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Passing the Torch: Becoming a Mentor

Author by Danita Watkins



Are you interested in advancing your career as an aquatic fitness instructor while making a positive impact in the aquatic fitness industry? If so, it might be time to think about becoming a mentor.

Mentoring, while important in many areas of personal and professional life, is crucial for those in the fitness industry, especially for those just starting to teach. There are many stages of a fitness instructor's journey, and everyone needs a mentor at some point to help navigate areas of unknown territory.  The Cambridge dictionary defines a mentor as “a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school”, so a mentor should have experience in the field and be willing and able to share his/her knowledge and skills.

There are many ways that mentorships can be offered and practiced, especially with all the resources the internet provides, but having an individual mentor that the mentee can actually talk with one-on-often provides the best outcomes. Anyone can be a mentor, but a good mentor will possess certain qualities that set them apart. Good mentors:

  • Develop a relationship that encourages communication
  • Offer both positive feedback and constructive assessment, suggesting ways to improve while still providing encouragement.
  • Can observe the big picture and point the mentee in a direction that best uses his or her .
  • Are not afraid to pass on their experience.

As a fitness mentor, your job is not only to be a role model for leadership and safety, but also to "pass the torch" in your area of expertise.

A mentoring journey begins when both the mentor and mentee agree to enter into the mentoring relationship. Once it has begun, the relationship should last until the mentee is ready to progress on his/her own, or until the timeframe allotted (discussed at the outset) has been completed. The process can be broken into steps, depending on goals that are determined in the initial planning stage.  As each step is achieved, you move on to the next; keeping a progress log is always a good idea.

The following is a checklist to start mentoring a new aquatic fitness instructor, as well as some considerations for mentoring once you've begun:
1.  Sit down (or have a phone conversation) with your mentee and discuss goals you want to achieve.During this initial communication, expectations should be laid out for both parties to ensure there are no misunderstandings, though these expectations can change as you progress with your relationship. Discuss any training and experience your mentee already has with the aquatic environment. As the mentor, you should communicate what goals are expected, as well as the steps to achieving that goal. The mentee should be fully aware of the commitment involved, and you should be fully aware of what the mentee expects from the relationship as well. With the expectations on both sides clearly laid out, the mentee will be able to work on improving their skills in a positive frame of mind.
2. If you live in the same area, have your mentee observe you teaching class, observing from the deck and also participating in the water. Being able to both observe and directly experience your teaching skills will give them fuller perspective on leadership skills and teaching techniques.  If attending your class is not feasible, consider having someone video you while teaching and share this with your mentee (see more in number 6).
3. Discuss aquatic certifications. Getting certified is important, and most facilities require some sort of certification. Explain your own experience with certifications: the process of acquiring them, the difference they've made in your career, and the ease of maintaining them. I encourage instructors to get certified or trained with AEA. Offer help to your mentee prepare for the certification process; having someone to help can make the process less intimidating and improve success.
4. Draw on your own experience and teaching skills to help your mentee be creative and effective in their own programming. Even though most instructors have some idea of how to organize a class, there is still a lot to learn, especially when it comes to introducing new programming to participants. Instructors need to be able to understand what they are teaching and why. For example, ensure that your mentee understands the properties of water and how they affect each move of a workout. Familiarize them with what equipment is most effective in various situations. Discuss music and how it can be used to create different intensities; explain what music you use and how to match music with participant preferences to enhance motivation.
5. Have your mentee co-teach with you.  Co-teaching helps new instructors get the feel of teaching and helps build confidence as they get accustomed to being in front of a group. 
6.  Film yourself teaching, and film your mentee teaching. No one likes to see themselves in action, but it will open your mentee's eyes about how they teach and might help pinpoint areas for improvement.
7. Use the internet. Mentoring online is gaining popularity, since the mentor and mentee no longer need to live close to one another (although I personally prefer using both the internet and one-on-one instruction). YouTube is a great tool that allows you to post teaching videos and give and receive feedback.
8. Offer progress reports to your mentee. In these reports, refer back to the specific goals and steps determined in your initial meeting. 

Mentoring a new or existing instructor on their journey towards becoming a leader in aquatic fitness is one of the most important things you can do as an experienced aquatic fitness professional. Instructors without mentors may find themselves stuck in a rut and even begin to lose interest in teaching. By contrast, mentors can offer knowledge, encouragement, and advice to help new instructors improve existing teaching skills and learn new ones, keeping them motivated to provide quality programming while preventing burn out. A mentor can increase the mentee's self-confidence by sharing how to accept feedback and use to make positive strides forward.  Mentoring also reinforces the importance of networking with colleagues.

As we’ve seen, the mentoring relationship is very beneficial for the mentee, but it can be very satisfying for the mentor as well. I have had several mentees, and I've witnessed some amazing growth along each one's journey. I know firsthand that mentoring can be a very rewarding endeavor, and it can provide you with new insights and perspectives you might not otherwise have experienced.  Ultimately, you become a better instructor even as you help your mentee do the same.

The aquatic industry is a unique part of the fitness world, and your experience as an aquatic fitness instructor is valuable. If we do not mentor fellow instructors, that knowledge will not be passed on. A mentoring relationship can provide benefits that will last a lifetime, both to the mentee and the mentor.  Being there to guide others and pass on the torch is vital for the health and wellbeing of others.



Danita Watkins is the owner and creator of Watkins Water Fitness.  She is a certified aquatic fitness professional, presenter, and author of many Akwa magazine articles.  As a CEC/CEU provider for ACE, AEA, and AFAA, Danita presents her workshops across the US and has also presented the AFAA Aquatic Workshop and Primary Certification formats.  Danita is the author of several AEA online education programs, a WATERinMOTION®  and free-lance instructor, and an AEA AFAP/AFEP program leader.

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