Strategies for Successful Lessons

You’ve taken the CASI courses, learned about the skills, the drills, the “A’s” and the “I’s”. The funny part is so much of what we do in a successful (or unsuccessful) lesson comes down to the other stuff – the non-technical stuff that really doesn’t have a lot to do with snowboarding. It’s true – the best instructors have that ability to connect with their students using a combination of humour, empathy, conversation, and trust. Think back to a really great experience you’ve had in your past learning something or participating in a lesson of some type…chances are it had little to do with the technical info, and more to do with the experience as a whole.

The following tips can help you in the lessons you teach to create that experience for your students. Be careful though – get too good at this stuff and you’ll be booked solid, raking in the dough from request lessons!

1: Use Your Own Techniques
In short, believe in the techniques and methods that you are giving your students. Over the years, I’ve often overheard from instructors something along the lines of “when I’m teaching I use CASI-riding, but if I’m just out freeriding I don’t really use it”. Uh, pardon? This has never made any sense to me. It’s like a restaurant owner that won’t eat his own food! In effect what you’re saying is that the techniques you’re passing on to your students are good enough for them, but not for you.

In today’s industry, lessons aren’t cheap. Today’s instructors need to have the ability convey the value (financial and otherwise) of a premium product. Believing 100% in what you’re teaching to your students is crucial in being able to then sell a full-day private lesson to someone for many hundreds of dollars.

2: Ride Well
You’re being watched! Pay attention to the details in your riding even when you’re not necessarily demonstrating anything. You’re passing on movements, techniques, and methods to help your student’s riding…keep up your “street cred” by using and showing those when you ride. And you never know, you might just get better because of it. This stuff works, after all!

3: Eat Well
This extends beyond just what you eat, and should maybe be called “take care of yourself”. Our physical state is intimately linked to our psychological state, and teaching snowboarding is a physical job. You will bring a better product day in and day out if you feel good, look good, and are riding well.

We all know how it feels to be injured, hungover, tired or just run-down and still try to do a good job or just be a good person…it’s hard! Enjoy the resort lifestyle we all are here for, but try to create the circumstances in your life to avoid these negative states of being. Your students can tell when you’re just “phoning it in” and not only will it lead to sub-par lesson experiences (for both of you) but could also lead to increased chance of injury, which puts you out of a job you love.

Pro-Tip: Some after hours efforts here will go a long way. Stretch, snowshoe, walk, lift, jump, yoga, sauna…all of these will help you feel better than cooling down from a day on the hill at the bar.

4: Use Their Names A Lot, And Look Them In The Eye
I’d be willing to bet that most people are interested in hearing their own name more than any other word available, because it feels good! People are more likely to remember a lesson as a great experience if they feel that they had a connection with you. And one of the most basic ways to create a connection is to use their names. It shows you care.

Perception is reality, and saying “bud”, “dude” or “blue coat guy” gives the perception to your students that you don’t really care enough to learn or remember their name.

Also, convey sincerity by looking your students in the eye when you are speaking with them. Not only does this also show that you care, but it also conveys confidence, which will pay huge dividends in getting buy-in and trust from your students. You want them to believe in you as a leader, and leaders are confident (but not cocky).

Pro-Tip: Repeating names a lot will also help you remember them better…start immediately after the introductions by using their names in a sentence or question. Also, things can get really awkward when you get to the end of the lesson, and you can’t use names because you didn’t remember them from the start!

5: Follow Through On What You Say
In short, small things are big things. If you say you are going to work on 180’s today because that’s what your students have asked for, then work on those 180’s. If you say that you will do X run as a warm-up because it’s their favorite one, do that run.

Lessons are a stressful experience for many people, and surprises will only increase that stress. Give lots of clear indication about what your plans are, and as best as you can, stick to that plan. There will always be reasons why you can’t follow through on certain plans (weather, run closures, student ability, safety, etc.) but be clear and open with your students about why. It’s all about getting them to trust you.

6: Welcome Feedback (And Don’t Be Defensive)
Snowboarders are naturally interested in continually chasing improvement. As instructors, we are even more inclined to make ourselves better (who else do you know that would spend as much time as we do perfecting turning left and right?). Be open to taking feedback on your riding, teaching, or any other part of the lesson experience you create and avoid the urge to be defensive about it. It’s easy to get into the mindset that as the instructor, you should know it all, but the reality is you don’t (nobody does) so be open to getting better by taking criticism positively. Look at criticism as feedback and an opportunity to get better!

7: Admit When You Don’t Know Something
Related to the previous point, you might be the instructor, but you don’t know it all (who does, really). You have a duty to your students to know as much as you can about the sport we all love, which builds credibility, but there will always be things that you don’t know. Use these times where you’re not sure to expand your knowledge and let your students know that you will find out.

Pro-Tip: This small step of saying you will take the effort to learn about something that you don’t know will actually build your credibility in the long run; because by admitting you don’t know one thing you are actually saying that you do know the other things and not just BS-ing them on everything!

8: Be The First To Arrive, And The Last To Leave
If you really want to be a leader, show commitment and build trust by showing that you’re motivated, energized, and ready to lead your students. At the end of the lesson, stick around as your students leave so you can address any questions, offer some last minute feedback, or even better – sell another lesson!

Pro-Tip: Being the first to arrive will show your supervisors and co-workers that you’re there for the right reasons and good things will come to you. Get in the habit of telling yourself that the lesson start times are 15 minutes early, so you’re there when your students show up to get to know them and ask some questions. Carry business cards to give out at the end of the lesson along with some indication of what else there is for your students to learn.

9: Don’t Complain, Whine, or Make Excuses
Complaining, whining and making excuses are contagious diseases, and in a snow school environment, they can move through the ranks like a cancer. Sure, when it’s your twelfth day in a row on the magic carpet with beginners on rental equipment and it’s minus 21 it’s easy to complain. Just remember what you’re getting paid to do…keep the big picture in mind and remember it could always be worse! Somewhere, someone is screwing the caps on toothpaste tubes at the Crest factory.

Take on the challenging lessons, and use them as a way to make yourself a better instructor…it will pay off in the long run.

10: Smile!
Simply, smile. As an instructor, in a sense you are a one-person business owner responsible for your own success and earnings, and as your own shopkeeper your smile will indicate you’re open for business.

Remember these numbers: 7, 38, 55…

  • 7% of communication is what you say (the actual words).
  • 38% of the effectiveness of those words comes down to the tonality, inflection, volume,emphasis that you place on them.
  • 55% of your communication is about body language. Your students can tell your true motivations, mental state, and willingness to create a positive atmosphere by your body language.

A smile will set up this body language and will put you in a mental state to allow the other things to fall into place in a great lesson. Think about a time when you’ve been speaking to someone on the phone – you can often tell whether they are smiling or not by the sound of their voice! In person, this becomes even more powerful.

Pro-Tip: Think back to point #9 about complaining…the next time you feel the urge to whine, try a smile instead. That alone can turn things around for you.

Disclaimer: This information has been adapted from an excellent video that I ran across by trainer and gym owner Ben Bergeron titled “10 Ways to Lead From the Front In Your Gym” (Chasing Excellence with Ben Bergeron). Check it out here on Youtube.

Jeff Chandler
CASI National Technical Coordinator