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 of funds.
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 afford it.
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 needs.
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
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 or longer.
build appreciation 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
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 LLC.