A piccture of UniSport's happy customers sitting and chating on a bench in UniSport Kluuvi's lobby.

Giulia Saponaro

Group Training Instructor
Giulia works as a group training instructor. She is instructing Strength and endurance -classes, such as Power training, HIIT-classes and kettlebell. She has a seasonal contract with UniSport.
group training instructor giulia saponaro.

How did you end up in UniSport?

About 11 years ago, when I moved to Finland for an Erasmus exchange program, I landed in Otaniemi campus and discovered that they are opening a new facility called UniSport. I joined as a student customer, and I never left. I felt UniSport was very welcoming. I met tons of friends, relationships that are still lasting. After a while I really liked the format of the classes and the friendly relationship that can happen between the instructor and the student. I always felt very inspired by the way the personalities were giving the classes.

I posed myself a question whether I could offer the kind of positive vibe to the students and other customers. About 3 years ago I challenged myself and decided, besides being a customer, being also on the other side of the team and pursue the courses to become an instructor myself. I think it was a very interesting experience since I didn’t have the background. So, I learned a lot. Because I was a customer already, I already knew how to set up the class and what, as a customer, I loved. I kind of mashed it all up together. I didn’t find it too difficult to have a microphone and to be in front of people.

Becoming as an instructor also helped me on my work. I had to step forward and overcome any sort of fear of talking to people and be responsible of people. Handle discreetly and without stress any unknown that might come. Maybe the mic stops working or stuff like that. All in all, it was a very good choice and development for my own person. I am very happy that I became part of the UniSport team but also that I’ve learned a lot.

Do you study or work elsewhere? How do you combine all?

Both. I work full time as a communication officer in a research infrastructure. I’ve been studying and I obtained my doctorate in January 2020. In September 2021 I started pursuing another master’s degree in business management. It will be busy year, but if I have the energy and the willingness, I rather take the best of what I can. In the sports side, UniSport is the only employer I work for. As a part-time job it doesn’t even feel like a job, so it’s a good combination in a way. Even though I don’t necessarily have time to do more classes than one or two hours per week.

It takes a lot of flexibility and understanding if you have a family or a partner. It’s not only about me but also the people around me. They deserve time too. It’s more how you balance out life, work and studies but keep your plan as flexible as possible and yet manage to set an agenda for short and longer term. That helps me to always find out what needs to be prioritized without forgetting something or leaving something behind. That way I can plan if something is to change. Of course, there’s always periods that are much harder than others and in those you usually need some extra care.

What is the best in UniSport? Why is UniSport a good employer?

I feel everyone is on the same level and that’s enabling a very straight forward communication. I don’t feel any kind of uncomfortable feelings go talk to somebody I don’t know, even though they might be way above in the organisation. So, the fact that everyone is open to talk and to chit-chat and get straight to business, it’s very valuable. I think it’s a quality that UniSport really developed. I

think it’s fundamental and makes every employee a comfort zone to talk and to mingle with each other, whether they are colleagues in the same group of sports or from different parts of the structure of UniSport. The community is supportive. Any time I had issues even though I might had not asked the question from the right person, I always found an open door or at least some support that hey I don’t know but go and poke this person.

I appreciate UniSport as an employer because it really looks after the feedbacks of their employees. I think that is good. And I don’t feel there’s monodirectional flow in the development of UniSport. There’s mutual interaction between the organisation and the people who put the work in practise. Either the people on the desk or the instructors. I feel like this is an important quality of UniSport.

How do the values of UniSport appear in UniSport and how does the service promise “We help to make good decisions” appear in your work with a customer?

I think the values are very well defined and chosen and I think they are well representative, because they were chosen in community effort. This connects to what I said before: the development of UniSport is not something dictated or solely decided by the management team but there’s an active interaction with all the personnel at any level. The values represent me, and I think they are representative of UniSport as a workplace and as a service provider. It’s more like how well UniSport is offering services and what is the level of happiness of the service recipient rather than what is the profit. I feel that UniSport really looks after the satisfaction of the customers as well as the personnel’s.

