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Pay It Forward: Mentor New Instructors

The popularity of aquatic fitness classes continues to grow, which means that the need for new aquatic fitness instructors also continues to grow. In some areas there are not enough trained instructors to meet the demand. Take a moment to remember how you got into water fitness in the first place. Chances are good that someone asked you if you'd be interested in teaching a class. Consider paying it forward and encourage someone to become an instructor by serving as his or her mentor



Look at your own class participants. Is there someone who is enthusiastic and regularly shows up for every class? Someone who performs the exercises with especially good form? Or someone who enjoys welcoming new participants and making them feel comfortable? Perhaps there is a lifeguard on the stand during your class who watches with interest. You might know a land instructor or a personal trainer who could be interested in taking on the challenge of a water fitness class. Approach the individual and compliment those qualities that you have noticed, and that you believe he/she could make a good water fitness instructor. If you receive a positive response, offer to mentor this individual.



Some people might have experience in fitness, but others may need training to get started. There are many training courses, both online and in-person, to help the individual get started.  If you want to take your leadership to the next level, then you may want to become a recognized AEA Continuing Education Provider and develop a basic training course, one that will help interested individuals to prepare for certification.  See the article by Mark Grevelding in the June/July issue of AKWA Magazine for more information.


Even if you choose not to become a recognized CE Provider, you can still offer a study session using the most current edition of the AEA Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual as your guide. Encourage your mentee to attend and/or observe your classes for programming ideas, cueing tips and motivational strategies. The AEA AFP Practical Applications DVD is also a great resource to learn the basics of using the water effectively.


Share tips to guide your mentee successfully along the journey, such as where to find appropriate apparel and music sources for class instruction.  Explain the importance of having CPR/AED and water safety training, as well as how to obtain. Discuss the need for liability insurance, costs involved, and where/how to purchase. These are things we take for granted because we have learned along the way.  Make the process easier for those you are encouraging to follow your footsteps.


Let them get their feet wet!

With approval from the management of your facility*, invite your mentee to teach a specific section of your class, perhaps the warm-up, 10 minutes of cardio training, a strength training section or the cool-down. Once he/she has gained experience and confidence, suggest teaching an entire class while you observe and evaluate. *Note: Discuss this in advance with management as there are issues of which you may be unaware, such as insurance, liability concerns, waivers, etc. 


You may need to assist with developing a lesson plan to make sure he/she is prepared for a full class.  Additionally, books and DVDs are available from many sources, and make good reference tools for an aquatic leadership library. AEA's website has a wide range of books, DVDs and music to help instructors of all levels ( My book, Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography, shares 36 shallow-water lesson plans and 36 deep-water lesson plans.  Hydro-Fit offers a series of 7 illustrated exercise guides that can be purchased separately or as a package.  Do No Harm, by Pauline Ivens and Catherine Holder, is a DVD with an accompanying book that contains a wealth of information about safe exercises. Stephanie Thielen's Aqua Anthology is another good resource for beginners sharing a collection of moves by category.


Always follow up after observing your mentees teaching skills. Never give feedback in front of the participants, but rather privately afterwards. Start with the positives, all the things they did well. Then discuss the areas that need improvement, and offer suggestions for how to achieve. For example, if all the noodle exercises targeted the triceps, provide noodle exercises for the biceps, pectorals, the latissimus and the deltoids, so that next time their workout will be more balanced. End your feedback with another compliment.


Get them certified.

After your mentee has 6 months of experience, encourage him/her to sign up for the AEA certification examination. Explain the importance of allowing adequate preparation time, at least 8-12 weeks is usually suggested. Offer your expertise and availability for any questions or concerns about exam preparation. Once your mentee passes the certification examination, celebrate with a card or small gift.  This is a big step – one that you achieved together.


Continue the education.

Certification is not the final step.  Education is a continuous process and required to maintain AEA Certification.  You can again be instrumental in your mentee's success by keeping him/her in the loop for upcoming workshops, including scheduled CPR/AED re-certification. Encourage your mentee to attend IAFC or an AEA Regional Event with you, sharing in the education, networking and fun.


Take it a step further, and open doors to all instructors at your facility or in your community. Offer an in-service training on areas where you excel, such as a demonstration on a new piece of equipment or a new class format. Schedule a continuing education training with AEA or any of the approved providers listed on the AEA website.


It takes some effort and an investment of time to mentor someone, but seeing a beginner transition into an experienced and competent aquatic fitness professional is your well-deserved reward.



AEA. 2010. Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual, sixth edition.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics




Christine Alexander is the author of Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography. She is an AEA CEC provider and a member of the board of the Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals in Dallas, Texas. She teaches water fitness classes for the City of Plano Parks and Recreation Department. She holds certifications through AEA, USWFA, YMCA, and the Arthritis Foundation. Christine can be reached at