Are Your Students Draining Away?
By Christopher Caile
You're a good teacher and new students regularly
appear at the door of your school, but something is
wrong. Somehow your martial arts school isn't growing
as it should. You also seem to be continually short
More often than not, the critical missing factor
is your student retention ratio. In short, that's
the number of students who drop out over a fixed period
of time. It is one of the most important elements
in the success of any martial arts school or program,
but very few school owners or teachers understand
why students leave or how to retain them.
First, you should realize that many students will
leave your program through no fault of your own. And
for these students, no matter what you do, your actions
will have little effect.
Gary Gablehouse in a FightingArts.com article "Why
Students Quit" noted that, in a survey conducted
by his polling company, 54 percent of students quit
for reasons beyond the control of the school - they
move, can no longer afford the monthly dues, don't
have time, aren't available when classes are held,
lose interest or find new interests.
The percentages for any school or area will vary,
but realize that a 40 percent to 55 percent attrition
rate should be unexpected. That means only 45 percent
to 6o percent of students will stick around if they
are happy, interested, have time, are free and can
So what kind of retention should you look for, and
how do you figure the ratio out? Take all the students
you had at this time last year and then add all the
new students who enrolled in the following 12 months.
Compare that sum to the current number of enrolled
students. You are doing well if there is less than
a 35 percent to 40 percent difference between the
two. It means you lost just a little over one third
to two fifths of your students.
How the loss of students affects you, of course,
depends on your cost of recruitment, the number of
students you have, the number who enroll each month,
overhead and other factors. But, if your loss ratio
is greater than 35 percent to 40 percent, you might
be advised to take steps to reduce the loss. This
is especially important since no matter what you do
you will inevitably lose a high percentage of students
to factors outside of your control.
So what can you do? Here are some suggestions.
Find out why your students
enrolled -- for self-defense, to build confidence,
to get in shape, to make friends, to learn a martial
art, etc. Then make sure your program meets their
Ask students who leave,
why they left. This might uncover problems or personal
conflicts that might be rectified. It will also guide
you as to how to teach and conduct your classes better.
Add classes or extra
days when you hold classes. Scheduling conflicts lose
a lot of students or potential ones.
Make classes interesting.
Always add exciting, interesting elements to your
teaching. Explain a kata technique, show a unique
self-defense move, explain a principle of movement
or technique, tell interesting stories about your
teachers or great masters. Sit down with your students
and encourage them to ask questions. Some of these
might be reserved for the end of the class or afterwards,
but some are easily added into the class curriculum.
Minimize injury and
fear. A lot of seasoned martial artists forget the
fear and intimidation of their first martial arts
classes. Also, pain and injury will quickly discourage
many, especially those who are weaker or less physically
able. A good idea, if you are a karate school, is
to put off kumite for a while and teach people all
the elements of fighting first. Then wear safety equipment
and stress safety in class.
Build a positive student
relationship with each student. Know all your student's
names. Take an opportunity to get to know each student
in your class and something about them. Be supportive,
encourage your students and complement them when they
have done something well. This works much better than
repeated criticism, because no matter how well intended,
repeated criticism can wound your student's ego and
concept of worth. It can also drive them away.
Monitor your students.
If you teach a class be careful to notice any problems,
seeming disinterest, or poor attendance. Talk to the
student, let the student know you think he or she
is important. Try to find out what is happening and
how to remedy a situation if it is deteriorating.
Ask for a commitment.
If students enroll to achieve some objective (and
you should know this), let them know that it takes
time and dedication to achieve it. Tell them that
you will teach them, but ask for their commitment
in return, for without it, their goals are meaningless.
As part of this you might ask them to commit for a
specific time period. You may decide to use contracts.
Use of agreements to
commit your students to study. These are contracts,
but it is better to call them agreements because the
word "contract" can scare a lot of potential
students away. Explain to the potential student that
the agreement is useful since it spells out his or
her costs, as well as their commitment. You can also
offer discounts, if the student commits for a year
on a different, more meaningful level. Let students
and potential students know why your school is different
from health clubs or other sports and activities.
Let them know that what you teach is much more than
a martial art -- it can help them improve themselves,
build discipline, confidence, grow stronger and learn
how to deal with problems. Your students may never
have to defend themselves, but their martial arts
can affect their lives, their families, and how they
deal with others. Let them know this. Also, be sure
to explain to parents how your martial arts program
can benefit their kids.
Make promotions probationary
so students keep motivated to improve and practice.
Tell students when they have graded that their new
ranks are not final, and that they will have to show
a dedication to training before you will give them
a certificate. By the time they have received their
grading certificate they will be well involved in
the next level of study.
Hold annual ceremonies,
school events, special training or seminars -- any
number of things to create a community around your
school. This builds a social foundation to support
your martial arts teaching.
out the Learning section for
more articles about the
business side of martial arts.
About The Author
Christopher Caile has been a student of the martial
arts for over 40 years, and a teacher for more than
35 years. He has an MA in International Relations
with a specialty in southeast Asia, and has lived
and traveled in Japan, Okinawa and south and southeast
Asia. He is 6th degree black belt in Seido karate
under Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, a long time student
of aikido under Roy Suenaka (Wado-kai aikido), as
well as a student of other martial arts (including
daito ryu aikijujutsu, judo, boxing and several Chinese
arts) and Zen. He is also a teacher of qi gong (Chinese
energy medicine), in which he trained under Master
Zaiwen Shen and is Vice-President of the DS International
Qi Medicine Association.
In his business career he has been a newspaper journalist
and entrepreneur of several business ventures, and
he designed innovative telecommunication and marine
products which were developed in companies he founded.
In 1999 he founded FightingArts.com (which went live
in August 2000) and its parant company eCommunities
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