Six Ways to Gain and Keep Attention with Children in Martial Arts Classes

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Keeping childrens' attention in martial arts classes

Even repetitive activities can be fun for children if you make a game out of it. They will be motivated to learn and will stay interested.

Having difficulty keeping childrens’ attention in your martial arts classes? Do they seem unmotivated and disinterested? Are the parents frustrated because they have a big fight to get the kids there every time? Well, here’s how to lift your game and keep them coming back for more.

Make it Fun

Overly repetitive activities are boring for kids, but if you make a game out of it, they will love it. Instead of having them stand there throwing their blocks into the air, make them avoid the attacks using the appropriate blocks against the padded blockers as you walk by. Even better, have them sit down if they get hit. Last one (or last few better still) wins.

Keep it Simple

Use simple instruction, both in visual and audio demonstration, and break it down into steps. Breaking things into small chunks helps kids understand each step before they move to the next.

Use Kid-friendly Language

You will lose them the second you start trying to explain something in “adult speak”. Do not say “Bring your knee up at a 45 degree angle, and then extend it directly toward your target”. Instead say “Bring your knee up as high as you can and snap it out at the target”.

Keep Talking to a Minimum

Just show them how to do it and move on. Kids don’t like to listen, they like to do. Fact of life.

Praise Outstanding Efforts

Say “Look how hard Jasmine is snapping out those punches”, and then watch as the rest of the class will try to match her efforts. Effort is more important than skill, as not everyone is naturally gifted in martial arts classes. But they can all try harder.

Recognise Under-achievers

Everyone does at least one thing well. Your job is to catch them doing it, then publicly recognise them. This will do wonders to help the kids with less skill or ability to stay engaged, and will also improve their self-esteem.

Here is more information on How to Motivate Children in Martial Arts

What strategies to you use to gain and keep attention with children in your martial arts classes?

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  1. Grant says

    This is an excellent post.
    I feel as an instructor I am good at keeping a high energy, especially during games, but I definitely talk to much during instruction.
    A little less conversation, a little more action please, as the King would say :)
    Great post Matt!

  2. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Hi Grant! Thanks for your kind words. Like you say, keeping a high energy level is important, as the kids feed off it. We all like to hear ourselves talk, LOL, but the kids don’t.

  3. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Dude has high energy alright! Ah, yes, as a matter of fact it is. The mum in the background is even feeding off your energy.

  4. Daniel Jancek says

    Thought this post was great, it’s definitely something I’ve worked on over the years. Another point is assistant instructors getting involved. I have noticed lately that some of the Helpers are not getting in there and mixing it up with the students, have had a few incidents where I have seen a student struggle with a technique, and the black belt has just walked straight past without lending a hand. The parents bring there kids in to learn, gain confidence and have fun, if a student is having trouble with a technique.. Get in there and help them! Give them praise! And have fun with them!

  5. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Hi Daniel! Great point about the assistants. They are not always “there”. It is a challenge to keep them motivated as well. Maybe a separate blog post on that subject would be a good idea. On the whole, most of them do a great job. We are always getting complements from the parents about them, but yes, sometimes they let the ship down. Thanks for your insights.

  6. Zoltan says

    Hi Sensei Matt, Fellow Teachers, and Bloggers,

    What a great post, really the key to having a successful martial arts Club or Dojo.

    It’s hard to elaborate when you hit all the bases, but I also feel it important to create a personalisation with the students making them feel like they are personally the ones you’re teaching, even in a group situation and that they are with you as a teacher not 1 in a crowd.

    Even with a large number of students I have found it really helps to try and remember as many names as you can and use them in the class (this also helps keep trouble makers in check) and as you said, praising great work. The students really feel a part of it and not like “Student # 34” for example. Building a rapport with the student and bonding 1 on 1 yet in a group, this really helps retention, but is not easy.

    Also, not being afraid to get down onto their level, have fun and joke around. This is tricky but has amazing results if done correctly. You need to carefully moderate your body language, pitch and tone so that the students can have a laugh and enjoy themselves but with one action, word or move, they know it’s serious time and to keep quiet while still buzzing from the “fun”. There has to be a balance, fun but also discipline… fun discipline I would call it I guess :)

    Daniel, that’s a great point about instructors – I see this a lot and have found that the best way to motivate them is the same as the students; recognising special efforts and announcing them if not in the class they have been helping in their own class. “I know some of you come in early to help the little ones, for those who didn’t you should have seen “Mr. T” in the younger classes, he totally rocked it!! Made the kids feel great and finally was able to teach them which way to step in the Kata, He really looked at the kids and gave them what they needed. What a great job – thanks very much” – or something to that effect. You need only to see the core issue and speak the truth; they will be appreciative and also not feel like “helper instructor # 4”. Making a helper responsible for a portion of a class can also give the head instructor time to get a little closer to the students and spend the extra time needed to develop their skills and relationship to the club, while giving the helper reason to shine and a great sense of achievement – as in the end they too are also only there because they want to be.

    Not to stray off topic – but in my opinion they relate well to each other.

    A bit of fun, discipline, quality, content and moral values makes one great tasting Karate club.. Enjoyed together.

    Grant .. I think I can see a hole in your pants .. :0

    What a great photo, you can even see the child in the background interested and watching, wanting to start his own class and have a turn. Great pic.

    Great toppic.

  7. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Hi Zoltan! So very true about the need to connect with your students. They feel like you really care about them if you make the effort to remember their names and go out of your way to build rapport. And letting your personality come out certainly helps in this regard.

    Not sure I want to be a “great tasting” karate club, but I get your point. They do all add up to a great club atmosphere. I do not normally look at Grant’s pants that closely Zoltan, but if you say so! Thanks for the great insights Zoltan.

  8. says

    I do not have a lot of experience teaching children. I do have wonderful memories of teaching a group of kids in France. I was studying Cranio-facial surgery there and went to a local dojo and was asked to teach their class for children in exchange for using the facility.

    My French was minimal but I could count in French so that with demonstrations got the job done, lol! Thanks for this post because now I am better equipped if l’occasion se présente jamais à nouveau!

  9. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Hi Dr. J! Yes, I feel these techniques would work in any teaching situation, even in a class full of kids that do not understand you all the time. Kids are very visual and will get the message. Loved Paris when I was there years ago. Thanks for your comments.

  10. says

    I absolutely love your site.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own personal blog and
    want to know where you got this from or just what the theme is called.

    Many thanks!

  11. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Thanks Ardis, I designed it myself using photoshop and wordpress. Took me a whole year.

  12. Sensei Matt Klein says

    Thank you for the vote of confidence sir. We certainly do our best to be helpful for people. Appreciate your feedback!