As a group exercise instructor, entering yourself and/or your organisation for awards will have a great many benefits for your business – especially if you win.
Awards are a great way to enhance the visibility of your brand, increase your reputation, give a boost to your credibility and supply you with a whole host of free content marketing materials to promote your business on your website and across your social media channels.
However, group exercise awards don’t just get handed out to anybody. In order to be considered for an award, you have to be doing something truly outstanding and worthy of official recognition.
This year, EMD UK was proud to present the International Fitness Showcase (IFS) Instructor Award for Promoting Positive Change to the fantastic Tracey Raikes, a Zumba group exercise instructor in south Wales. Tracey, along with fellow finalists – founder of Derby-based Zestfit Kathryn Williams, and Teeside-based Toni McGlone of Clubbercise® – had to meet a strict set of criteria to enter for the award, and demonstrate, by way of client testimonials, that they were going above and beyond in their efforts to support their respective communities get involved with group exercise and achieve their fitness goals.
EMD UK received an overwhelming number of entries this year, making it a huge task for our judging panel to pick just three worthy finalists from a sizeable and impressive stack of nominees.
So, what made Kathryn, Toni and of course Tracey in particular, stand out from the crowd? What makes an award-winning instructor?
We caught up with Tracey and Kathryn to find out what they had to say about this, and what tips they had for other group exercise instructors out there who might be considering entering themselves for an upcoming award.
Interviews with IFS Award Winner Tracey Raikes, and Finalist Kathryn Williams
EMD UK: Why did you become a group exercise instructor?
Tracey: For me, I made the decision to become a Zumba instructor while I was a participant at one of my local classes. Zumba gave me confidence, and I said to my instructor at the time when she was going on holiday: “Can I run your class while you’re away?” She told me that I could, but I really needed to have some form of exercise background to deliver a safe class. So, that’s when I decided to do my Exercise to Music qualification and become a professional fitness instructor – and I’ve never looked back.
Kathryn: I was about 18 and my mum took me to a local class just up the road from where we lived. I fell in love with it straight away. I’d just finished my A-levels, and I said to my mum: “You know what? I really want to do an instructor course.” So I did. At first, I took over just one class as the original instructor was leaving town – I stepped straight into it. I ran the class alongside my full-time job – that was about 22 years ago – and eventually I landed a job at one of the local gyms, and my career skyrocketed from there.
EMD UK: What do you like most about being a group exercise instructor?
Tracey: The difference you make to people’s lives – that’s right at the top of the list. Obviously, you don’t know what’s going on in people’s private lives, but when they come to an exercise session – how they feel coming in is totally different to how feel when they leave you. They’re always smiling, having a laugh, things like that – you’re giving them real joy. It’s very rewarding. I also love giving my time to people. I like schools. I like to go into schools and raise money and participate with the children so they can see how much fun fitness can be. You have a real impact on young people’s lives. It’s also great getting people together to have fun and get fit.
Kathryn: I love giving back. I love seeing the women in my classes achieve their goals. We get so many females coming in who are so nervous – they’re frightened of being judged, they feel intimidated. But, once they meet me and I get them in the group exercise arena dancing and working out, they realise they can do it and there’s nothing to be afraid of. Once they’ve finished the class, got through it and are all full of endorphins and really enjoying themselves… it’s just the best feeling to see the joy you’re bringing to people.
EMD UK: What drives you to make a positive change in your community?
Tracey: For me, it’s Zumba itself. Zumba gave me the confidence to go out and do something – and so I wanted to give that same feeling to others who may be a bit shy, or who might think they can’t achieve their fitness goals because of an illness. I suffer with asthma, but, while I was still a participant, my instructor encouraged me and made me feel confident, and I knew I could go at my own pace and didn’t have to keep up with others. That’s what led me to becoming a group exercise instructor in the first place. I realised the importance of providing a safe and inclusive environment that was welcoming to everyone – that’s what makes the real difference to people in the community.
Kathryn: I think there are a lot of places in my community, like gyms, that are quite intimidating – especially for women. They’re not female-focused, and they’re not group exercise focused. Over the years, I’ve worked in some really intimidating environments – you know, spit and sawdust-type gyms – and I understand the struggle that women in particular face when trying to get fit. So, I wanted to set up a place in my local community where women felt safe – not intimidated, and not judged – and so that’s exactly what I did. Now I’ve got somewhere where women feel comfortable in the community, and I think that’s had a massive, positive impact.
EMD UK: What is it about group exercise that you think makes people get involved more, compared to training on their own?
Tracey: I think training on your own is really much more of an effort. You’ve really got to be motivated. I wouldn’t go to a gym by myself – but with group exercise, you’ve got that whole interaction with people. I’ve got so many stories about members who feel the same. To tell you one in particular – I have this lady from America in her late sixties. She’d just been through a divorce and had come back to the UK after living in the States since she was 16. She used to be a professional dancer, but after getting married and having children, things changed. When she came back to the UK, she plucked up the courage to attend one of my classes by herself – she had no family or friends over here. But by coming to Zumba, she made a whole bunch of new friends, who all went out of their way to support her and make her feel welcome. They’re now good friends outside of my class, and do all sorts of things together. That’s a big reason why group exercise is such a good motivator – it’s as much about building friendships as it is about getting fit.
