1. The most obvious and important thing is to teach exciting, fun, and amazing classes. You need to be constantly educating yourself in not just your technical knowledge, but your teaching strategies. Try out new drills, and ways to motivate your students to train harder! Here is a really fun drill to try out in your classes:
2. Your belt system and curriculum. Students should have clear goals and time frames of when they can expect to test for the next rank- none of that "I'll test you when I think you are ready" stuff. Students should be earning stripes on their belt in between belt ranks and it should be presented as a big deal, not just something you slap on their belt just for showing up. Your curriculum should get gradually more challenging as time goes on, and I recommend you change your blackbelt curriculum up each quarter. They should always be learning something new! I see too many schools that wonder why they can't keep blackbelts training when they don't even have new curriculum for the blackbelts to learn!
3. Offer an Instructor program, Demo Team, Leadership Team, etc.. Find your "quitter rank"- the rank that most students tend to get demotivated and want to quit. Most students tend to level out their interest after the excitement of sparring has worn off and this will be the perfect time to introduce them to a leadership program, instructor program, or demo team. It gets them fired up again and will keep them training through the hump.
4. Stay on that attendance! You should not only be tracking attendance, but have a strict attendance call/postcard/email system. First you need to know when to expect students in class- assigned classes. This lets you know when students are absent. Next, you need to setup a system to call them, email them, facebook, or send them a card right away when they are absent. For every class a student misses it becomes exponentially harder for them to come back. Life gets in the way, embarrassment, now they are out of shape, so and so passed them up in rank, they don't have enough classes to test, etc.. excuses excuses. Make the call and do what it takes to get them back in class as soon as possible before it becomes a bigger issue.
5. Have social events - Offer social events such as seminars, parties, picnics, tournaments, etc.. Your students should feel like one big family!
6. Have special classes for other topics/styles- You may not want to become a brazilian jui-jitsu school, a caporiera school, or teach the samuari sword in your classes but your students do want to learn this stuff. Why not offer a once per week class that focuses on something that you don't have time for, or can't fit into your normal classes? If you have to, hire an outside expert to teach this one class. If you aren't teaching the style(s) your students want to learn- they may just go elsewhere to learn it.
7. Don't EVER let students get behind. Once a student gets behind, its just a matter of time before they quit. Do whatever it takes, extra help, private lessons, encouragement, etc..
8. Make a connection with them. Get to know them, find out what they like, where they work, know their family, ask them questions, etc..Tell them how much you appreciate them!
9. Give shout-outs. Every week we mail out "awesome cards" and we hand write a postcard telling them about something they did that was awesome. Once a week post a photo of someone doing something awesome. Recognize students in front of the class for their accomplishments! Tell them how well they are doing, and most important for younger students- go and talk to their parents about how well they are doing.
It took me thousands of dollars, hours of time, traveling all over, reading books and magazine, seminars, and years of experience to figure out the formula to better retention- and here it is right here. Act on it! I just finished my stats for one of my locations for 2013 and my retention rate was 93%. That means out of all the students I signed up since January of that year, by Dec. 31st - 93% of them were still actively training. Obviously we are on to something here! You can't stop all students from quitting, after all people move, people lose jobs, etc.. but it is much cheaper to keep the students you already have than to market for new ones. I urge you to check out our youtube channel for free drills and tips and check out our endlessmartialartsdrills products- my staff uses them every single day and it is one of the keys to our high retention!
Jeremy Molley is the owner of endlessmartialartsdrills.com. For more free drills, videos, and tips become a facebook fan.