As you know, training and progressing in rank is challenging. It takes hard work and discipline, day in and day out. Of course, that’s why attrition is so high for white belts. They lose the determination and drive to stick with it. But one of the best assets for retention is found in your school already. It’s your community.
When school communities are strong, they’re full of supportive students who want to help each other excel. In strong, supportive communities, students become friends, and they look forward to training together. These bonds mean they focus less on how difficult the process is and more on making it together. But we know you’re already sold on why it’s important to have a strong community, so we’re going to jump right into ways you can build and nurture community at your school.
You know that old saying, “families that play together stay together”? Well, it also holds true for your school family or your community. Socializing together is fun, and it builds bonds that will last throughout the hardest training days.
Ideally, try to plan social events monthly. Empower your team and student leaders to plan your events. Overall participation will increase as students have the opportunity to take the lead and plan things they’re interested in. They’ll also hold each other accountable for attending the events if they’re part of the planning process.
If you’re short on ideas for social events, consider having a cookout or going to a restaurant for a meal. You can do a volunteer project, like making sandwiches for the homeless in your area. Or you can go for a hike or take an overnight trip. Try black light bowling, a trip to a pumpkin patch or organize a scavenger hunt. The list of possible social events is endless and only constrained by your imagination and budget.
Set Up Instructors as Mentors
As a school grows, it’s impossible for an owner to remember names and faces for every single student. But personal relationships are the heart and soul of any community. One of the best school communities we’ve seen manages the challenge by setting up instructors as mentors for students in their classes.
For example, each instructor is assigned a program, whether it’s beginners or white belts, or some other sub-segment of the student population. From there, the mentors are given the responsibility of building community and relationships within their group. That means they create a supportive small group culture, show their students the way things are done, give shout-outs on social media and check in with students when they aren’t in class. Mentors also serve as a resource for students when they have a question or concern.
When a school is set up with program mentors, each student is nurtured, and nobody feels like a number. The subgroups also help students feel less intimidated, because it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong if you’re left to find your own way in a large school.
Encourage Peer Learning and Support
Each time a student takes a turn sparring and grappling, they have the opportunity to learn and get support from their partner. Many outside martial arts misunderstand sparring and grappling and see it as a purely competitive practice. But those experienced in the art know it’s far more cooperative and provides an opportunity for collaborative learning.
Ask your instructors to reinforce the cooperative element of grappling and sparring to get the most community building benefit from it. When students are finished sparring, reinforce respect of their partner and ask them to reflect on what they learned from one another.
Ensuring your students feel a strong sense of community in your school is one of the best things you can do for retention and overall student happiness. We think this topic is incredibly important, so be on the lookout for our next blog post covering ways to use social media to continue building community in your school.
Looking for additional ways to build a strong community and retain your students? Get your copy of our guide, Four Essential Strategies for Student Retention.