Exploring Different Tools for Teaching Advanced High-Level Students

Episode 07

Taking on a class or training session with an advanced student might sometimes evoke a sense of uncertainty regarding what we, as their instructors, can offer them. This can be especially true when their physical practice looks ‘already perfect.’ It’s in this space, that it’s important to remember that we are here to help people move, enjoy, and love being in their bodies. Today, join in as we explore different tools that can help us deepen the practice of our high-level dancers or athletes. Tune in for deeper insights, which will help you, as an instructor, approach working with professional athletes openly and confidently while catering to their specific needs and achieving exceptional results. Movement is, after all, the joy that integrates us all together. 


Key Points From This Episode:


  • What all clients, high-level athletes or not, come into the training room looking for.
  • Tool to help someone deepen their practice: dynamics of movement.
  • Another tool when working with higher-level clients: letting go.
  • The relationship between the student to their movement; a question worth posing.
  • An alternative approach to engage high-level performers is through brain work.
  • Integrating the freedom to feel compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness into your training.
  • The importance of adding fun to your training sessions. 
  • Fresh air, space, and the opportunity to ‘just be.’



HT: I was having a conversation with another teacher and we were talking about how nervous she gets when she’s teaching advanced students or professional athletes or in this case, we were talking about professional dancers. She’s a Pilates teacher and I have complete faith that this teacher can give a fantastic class. I’m not worried about it at all that she would be able to deliver wonderful training for professional dancers. So, I’d like to just start to talk about, why do we get nervous as teachers when we’re teaching an advanced student and what are some of the things that we could be looking for to help them get deeper in their practice. Just exploring that issue.”




[0:00:52] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades. What I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. We as movement teachers and coaches have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange. 




[0:01:48] HT: Just a little bit of background here, because Chris and I were professional dancers for so long. We do get a lot of professional athletes, whether that is other professional ballet dancers in the area. Sometimes we get different sports. We’ve had a few Olympic athletes that have come through Paralympics. People that are working at a very high level for their sports, even if it’s not a professional, but really at high level. 


It does require a little bit of a different eye on maybe the movement patterns what they might be looking for in the class, but I want to say that they’re all the same, like all people are the same. I’m not just talking about those high-level athletes or those professional athletes, but anyone that comes into the training room. They’re looking for something and usually that’s something, whether they say it or not. It’s somehow having to do with their relationship with their body to self, like body and mind, or how do they express themselves better through their body, whether it’s through the artistic form, like maybe it is in the dance or gymnastics or something like that or maybe it’s expressing through sport like, how do I get better at handball, or soccer, football here in Europe. 


I wanted to give a couple of different tools and things that I look at when I’m looking at a person’s physical practice. It looks — I’m using air quotes here, but it looks “already perfect” — What happens when the person in front of you is doing everything exactly right and you feel like, “Oh, there’s nothing to say there.” There might not be anything to say like I don’t want to be picking down looking for super minute details on a person’s practice, because for me personally that’s not that important.


It might be interesting, but most of the time it’s not really the thing that the person is after, if you were to dig a little bit deeper. So, to help someone deepen their practice, maybe it’s not, “Oh, move your finger to the right. A couple centimeters or millimeters.” Or, “Turn your head just a little bit more to the side.” I mean you could do that, but I think much more interesting would be looking at the dynamics of the movement. How can you give more interesting musicality to the way that they’re moving? Does it feel full or does it feel a little bit too sparse in the way that they fulfill the entire range of movement, for example. 


That doesn’t mean that everything needs to be gigantic big, like I’m not talking about bigger, bigger, bigger. I’m talking about, is there a mix between maybe movement and stillness. It’s like that sound and silence like anytime you would listen to a great piece of music. There is louder parts. There are softer parts. There are faster. There are slower [parts]. That is something interesting to work on with your high-level athletes. The dynamic of the movement. I think there’s a lot of different ways for you as the teacher to be guiding them in there, but that’s just one idea. 


Another idea is letting go, maybe it’s letting go of being perfect. If you’re seeing any perfection in there or if it’s not holding the movements on time, can you build something within your training where you’re asking your student to let go and let gravity do the work. That’s interesting too, where there’s that little bit of freedom. That’s pretty scary for some of us. That’s exciting that it had, especially in Pilates, like everything is very linear and perfect and stuff, but where can we find the places to let go? What could that look like for them? 


