Retaining your students is one of the most important things you need to do as an owner of a martial arts school. Advertising is not cheap. It is much more expensive to recruit new students than to retain your existing ones. Word of mouth advertising is your most powerful weapon, and your existing students and their parents will tell all their friends about your school. Our schools have done exceptionally well in our retention efforts, keeping some 80-90 percent of our students. How do we do it? I am going to share a few of our secrets here.
Make your students feel welcome.
The TV show Cheers showed how important it is to give people a place to go “where everyone knows your name and everyone is glad you came”. Smile as your students walk in, say hello, and try to remember their names when possible. Ask them how they are doing. Thank their parents for their business and their hard-earned money. Make everyone associated with your business feel valuable, but especially your students.
Create excitement and energy in your martial arts classes.
Make every class as memorable as the first one. The classes should be fun and interesting. Although reviewing our required techniques is essential, each class should include something different from the week before. Do a fun game near the end of class to leave the children pumped when they leave. They won’t be able to wait for the next class.
Be enthusiastic, your students will feed off your energy. Ask questions often during the classes to get your students involved and to keep their interest. Ask for volunteers to “model” techniques before the whole class. This really keeps the kids motivated.
Keep the classes moving. Don’t bore children with long-winded, detailed explanations. Let them learn by doing.
Engage with and listen to your students.
Get to know your students. Watch closely for signs of disinterest or lack of enthusiasm. Talk to them and find out why. It could be that the student is discouraged because they are not getting a technique or kata. Offer them extra help. Or they might not be getting enough of your attention. Try to find something they are doing well and praise them for it. Let them know you think they are important.
Create a non-intimidating atmosphere.
Ensure the classes are friendly and safe. Do not let children spar until they are ready. Make sure proper protective equipment is used and watch the student’s control, especially with the less experienced students.
With new students, be especially supportive. Most are feeling clumsy and awkward, so give them plenty of praise and recognition to get through this stage. They will gain confidence quickly.
Do the right thing.
Put yourself in your student’s place. I initially thought a little girl was putting little effort into her classes, and was about to talk to her about it. But when I observed her playing a game in class it occurred to me she had a physical problem that prevented her from running fast or coordinating her little body. Her mom confirmed she had a severe muscle tone problem. I put myself in the little girl’s place and cut her some slack.
Put yourself in their parent’s place. Treat your students like you as a father or mother would like your own children treated. If you make a mistake, sincerely apologise to the parent and child publicly. People will respect you for it.
If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you tell a student you will grade them Tuesday of next week, be ready with the certificate and belt when the day comes. Failure to do what you say will cause your students to lose respect for you.
Treat all students and parents with courtesy and respect. There is no such thing as a “dumb” question or comment. All questions deserve a prompt, polite answer.
Ask students why they are quitting.
Many students will quit for reasons beyond your control. Students move, they sometimes cannot afford to pay the class fees, the classes clash with school or a school-related activity, or they simply lose interest. When students quit, ask them the reason if possible. This might help you discover problems that you were not aware of. Use this as a learning tool to make your classes better.
Although is article is directed towards martial arts for kids, it will work for any age group. Implementing just a few of these suggestions will see your retention rates skyrocket. Instructors or assistant instructors, do you have any ideas to help retain your students?