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Martial Arts: Judo

Common Causes of Judo Student Attrition

By Elie Morrell, Hachidan

Editor's Note: While this article is directed at the judo community, Elie Morrell's comments and observations could be equally applied to other martial arts such as aikido, jujutsu, karate, taekwondo or kung fu.

Student attrition in Judo is a perennial problem faced by Judo coaches. There are many reasons for students giving up Judo and in the majority of cases, the coach never knows the reason why. Furthermore, many coaches never take the time to ascertain why the student left.

Hardly, if ever, does a student ever indicate to the coach that he/she is giving up Judo. On occasion when the reason for leaving is one totally beyond the control of the coach, the student will state what that reason is. One example would be a student who is moving to a new geographical area. When the coach is not told why the student is leaving, it is usually because of some underlying fault they find in the coach or the program. They remain silent for fear of embarrassment should they reveal the true reason for giving up Judo.

Sadly, most coaches never bother to contact the student who leaves in an effort to determine the reason why. If the student is contacted, perhaps he/she would give the reason and the coach would then know if it was one that he had some control over.

This paper will address some of the most common reasons that students give up Judo. They are the reasons that a coach has control over for which corrective action should be taken by the coach. No discussion of uncontrollable reasons will be covered in this paper since it would be somewhat academic.

No attempt is made to prioritize the reasons for student attrition. Also, no specific considerations are made for age or gender differences. Each of the reasons for attrition discussed in this paper are  typically those which can be controlled to various degrees by the coach.

Proper Equipment

It is this writer's opinion that poor shoddy equipment (mats) is the most significant reason that students give up Judo. This is especially true in the case of younger players. After younger players are thrown for the first few times on mats not designed to absorb the shock of body impact, a coach is almost certain to lose these students. They just disappear without any word! No coach should ever conduct Judo lessons on mats not designed for that activity!

Every coach should be aware that conducting Judo lessons on poor equipment can potentially invite lawsuits if a student or a parent feels that an injury was the result of impact on a mat not designed for Judo use. A coach should bear in mind that the signing of waivers prior to enrollment by a student does not guarantee that that he/she cannot in the future become a subject of litigation.

Parental Contact

When minors are about to enroll in Judo, it is imperative that the coach set up a  parental orientation meeting. The initial purpose of this meeting would hopefully be one that would establish a good rapport between the coach and the parent(s) of the minor.

Some of the points of interest (though not all inclusive) that the coach should discuss with the parent(s) should include the following:

  • Indicate what you will expect from the student.

  • Tell the parents what the risks are and what you as the coach will do to minimize them.

  • Discuss what your teaching objectives are.

  • Let them know that if their son or daughter were to enter Judo competition that the student’s best interests are more important to you than winning.

  • Spell out what takes place in a typical class session and what you as a coach will do.

  • Indicate what you believe the benefits will be to the student from participating in Judo.

  • Explain in detail what is required in terms of attendance and exams for the student to advance in Judo rank.

You as a Coach

One of the many reasons some students of Judo quit is due to what the student feels is a poor student/coach relationship. This is often based on a feeling of shortcomings that the student recognizes in the coach. More often than not, when these shortcomings do exist, some coaches fail to recognize them.

Shortcomings in a coach manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Some of these shortcomings will be discussed briefly in the following paragraphs.

How much do you really know? It is difficult for younger Judo students and for some older students who are not advanced to assess the coach’s overall knowledge of  Judo. For this reason, attrition is not usually attributable to this factor.

More advanced students may perceive a coach’s weakness in the area of knowledge and ultimately become bored and give up Judo.

It is imperative that Judo coaches be totally knowledgeable of all the Judo techniques and rules and how to properly teach the associated skills. A coach who lacks these attributes can only expect that students will in time become bored and frustrated and most likely will quit Judo.

Are you a motivator? The subject of motivation required as part of successful coaching is somewhat broad in scope. Therefore, only a limited coverage of this area of coaching will be discussed.

A coach may be very knowledgeable of the sport of Judo and at the same time lack self motivation and the ability to motivate others. Students want to be motivated! Simply stated, they want to have fun while participating in class and feel that their efforts are all worthwhile.

The following are a few steps a coach should take that will help in enhancing student interest and motivation.

  • Present class material that is not above the skill level of the students.

  • Have the students practice drills at each class session.

  • Allow students to be innovative by letting them design drills on their own.

  • Be certain that all students are participating in the class activity.

  • Avoid interrupting students when practicing after the formal instruction has been given, unless to correct mistakes.

Are you an empathic coach? If you are a coach who has the capacity to participate and understand in another individual’s feelings or ideas, you then possess empathy.

Being empathic as a coach is an absolute must when teaching your students, in particular the younger ones. Truly successful coaches possess empathy. They have a keen sense of appreciation and understand a student’s emotions of joy, frustration, anxiety and anger.

Coaches who possess empathy are good listeners and understand what a student is saying. They avoid embarrassing a student by chastising, belittling or reducing their self esteem in front of others.

They respect the student and in turn receive respect.

A coach who lacks empathy is most likely to be unsuccessful and can count on losing students.


It has been shown that a direct relationship exists between attrition by Judo students and the attributes possessed by the coach.

Coaching styles do vary but the successful coach is one who to some extent shares the decision making with the students.

Coaches should make every effort to contact a student who has given up Judo quietly without saying a word. It may be as a result of the contact that the student gives a reason that points to a problem with the coach.

If a coach can acknowledge shortcomings based on contacts with former students then he/she must take the necessary steps towards corrective action. If this is not done, student attrition will only continue.

Successful coaches require a total knowledge of the sport of Judo, the ability to motivate and the possession of empathy. With these attributes student attrition will be kept to a minimum.

The use of poor equipment bears no direct relationship to the attributes required for a successful coach. Unfortunately, if a coach possesses the required qualities of a good coach but utilizes shoddy equipment to teach, I personally believe that he/she can only look forward to a high attrition rate, if not ultimately a lawsuit as a result of an injury sustained on that equipment.

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About The Author:

Elie Morrell began judo in 1955 and currently holds a United States Judo Federation (USJF) rank of Hachidan (8th dan).  Over the years Morrell has taught judo in California, Colorado, Texas and Oregon. He is the former chairman of the USJA coach certification committee (1980-1982) and has served as a certified master judo examiner and national coach.  As an author Morrell has written over 25 technical articles on judo. He holds an engineering from Brown University (1950).

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

attrition in martial arts, attrition in judo, loss of students in judo, loss of students in the martial arts, why martial arts students leave, why judo students leave, why karate students leave

Read more articles by Elie Morrell

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