What I’m always trying to say when I’m introducing the customer to the class, is that the main outcome of this workout is that you’re happy. That you walk out of here proud and satisfied of what you’ve done today. There might be a different level of intensity where you can choose from in the class and you as a customer should choose what will make you walk out of here with a smile. Passing the message to the customer that they can make a choice. It helps that the customer won’t feel intimidated. Sometimes the Strength and Endurance classes might scare people that don’t feel like their level of fitness is very high. So, I feel like letting them know that the fact that you are here is phenomenal and that you don’t need to give 100% to me but to yourself. In my little bubble, that’s my way to empower the customer. Customers can be very competitive with themselves. It’s important to remind them that hey if you’re having a bad day or you’re tired, it’s fine to take it easy. You’re going to be better tomorrow.

What does your typical workday look like? What is the best thing in your job?

I come to campus well in advance. The idea of missing a bus or a train or get stuck in the traffic freaks me out. Usually, I combine it with some training on my own either before or after class. I make sure that the equipment is available and it’s ready to use. I always pre-do the class in my head, what I’m going to say and do in the class even though I know it by heart. I make sure that the order of the things I say is pertinent and relevant. I adjust my speech when I see who came to the class. If there’s a new participant, I might focus more on explaining what the class goal is and how is the workout structure, so they know what to expect. Of course, the same information is given even though there are no newbies but maybe a bit faster and we focus more on the workout or try to motivate the customer to push a little bit more on doing something new.

The best thing is when the customer comes and says with a smile on their face that they had fun, or they did something that they never managed to do before. It really makes me happy. Or when they walk up to me after a class just to chit-chat, it’s a way of bonding. I’m always very thrilled to see them making a step forward, just because they want to say something “Hey I like the playlist!” or “It was a good job!” or “Hey, I won’t come next week because I have this.” They let you know things.

What has been most surprising in your job? What about the most challenging?

I’m always surprised to be offered a class. I don’t take it for granted. I know there might be many instructors that are looking for getting an opportunity to work. For me it’s a part-time job, a side job, so I always feel like it’s a great occasion for me. I hope that I get offered classes for every season and not taking it for granted helps me feeling surprised and excited every time.

The most difficult thing is when there are changes in something that I got used to, for example this change with the intranet platform. When these happen, it’s always a bit transitional period that takes a bit to get adjusted. Also, when we started to use intelligent cycling platform in spinning, I remember it took me like 8 hours to plan a spinning class. But like always, with a little practice and patience, you move on to this what looks like a gigantic mountain at first, but now I use intelligent cycling even at home to cycle my own bike.

With the help and support of colleagues you can divide difficulties in smaller chunks. Changing something that you’re used to have made my knees shake a little bit in the past and probably will in the future too. It takes some brain power and patience, especially if you have an active schedule and you’re always on the run. It takes some time to figure things out. There is always a reason why things change and it’s usually for improvement. Just keep a bit of optimism and things will work out.

Instructor applying US what should they know?

My advice would be going to a bunch of those classes you want to teach. Check out how they are already offered. When I was a customer myself, there were some classes that I would get more engaged than others and as an instructor I want the customer to feel engaged to workout with you, to feel the music, to get out that energy, because you also feel it as an instructor. So, if you haven’t ever taken any classes at UniSport, I would go there first to check out the vibe and how the class is working out. And maybe find an easier way to hit the jackpot immediately with the customers. Every instructor has their own angle on giving a class, so there is always good material for planning your class. I still do it myself whenever it’s possible. Try to find inspiration from a good song in the class and kind of validate what is your idea, your plan and program for the class. As an instructor, if you don’t feel engaged yourself with a class, then that doesn’t pass onto the customer. Being inspired and feeling like you would do your own class and give 100%, that’s almost a guarantee that the customer will get into the class and in the mode and zone and be happy about it.

I’m very happy with this workplace and I think the students that live in Helsinki and can access these services are extremely lucky. When I think back of when I was sitting and studying all day, this was fundamental for me to keep everything on check. I’d have a reason to brave out during a finnish winter when you don’t want to do much. I think it’s very important to have this kind of services for students and to any other kind of customers. I think it’s a great job what UniSport has provided to our society in Helsinki area, and I hope it stays for a long, long time.

Who would you recommend UniSport as an employer?

Well, of course to possible instructor candidates, but I think there is also a lot of options in the management. I think in both sides UniSport would be a valuable workplace. You must be open and social person so you can keep up that community vibe and interact easily with all the personnel regardless of their role in the organisation. Also, somebody that is committed, because it’s something that is appreciated in any working aspect. I do like having colleagues who are as

committed as I am. And passionate too, cause you keep up the good work and not slacking off. That’s what I would look in a colleague if they were to be a trainer or in the management, it would be a strong attribute to that profile.