Use a register to promote good training habits
We all know that students are fickle, and it doesn’t take much to knock them out of the training habit. Two missed classes and a surprising number of people will quit. This can be avoided with good student care, but like most parts of the business, it takes a little fore-planning.
The most important thing is to give each of your senseis a blank class register, and insist that they fill it in (download blank registers here) . I suggest that you tell them that you expect to see it filled in within two weeks then check by getting them all to bring their registers along to sensei class. You might even want to check every few months, just to make sure that they are using them properly, and getting into the habit. If your senseis refuse or can’t be bothered, what does that tell you about their student care and GKR attitude?
On my register, I have the student’s name and phone number, which serves as a quick reference in case of emergencies. I also have tick boxes for 3 months worth of classes. Each time a student trains, I put a diagonal line if they train at a second class, you could put a line going the opposite way. If the student misses a class, I put a black box. The boxes are easy to see at a glance, so when I am looking to see who is missing classes, I know exactly who needs attention.
My golden rule is, if the student misses two classes on the trot, I give them call. I say something like,
“Hi, it’s sensei Mat from karate. You’ve been away for a couple of weeks and we were missing you. I was just phoning to make sure you were okay?”
This simple call can make so much difference, and rather than being confrontational (“Why are you missing classes?!”) it shows the caring values that GKR espouses. I’ve had adults get tearful about me taking the trouble to ask about them, and I’ve had parents who said that they were impressed that this simple courtesy was extended to their kids. The point is, it’s not a lot to do, but it makes a big difference because it reminds the students that they are part of something.
I like to make my student calls at about 4 o’clock on the day of the next training. That gives the parents enough time to prepare kids for class, but not enough time to forget class is on, if that is their problem.
If the student has an irregular training pattern (rather than necessarily missing two consecutive classes), it’s probably better for the sensei to wait until class to have a word with the student. I like to have a private chat after the class. I’ll call the student over and we’ll sit side by side, in a non-threatening manner. Then I’ll say something like, “Look you good-for-nothing lazy bastard, why haven’t you been training?!”
Nah, just kidding, I find that this approach works best; “Hi, I notice you haven’t been training in my class as regularly as you might. I was wondering if you’re attending another GKR class?” If the answer is yes, I’ll say, “You are? Who with? Oh that’s excellent, he’s a terrific sensei. It’s really great that you are getting variety. Okay, well, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”
If the answer is no, I’ll probably say something like, “Oh, that’s a pity. I hope everything is okay? You know you’re not going to be getting the full benefit out of your karate if you don’t train regularly.” This is an opportunity to ask why they joined GKR and in a caring way to remind them that they are partners in achieving those objectives. If they seem to be grade-oriented, you could also remind them “Of course you’ll take longer to be ready for your gradings too...”
By filling in the register as you sign students in, or at least placing it prominently on the table in sight of the students as they sign in, you can create a sense of responsibility and obligation towards training. You are implicitly saying, “training is important and you shouldn’t miss classes.” The black boxes next to a student’s name can easily be seen, and many students will not want to be seen as the ones that don’t train regularly.
This can be used in conjunction with another student-loyalty device the student call. I’m not talking about you calling them this time; I’m talking about them calling you. Try to develop the mentality in the dojo that students should inform you IN ADVANCE if they are going to be absent. Ideally, they should tell you the week before, if they are going on holiday. Then you can fill in the class register with an H for the weeks that they will be away, and you don’t need to panic at their absence. If something comes up unexpectedly, try to get them into the habit of phoning you to let you know. Make it clear from your attitude that you are not using this to check up on them, but because you are concerned about their welfare and karate development.
This creates the sense that casual absenteeism - because they played out too long, or ate dinner too late, or just can’t be bothered is to be avoided. It creates the same loyalty towards the sensei, as the sensei hopefully feels towards them.
The sensei/student relationship is a potent asset in the service of student retention, and the absence of such a relationship will see students drifting away at the slightest provocation.
Use the class register and the phone as powerful tools in creating a dojo family that feels genuine commitment towards each other. The fact that it is also good for your income is just a convenient by-product...