A judge’s view...
"If you win this then you've really, really earned it"... That was one of the overriding thoughts from everyone involved at the World Skills UK Fitness Trainer Competition final which took place last week at The Skills Show in Birmingham.
A full 2 days of challenging tasks meant the finalists really had to keep focussed and perform consistently well to come out on top.
This is the first year that the fitness and leisure industry, nevermind the Fitness Trainer Competition (FTC) itself, has appeared at the show so it was a huge privilege to be part of the judging team. Let's hope it's the start of a new era in the recognition of the sector and what we can do.
I arrived at the NEC on Wednesday afternoon and despite having been told how big The Skills Show is, was immediately astounded by the sheer scale - a full 9 halls taken up by exhibition stands and competition spaces representing a huge array of sectors.
There was everything from beauty therapy and butchery, to cabinet making and culinary art, with floristry, automotive repair and landscape gardening just some of the other diverse skills on display. I can highly recommend a visit as you can't fail to be inspired and fascinated by some of the things you see, and in some cases have the opportunity to experience yourself.
The Fitness Trainer stand – single-handedly built by Competition Manager Christopher Pitts from Aoc Sport (who deserves an award himself for his involvement and organisation of the event from start to finish) - was a well-equipped pop up gym supported by office space for competitors and officials. It was fronted by a showcase area sponsored by CIMSPA, who have been a big fan of the FTC with it's emphasis on encouraging and rewarding higher standards for fitness professionals.
Wednesday afternoon was spent marking competitor portfolios with the other three members of the judge team, under the watchful eye of Head Judge Karen Stanton who once again ran a very tight ship throughout the final! Whilst we got stuck into the paperwork the Personal Trainer competitors were introduced to their 'surprise' task (more on that below).
Following some detailed standardisation that took us into the evening, a later-than-planned dinner with some excellent food rounded off a relatively relaxed day - was it to be the calm before the storm??
Thursday morning was an early start, with the live competition getting underway just as The Skills Show opened to visitors. Within an hour, the finalists were immersed in their practical tasks with hundreds of people (mainly eager schoolchildren!) watching on.
Judging the Personal Trainer category were myself and experienced tutor Clare Everest. We observed all six finalists delivering PT sessions to their clients throughout the day, with particular focus on their technical abilities.
After standardising and averaging scores we realised it was going to be a close competition with just 0.75 of a mark separating the top two finalists at the half way stage!
Following eight hours mostly on our feet having powered through a working lunch, dinner was once again a very welcome end to the day, with our superfood salads surely making up for the warm chocolate brownies with ice cream...
Friday was a BIG day for the PT category in more ways than one. Not only did the judges have a mammoth 10 hours of observations, questioning and scoring in store, the competitors were tested on their softer skills with tasks based in the findings from Future Fit Training's Raising the Bar report.
Communication and behaviour change skills along with commercial acumen were the focus of one task that required them to deliver a consultation and taster PT session to a potential client they hadn't met before. We were looking for the ability to build rapport, motivate the client to adopt a healthier lifestyle and encourage them to sign up for regular training sessions. All vital skills that PTs must master on top of their technical knowledge if they are to forge a successful career.
In addition, the finalists were really pushed out of their comfort zone with an unknown task they were only given the details of two days earlier. Equipment manufacturer Technogym had brought along their new SkillMill and after an introductory session from a Master Trainer Graham Short, the PTs were challenged with delivering a 5-10 minute presentation on it in front of show visitors, judges and VIP guests. Public speaking is no easy thing, especially if you're not experienced at it, but head mics donned, they each bravely stepped up to pitch the SkillMill and did their best to make an impression.
With a sizeable portion of the total marks available allocated to this task, it could have had a significant influence on the final results, so it wasn't one to shy away from.
The last activity of the competition was vivas for each competitor, so they needed to stay on form for a final hour, past show closing time, to answer questions from myself and Clare. They all clearly wanted to win but as I said at the start we really made them work for it!
Even after two days of solid competition, it was too close to call and we genuinely couldn’t say who we thought was in first place in the Personal Trainer competition until the scores had been totalled. After a couple of hours of number crunching on Saturday morning the winner was revealed and it turned out to be the only female finalist - Terri Musson. Terri had consistent, solid performances through each of the tasks and was a worthy gold medallist, with Miyazim Ibramov and last year’s Gym Instructor winner Jack Burbank taking silver and bronze respectively.
As the competitors themselves said though, no matter who won they all had a fantastic experience and took a lot from the competition. It was great to see them all bond and support each other over the week and each has a very bright future ahead of them.
As for judging, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process from the regional heats, to the semi-final and then the final itself. It has bolstered my passion for the industry and optimism for the changes we are going through so I can highly recommend it to anyone with assessor experience. With the competition expected to grow in 2017 there will be a greater need for judges along with more opportunities for involvement from sponsors and of course entrants, so I hope it's profile is raised to where it should be as one of the flagship events in the UK fitness scene.
Paul Swainson, Head of School of Personal Training