Kathryn: You know what? People love exercising in a group. They love it. They feel it’s a motivational aspect. It’s the music. It’s the environment. It’s the teamwork. I think going into a gym on your own is often intimidating – when you’re wandering around, unsure which machines to use and who to ask for advice. Group exercise gives a sense of belonging. Everyone feels like they know each other, and that’s comforting. It becomes a nice little community where everyone is in the same boat. It becomes more than just a class for members – it really becomes who they are. Group exercise classes are a great way to have fun in a group environment, and not feel like you’re in competition with one another, or feel like you’re being stared at. You can just let the music take control, and let the beat feel your feet!
EMD UK: Has the IFS Award for Promoting Positive Change had an impact on you and/or your business?
Tracey: The immediate impact is that, because you do what you do on a daily basis – and just do it naturally – you never know for sure just how much you’re changing people’s lives. So, when I read all the email testimonials from my class members supporting my application, and how much they really wanted to show their appreciation, that’s when I finally felt sure about the good that I’m doing. And winning the award was true recognition – it showed that people really do value what I do, and I really am making a difference. It makes it all worth it.
Kathryn: It’s had such a positive impact, and it’s really shown how much support you actually get from your own class members. It’s not often as a group exercise instructor that you actually ask anything from your members except that they show up every week. But people were fighting to provide their testimonials – it’s really shown me the support that I have in the community. Because it’s hard work, and it’s non-stop – juggling a career, running a business, being a mum – and knowing that it’s recognised is an amazing feeling. You know it’s all worth it, that it’s all been worth doing.
EMD UK: Do you see yourself applying for other group exercise instructor awards?
Tracey: Well, my class members certainly think so! They’ve been so encouraging, telling me that I should apply for more things. You know, I don’t actually feel like I go above and beyond in any deliberate sense – I just think that I’m doing what I normally do. But my class members have all said that if there are other awards out there, I should go for them. That’s the faith they have in me, and it’s great because they’re actually motivating me in the way that I always try and motivate them. It’s fantastic.
Kathryn: Yes, definitely – I want to win one! Being a finalist for the IFS Award has definitely made me proactive and given me the confidence to enter myself for others. There’s a lot out there, and I know that there are a lot of group exercise instructors who are making lots of positive changes to people’s lives, but I’ll definitely be putting myself forward for other awards. It’s given me the confidence to go out there and do it again.
EMD UK: Do you have any advice for fellow group exercise instructors who may be considering applying for an award themselves?
Tracey: Yes. Just go for it. If you think you meet the criteria for an award, then go for it, because if you don’t apply, then you could miss an opportunity – like I would have done if I hadn’t applied. I wouldn’t have this award, and I still wouldn’t be sure about the impact I was having. It’s not that I need the award, but it’s nice to have that recognition and appreciation, and to know that you’re doing a good job. Just go for it.
Kathryn: Absolutely – go for it. I think a lot of the time, as a group exercise instructor, you question yourself. You are in the thick of running a business, you’re very blinkered, and you don’t really take it in that you’re making such a difference in people’s lives. But you should never underestimate that. Not everyone will shout it from the rooftops – sometimes people are quiet about the positive influence you’re having. But entering yourself for an award gives your participants a voice, and that can motivate you even more to be the best you can be in your own environment.
EMD UK: Putting awards aside for a moment – how else has EMD UK, your national governing body for group exercise, helped or impacted your career as a group exercise instructor?
Tracey: It’s great to know that EMD UK is there – that you can call upon them for anything. You can always email or talk to them on the phone, and they’re full of support and advice. If I ever want to get advice on further training, or if there’s anything I’m unsure of in my business, I can just pick up the phone and say, “Look, I’ve got this problem,” and they’ll advise me on it, no problems at all. Before I became a member, I had to scour the internet, and you never know what you’re reading or who wrote it. But with EMD UK it’s all in one place, they’re real people, they do exactly what they say they do, and are qualified to help.
Kathryn: EMD UK is great for all the support and advice they offer. They’ve got fantastic support packages, run training courses, and if you look at their website, there’s so much great work they’re doing to support group exercise instructors. They offer advice and support on insurance, qualifications, and further opportunities. It’s been great having their support.
Have You Got What It Takes to Be an Award-Winning Group Exercise Instructor?
At EMD UK, we’re proud, excited and energised by the fantastic work that both Tracey and Kathryn are doing for group exercise and their participants. These are clearly two very special and dedicated group exercise instructors who love what they do and are committed to giving something back to their communities and class members.
Aside from being fantastic instructors, if they’ve both got something in common, it’s this – they’re both motivated by what they can do for others, and not just what they can do for themselves and their own respective businesses. Both are dedicated to making a positive impact in their community, and providing a safe and fun space for participants to drop the fear of group exercise and be all they can be. They are motivated by their class members’ achievements, by helping people overcome their apprehension of joining in, and creating a fun and welcoming environment for everyone.
This is what makes an award-winning group exercise instructor – true dedication to your members, and both Tracey and Kathryn have this in abundance. Sincere congratulations to them both for being chosen as finalists for the IFS Instructor Award for Promoting Positive Change this year, and of course extra special compliments to our winner Tracey.