you are today is the result of however many years/months worth of thinking/speaking you've done up to this point. In order to make a real shift, you have to be willing to open your mind up to teaching in a different way, rather than just trying to do your "old" way the best you've ever done it. They will see right through you. This was the single best decision I made prior to going... just view it as a learning process and you will do great. Basically, if you are ready to improve, SIGN UP! If you just want to get that stamp of approval, you need to re-think your frame of mind before going.

As with all trainings, I made some really great connections, relationships, and memories. But more importantly, I came out with clarity and understanding about a lot of things. I taught a class alone the day after getting home and was told it was the best class I've ever taught, and this is by people I've been coming to the gym with since I was just a participant. I broke down in tears afterwards... it's just so nice to have a breakthrough and be able to move forward with something you work so hard for.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mixing Playlists

Recently I've decided to change the way I teach a little bit. Since becoming certified in May 2010, I have heavily mixed my playlists, a practice which every other instructor at my club practices as well. (Just to clarify, what this means is that you might see 12 different releases in my class. I still follow the format requirements, as does everyone else). In speaking with other trainers and instructors who's opinions I respect a great deal, I've decided to switch it up a bit and teach releases in their entirety, or only mix 2 releases. I feel like this is a good step for me for a few reasons:

  1. I'm able to learn more material.
    Granted, I am a bit of a self-admitted track snob. I take pride in learning new tracks and sharing them with my class, and it's nice to be able to switch the playlist last minute if I have an unexpected request or if I'm just feeling a certain song in the moment. Teaching this new way, I will learn never-before-seen (for me) or revisit tracks that I haven't learned/taught in a very long time. This means that my members will see more, and maybe find a new track they love or can connect with.

  2. It forces me to teach tracks I wouldn't otherwise.
    There are several tracks within the Attack world that I don't care for and rarely teach unless requested. As I've said before, I feel like it's a mark of a good instructor to be able to teach music you wouldn't normally, since the class is more about your members then it is you.

  3. Sometimes your opinion (or in this case, mine) about a release can change over time.
    The past two weeks, I have been teaching almost exclusively from BodyAttack 64 (watch for that review to come soon). This was the very first release I launched as a participant, and the beginning of my Attack career if you will. I remember at the time, both immediately post-launch, and then the first year after, that I didn't care for the release very much. Tracks 2, 5, and 12 have always been my absolute favorites, track 7 is an instructor favorite at my club, and track 9 is a huge crowd pleaser. The other 7 songs? I couldn't stand them at the time. When I made the decision to pull this release off the shelf and teach from it, I wasn't anticipating having a huge amount of fun with it. To my total surprise and delight, I've discovered a new love for tracks 3, 4, 6, 8, and 11. Tracks 3 and 8 in particular are really fun to teach, and I would say more fun to teach than just take as a participant. There are some great moments in there to play off of and create fitness magic, and I would now say 64 is one of my better-liked releases.

  4. It creates a better class flow.
    It is totally fair to say that Lisa (or any PD) creates an entire release with flow and variety in mind. I remember speaking with Chris Maddox, one of the US trainers, who told me that he once unintentionally taught a class with 4 or 5 tracks that had drop squats. I myself have experienced the same thing with square patterns. And I will say if your focus in a particular class is that move or pattern, then this isn't a bad thing. But if it's unintentional, it can look very sloppy/lazy to have 4 songs with the same-ish choreography. Also, you can wind up with an entire class of female singers, a class dominated by a particular music style or artist, etc, or if you're REALLY not careful, you can go over the time limit. The releases do flow much better and provide more variety when taught as intended. At the Orlando quarterly I attended last year, Susan Renata told us that whenever she teaches releases more than 3 years old, she teaches the entire release for that week, and then puts it away for a while.

One thing I am still trying to figure out is how long I should keep the same playlist/release from. When we launch new stuff, we usually only keep it for the required 2 weeks. I understand this from the instructor's standpoint. Here in the states, we get our materials 2-3 months before we launch (I do not know why we do it this way), so by the time launch comes around, we are already pretty sick of the new music. Then, during launch, we teach the same material for 2 solid weeks, and because we are teaming more then usual, it's not uncommon to do the same release 10 times in a 2 week period. It gets mind numbing. I myself will keep the new release for 1 additional week if I and my participants like it. But now, as I teach older releases, should I keep them for a couple of weeks for consistency? My gut instinct is to do whatever I teach for 2 weeks and then switch. This seems easier to manage and a good balance for regulars vs newer members.

This is a topic which I would really like some feedback on. If you are an instructor, I'd love to hear your thoughts/practices on heavy mixing vs teaching releases in their entirety, and how long you keep your playlists for?