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Kovar Systems
Student Retention Business Tips

How to Keep Black Belts from Quitting

By Jason Duarte

During the summer, student retention should always be a priority. With the changes from the school year routine it's essential that we help our students stay motivated and engaged. It’s important that we not take any of our students’ continued training for granted, even our black belts who've been training for years. Black Belt retention in particular can be a challenge.

Here are four simple strategies that will help engage and motivate your black belts and hopefully keep them training for years more to come.

First and foremost, communicate that a black belt is not the finish line. If you ask new students what their number one martial arts goal is, most will tell you that they want to earn a black belt. We all know that earning a black belt is a monumental achievement, but is it the end of the journey? Of course not. We know that as instructors, but many students don’t. Adopt the mindset with your students that the best training begins at black belt. Whether it’s weapons training, advanced self-defense, or something else, black belt training is exciting and challenging. Share how exciting training is with your students as they approach that important milestone, then make sure to deliver once they've reached black belt! When a student works for years to hit that goal it can be hard for them to look beyond it, so we as instructor's need to show them what that going past it looks like. Saying things like: “you're going to love black belt training,” and “You'll make a great second degree,” can go a long way toward keeping them excited.

The second strategy is that your black belt curriculum has got to be defined. In other words, is it fun, challenging, and different than their previous training? If the curriculum for your black belts is just more of the same, they likely won’t stick around very long. Take a good look at what you're teaching them after earning their black belt and ask yourself, “Would I be excited doing this, and is it challenging enough?” If the answer is no, then of course make the changes you need. If the answer is yes, make sure to tell your existing and future black belts how much fun they'll have with their new moves and the curriculum ahead.

The third strategy is to give them more responsibility. I remember when my instructor asked me at twelve years old if I'd like to assist with classes and I'll never forget how good it felt. Having your black belts help out in beginner and intermediate classes will form a strong culture in your school and will give lower ranks an opportunity to see the progression ahead of them. You'll find that most of your black belts will be eager to help and that they'll feel a stronger connection to the academy if they do so. If you have camps and birthday parties, get some of them to help out. All the instructors I know started their careers helping in class and you might find your next instructor this way too.  Asking your black belts to help shows that you have confidence and trust in them, which will strengthen your relationship. It's always nice to have the extra help, too.

Finally, give them more freedom. Do you have options for your black belts to guide their training and development when they approach advanced degrees? This may vary depending on your style, but let your students decide the types of techniques they'd like to master. For example, if they're required to demonstrate two advanced forms for second degree, perhaps let them choose one. If you require a weapon, how about letting them select one from a list? The key here is choice. Kyoshi Kovar uses the great analogy that earning a black belt is like earning you pilot's license: now you can fly solo. Some students love dynamic kicking, some love forms, so allowing them a level of freedom to explore their niche interests is important to scratch their itch, whatever it may be.

Remember these four strategies: Black belt is not the finish line, the training has got to be real, give them more responsibility, and give them more freedom. Put these systems into action and watch your black belt retention improve. When your students have a vision of the future, enjoy their curriculum, feel a connection to their school, and have a bit of choice in their training, they are likely to stay with you for the long term.

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by Jason Duarte