When we’re talking about perfection also, like, because I’ve heard other teachers say, “Oh, yeah, but they’re perfect already.” Well, I don’t think the goal is the perfection, like it’s not perfect, no one is perfect. There’s nothing out there that’s perfect. Is this a relationship of getting better, and better, and better. Then you get to a certain point, this is just the way the human body works. You’re going to get to a certain point and then it starts to decline, and decline, and decline. 


What happens when you have a high-level athlete and it’s at the end of their career? In my case after dance, what is the elegance of letting go of some movements that aren’t suiting the person or the body that’s in front of you? Whether that’s forever or just for a time being. Maybe if they’re working through an injury. That’s an interesting letting go. I think it’s also interesting to be not perfect. What if you take a movement that someone knows very well? Maybe it has straight legs, and then you make them bent, or pointed feet, and then suddenly they’re flexed the way that you’re asking them to do that. 


How interesting would that be for them to have to take a look at their own relationship to that movement? Are they doing the movement, because they want it to look right, and want it to look perfect or is it more interesting to explore that new sensation, that new coordination that maybe wasn’t there before? If it was always done with the pointed foot or a long ankle. Then suddenly it’s flexed. What’s the difference? What does that mean to the rest of the movement or was it just an accessory? Was it just a way to decorate the movement? For example, if we’re talking about the ankle rather pointer flex, or where the hand is placed, or even the turn of the head. Is it an accessory or is it essential to where the movement is? 


Another thing that when we’re talking high-level, sometimes it’s a little bit harder in maybe a group dynamic, but I think it’s worth it to pose questions in there, but the relationship of you as a person. So, we’re talking to the student. The relationship from the student to the movement that they’re producing. Do they enjoy it? Is it hard? Does it pose a challenge? Is it okay for them if it’s not easy, but they’re making it look easy? Does it mean something more to them, than just doing the Pilates or the yoga or whatever training you teach? Can there be more authenticity in the way that they’re doing it? Do you have in a class full of people? Are they doing it exactly the way you do it or can they find a different way and still fulfill that movement sequence? Is there a different way that feels better for them to move their hands or even just approach it or any of the transitions?


Sometimes I see a lot of affectation in people’s movement. If you travel from one studio to the next student, of course, we have teachers. Then they teach the students. They’re teaching what they know. That’s the way it should be going, right? But how much of what your students are doing is your habits as a teacher and not what’s true to the body or the person that’s in front of you? Is there a couple extra frills and frills and thrills that you’re putting in there or they’re putting in there just, because they’ve seen you do it often? Can you eliminate that and get to the purest form of what that movement is?


Another way that I like to challenge that, let’s say that group of people, say they’re high-level performers is brain work. Maybe it is coming up with a sequence and you do it on one side and they have to do it on the other side, or you do the sequence on the right side and then they need to reverse the order on the other side, or if you always do something in one direction change the direction. So that there’s always a little something there that’s making their brains stay on top of it because sometimes it just gets a little bit routine and maybe that’s interesting for them.




[0:09:56] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training, so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers. Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers.




[0:10:44] HT: Maybe it is also something about compassion, and acceptance, and forgiveness, for ourselves. If you have a professional athlete that’s in front of you, we push through a lot of pain boundaries, and a lot of stuff. There’s just a mental race that we do, not just once, but years, and years, and years to get to the level that they’re performing at. So, sometimes just inserting a little bit of freedom to feel compassion for themselves and all that work that they’re putting in or acceptance of where they are doing well and whereas is maybe a little bit harder or even forgiveness for beating our bodies up for so long.


This doesn’t have to be for only for high-level athletes. Those qualities, can you find a way to integrate that for all of your students. I mean, I tell you we all need a little bit more compassion with ourselves. We all need a little bit more acceptance of ourselves. We all certainly need a little bit of forgiveness in there. So, what if that gets integrated into your training and how can you foster those concepts within, “Oh, I’m just doing a movement.” “Oh, it’s just a – whatever class structure you’re teaching, but I bet even with a simple sentence you can have people thinking more about it or allowing them to have more freedom to feel that.


