(Read Time: 3:48)
I was on a forum for gym owners recently and the subject of ‘corporal punishment’ came up for people coming late or leaving equipment out, i.e. making people do burpees as penance. The replies were pretty split down the middle, but it definitely seemed like the more veteran owners had figured out that shaming people and punishing them isn’t usually the best strategy. I thought it was a good point of discussion for what the difference between being an adult’s Coach/Mentor/Instructor and being a kid’s Team/PE coach is, and what it means being in the ‘Customer Success’ business versus the ‘Customer Service’ business.
This is where the line blurs between the coach of 'the high school / college' variety, and trainer in the gym.
Many gym owners and coaches who are in this business have no frame of reference of adult instruction and mentorship. They DO have tons of experience with team sports growing up. Coaches working with younger athletes that are usually there, at least in part, because their parents/scholarship is making them, can get away with a lot more of this type of discipline. Generally speaking, punishment used in this fashion is to teach some life lessons about showing up on time, respect for others, etc.
Grown adults are generally not going to pay money to shamed and punished in front of their peers for long. But this doesn't mean that you should let them walk all over you!
Pulling someone aside who has trouble is the first step... Maybe giving them a gentle ribbing in class if they are the kind of person who won't be offended by it. When talking to them one on one, ask them what is up. Don't accuse them of anything or tell them that they can't be late. Listen more than talk. See if you can help them with a solution (can they come to a later class? What if they do the warm up then put on their oly shoes...etc.).
If they can't seem to understand the value of actually using the entire hour to train AND that they are disrespecting the time of the coach and other classmates, it may be time to cut the cord (but this is generally very rare). It only makes sense if the other people in the class are seriously bothered by it. Some clients are chronically 5 min late and nobody cares. But on that note, grown adults aren't going to pay money for classes that don't get started until 10min after because multiple people are always late!
In that case, you may do a temporary thing where for two weeks everyone who is more than 5 min late has to start in a later heat, put away other people's equipment, get a big red checkmark next to their name, or even... make the whole class do 5 burpees with them! (Use sparingly). This is only necessary when trying to change the behavior of a large group and not just a few individuals (so there isn't nearly as much of a 'shame' piece to it).
The discussion here that is related is the difference between 'customer service' and 'customer success'. Customer service is primarily a way of thinking in the transactional business of selling goods or one-time services. Customer success is the name of the service department that works in the membership business.
We are not executing a transaction. They are not paying for 60 minutes of "exer-tainment". We are one of the few people in our clients lives that truly and genuinely invest our own time and energy in their success. We only succeed if they succeed (in fitness and in life).
Punishing and embarrassing a client in front of the class may make the coach feel better because they got retribution on someone who was disrespecting them and the rest of the class, but it isn't helping that person succeed. Educating them on why they need to get there before class, working with them on ways they can jump in without disrupting the rest of the class, and being a good listener to find out why this keeps happening, are ways to set them up for success.
Remember, you are not running a PE class. You are engaged in a (hopefully) life long relationship of making someone more awesome. Most people will not pay money to be in a relationship where shame is one of the main interaction points.
But they will stick around a long time if you are always trying to help them be successful!