We have all experienced the challenges summer brings for martial arts schools. Parents are looking for activities to occupy their children as the routines of the school year change. With obstacles like vacations and summer sports getting in the path of consistent training, how do we keep students motivated and engaged during these periods of transition? Summer camps and events at your academy are essential for maintaining positive retention between school years, as they help to create additional “can’t miss” opportunities for your students. But with each day of camp or parent’s night out adding several hours to an already full day of classes, how do you survive burning out, or exhausting your full-time staff? This is why a strong team of helpers and assistant instructors is critical through the summer.
If you have a successful martial arts “Teachers in Training,” or “TNT” team already, you'll definitely want to provide new leadership opportunities during your summer events to let your team improve their existing skills in a big way. If you do not have a strong TNT group yet, staffing camps can be a serious challenge. Start building right now! Who are your most mature, responsible, and enthusiastic students who would make effective instructors? Once this team is established, it will be one of your most important resources. We use the Satori Instructor Alliance training resources as the core content for training this group how to interact with students. When you have a competent instructional staff who can keep classes and camps running smooth, they will lighten your own workload so you can focus your attention on the tasks specific to your role as head instructor, owner, or manager. However, this does happen overnight! TNT members, like all our students, need opportunities to learn and grow. Summer camps are an excellent training ground for these rookie instructors to practice their skills, and give new responsibilities to existing members. For this reason, I love the summer time! It’s a major opportunity to develop our TNT team, and the success of our academy is directly related to the success of our TNT.
The most important aspect of developing and training your TNT is communication. Do your instructors know what your goals are? Do they have a way to address their challenges and concerns with you? Are you providing them immediate and specific feedback about their teaching skills? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it's important to form that line of communication. Often we can feel like we’re bugging people too much, but really, we’re more often not communicating nearly enough. Keep your team well informed on what you expect and what events are coming up. This process never stops. I've found e-mail to be the safest and most reliable method of communication with TNT members and their parents. Regularly inform your TNT team of upcoming camps, birthday parties, and other events where you can use their help. I have a sign-up sheet that’s always located in the same place where they will let me know which events they’ll assist with. This helps control how many assistants work at each event so you balance the assistance you receive. These sign-up sheets will fill up fast, but only if you communicate clearly and regularly with your TNT team.
Once your communication channels are open, the next tip is to plan ahead with your team. Sounds easy, right? Since we're all busy though, finding the time to plan events at your school can be difficult. One of my instructors always says that proper planning promotes peak performance, and this is particularly true with staffing. If you plan for the summer several months in advance, staffing your increased summer event schedule is much easier. Depending on your school location, you may want to plan barbecues, carnivals, and outside events in addition to your camps and other in-school events. Have a meeting with your TNT team several weeks in advance to walk through the schedule and discuss your needs from them, the earlier the better. Most people have busy schedules too, and can’t help with an event with only a few days’ notice. If you have regularly recurring events, such as “Parent's night out” and “buddy day Friday” the same time every month, make sure you write those down early too. Outside booth events are great opportunities for your more responsible TNT members to learn about student recruitment. There are so many opportunities to grow your school and develop your TNT team, make sure they have enough notice to make them a priority on their schedules.
If we have open lines of communication and are giving them plenty of notice of opportunities, how do we mold our TNT members into confident leaders? Repetition and appropriate challenge. We know how important regular training is for our success as martial artists, and learning to teach is no different. None of us believes it's realistic that a student can become a full-fledged instructor overnight. If your TNT members are showing up to help at these events, make sure you have a plan for them to actually contribute and challenge their skills. Were you as competent an instructor when you when you started as you are today? Of course not, but you got better through practice! Camps can be an excellent “lower risk” environment for assuming greater responsibilities than in a regular class. Before each camp, I have my TNT arrive early and I show them the camp schedule. I select or allow them to select activities to lead and responsibilities for the day. For example, I might choose a 14-year-old blue belt to run a 10-minute dodge ball game at the halfway point. Now she knows her role and can plan her section accordingly. The TNT love this because it gives them a chance to practice their teaching skills in a structured way and my role for the day is to guide them and provide feedback while they really run the camp. It can be challenging to stand back and watch, but you must allow them to struggle a bit and learn through experience. You are there to guide and step in only if it is truly necessary. Lastly, provide immediate feedback after their section and them to take notes or write self-assessments on their performance. If possible, allow them to practice the corrections you give them. If a TNT member does not explain the rules of a game, give them a chance to take notes and try again later. Immediate feedback and practice will help them develop much faster.
Although summer can sometimes be tough and we are often busier than ever with camps and events, this can be the perfect training time to build up your TNT team and discover your next key player on your team. If you communicate clearly, plan ahead, and provide the opportunities to perform, you will feel much more prepared. Taking the time to educate and develop our assistants will give us more time in the long run. TNT members need to believe they're learning and growing. With this focus on team development, summer just might become your favorite time of the year too.
Looking for more ways to develop your team? The Satori Instructor Alliance provides school owners with the tools to build the world-class team of instructors your students deserve. To learn more about building your team and joining the Satori Alliance click here.