Another way that we think is adding fun to a training. I mean if you got someone there in you’re training, in your class that is day in day out, during their training sequence for whatever game that they have coming up or performance or whatnot. Having a training where they can have fun, where they can laugh with you, where they can be themselves instead of always having to perform at that perfection level, maybe that is just as valuable as a cross-training.


I’m assuming, if you have a professional athlete and they’re doing whatever they need to do for their coaches, remember because that specificity of training, like if you play baseball you got to – and you’re playing at a high-level, you need to be playing baseball to get better at that baseball. Then what we do at least probably the listeners of this podcast, as teachers of yoga and Pilates, and Barre, and all and all sorts of those. We serve the purpose of helping a cross-training function, right?


We’re the supporters of whatever that goal is. Maybe adding a little bit of fun into training is what they’re looking for. You want to, maybe ask them. That fun maybe using the concept of gamification. It could be adding, I don’t know, music in there. It can look a lot of different ways of course that’s depending on maybe you have great jokes. I don’t know. I know we don’t have any good jokes around here, we’re just pretty silly people in, general. But fun is, like all we know about how we learn, how the brain picks up motor learning. It does require a little bit of a dopamine hit. So, adding some fun in there is a great thing, like you got all these happy hormones that are in there. It doesn’t have to be serious. 


I think that’s what specifically with this one conversation I was having with the teacher. The deeper we got into the conversation it was more of her fear of delivering a serious, good workout for these dancers in this case. I think knowing dancers, sometimes they just want to enjoy moving. They just really want to enjoy being in their bodies without anyone critiquing them. Having that, like a lot of people don’t know how hard is it to be constantly told every last little piece of movements, every millimeter. Not only just how you’re moving, but how your body is supposed to look like. It is exhausting to be a professional dancer, not just because you’re dancing the whole day, but just because of the mental weight of that.


I remember when I would go into my yoga practice and with my Pilates practice. The teachers that I stayed with are the ones that held me not physically, but held me in a safe environment where I could just breathe and enjoy movement, not be made a big deal out of. That’s where I really felt comfortable is when – yeah, years ago. I could do all the fancy things with my body, but it wasn’t like I needed to demonstrate every class. It wasn’t like the teacher would say, “Oh, yeah. Take a look at this and this.” 


The teachers that made me do that are ones that I didn’t visit very often, because I didn’t want to perform. I wanted to go inward. I wanted to feel present in my body without having to perform, without having to deliver. So, I think probably, many athletes feel that. Many athletes would just like to have that fresh air, and space to just be, to make some mistakes here and there or not make mistakes, but not to have to feel under scrutiny. So, I would say our tendency as teachers to feel like we have to deliver more perfection, because of the person that’s in front of us is probably the opposite of what that person needs.


Yes, they would like to be corrected. They would like to know what is going right or wrong, but not to be scrutinized in the idea that that’s going to help them. We don’t need to be looking for faults in their bodies to try to make it better and better. No, we got to just give them a little bit more freedom. That’s what I think. Maybe not everyone would agree with me on that. That’s totally, okay. I’d love to hear from you if you think otherwise. Yeah, definitely. 


All of my teacher friends, walk into that experience with that professional athlete with openness and also the confidence that you can totally ask them what they need on that day. That’s a good conversation to have. They’d feel so happy to be asked, and maybe they say – I’ve had other athletes say, “Hey, Hannah. I don’t want to think for the next hour. You just tell me what to do.” Perfect. I will let everything you got to do. Some people say, “Hey, Hannah. I had a hard day. Let’s put on some music and just enjoy.” Perfect. I am there. 


Our job, I think consists of guiding, and being open. If we could do that we are excelling, I think in doing what we have all signed up to do, right, is to help people move, and enjoy, and love being in their bodies and loving movement. So, my friends on that note, then I want to thank you for listening to these thoughts. I’m wishing you a wonderful rest of your day. Let me know if that was helpful at all for you and feel free to share it, if it worked for you. Thank you. Have a good one. Bye-bye.




[0:18:56] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating you could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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