I was thinking the other day about some of the “disasters” that have occurred during our kids martial arts classes over the last eighteen years. Luckily I learned from these experiences, but would like to share them with you so you do not make the same mistakes. I asked my friend Didi Goodman, a very knowledgeable instructor, who also specialises in childrens martial arts classes, for some of her ideas as well. Didi and I don’t always agree on some issues so I thought it would be interesting to get her take on the subject. Here are my ideas on how not to run a martial arts class for children.
Kids running around doing what they want
The instructor needs to take control of the class. There have been a few times over the years when I was either very tired or distracted and gave the kids free rein. I realized very quickly that kids want and need structure. A few comments from the parents about the chaos that day were all I needed to get it sorted out.
Kids walking in and out of classes when they want
You cannot let kids come and go as they like. If everyone did it you would have no class! I let the kids join in without penalty if they are late, because it is rarely their fault as they do not drive. However, if they want to leave the class for any reason, they must ask permission. I never refuse to request to go to the toilet. However, if a particular child is constantly asking for a drink break or something, I will often say “No, you must wait until the next class break”.
Parents blabbing away on mobiles during the class
I do not permit this. It is extremely rude, and I will walk up to them while they are talking and stare at them until they get up and take their conversation outside. For the very stupid or careless ones, I will interrupt their conversation with “Can you take your mobile outside?” in a loud voice.
Kids sitting in horse stances throwing straight punches the whole class
Kids need to have a bit of fun. Our classes have been very popular over the years for two reasons: they are fun and affordable. Well, three reasons actually–they learn excellent martial arts skills! We play games, but all the games are designed to build skills like coordination, teamwork, footwork, and especially, concentration. Boring classes are empty classes.
Instructor is late
The first time an instructor is late people start to wonder if they really care about their students. The second time it happens their students start to quit. The third time….well, the instructor needs to find another job, they do not care enough about their career or their students to be a martial arts teacher.
Didi Goodman, who also wrote the book entitled The Kids’ Karate Workbook, made the following additions to this post.
Instructor is late
I do push-ups if I’m late! LOL I know how you feel about push-ups. I think I’ve been late 3 or 4 times in twenty years. Once it was because my neighborhood was on fire. I missed the whole first class and was late to the second.
Instructor sounds like a loud, angry drill sergeant
Nothing wrong with being firm, clear, and demanding. Be as serious as you like. But you don’t need to be frightening. And if the kids think you’re angry with them whenever they make a mistake, your classes aren’t going to thrive. Be ready to laugh; let the kids know you enjoy martial arts, enjoy them and enjoy their efforts. Then they’ll enjoy trying their best for you. Lay that foundation and you can set the bar as high as you like.
Expecting perfection from the children
“We’re not moving on until you all get this exactly right.” The best teachers on earth can’t make their students get everything right at once. Remember, you’re working with beginners and young children. Students need to practice; they must put in their repetitions; they have age-based limitations on how they’ll do. Like you, they’re imperfect! So keep going. The worst mistake I see from new instructors is bringing all the action to a halt while they try to correct one student’s every last flaw. The other kids are dying of boredom and itching to move! Then, when the next count finally comes, the instructor notices Student B needs an overhaul, too… Give a clear correction and move on. Repeat as needed; help and urge as you go; but keep the action going, and move to the next activity on schedule. (See also: “Kids sitting in horse stances throwing straight punches the whole class” – sometimes this is how it came about!)
Parents coaching from the sidelines
In a well-functioning class, the instructor is in charge, and the kids need to focus. “Stage parents” are a damaging distraction – not just for their own kids, but for everyone. Make sure parents in the viewing area understand proper etiquette. If there’s an issue with their child’s behavior or performance in class, help them understand how you are handling it. If necessary, work out ways they can help and support your efforts without being disruptive (i.e., things they can do outside the dojo to support good behavior during class). Worst case: Suggest they take advantage of class time to run errands…
Younger siblings running wild on the sidelines, or running across the class
While we’re on the subject of etiquette for parents, sometimes they need encouragement to stay in charge of the siblings and toddlers who may accompany them to your school. Their noise and actions can be yet another distraction for your class, and when toddlers run onto the floor, it’s a safety hazard as well.
Kids wanting nothing but games
A game now & then, even a warm-up game every class – no problem. Making a game of hard work, or disguising repetition – those are perfectly good teaching techniques. But the highest goal of an instructor is to get the kids to love working out, to love striving for improvement, – to love learning! Classes based solely on games too often breed students who feel entitled to play – and who resist good old-fashioned discipline and work. Everything doesn’t have to be a game. Help the kids discover that martial arts training is fun in and of itself.
Thank you so much Didi for your ideas about How Not to Run a Martial Arts Class for Children. Your experiences parallel mine closely and it is interesting to see your take on it. Instructors, what ideas do you have on this subject?