A strong kids program is extremely valuable to most martial arts schools. It’s a major stream of income, and the foundation for building a strong adults class focused on competition. 

Yet, at the same time recruiting kids presents a completely different challenge to recruiting adult members, and many gyms struggle to consistently add new junior members. In this article, we’ll give you the blueprint for building out your kids program into a successful and integral part of your school and business, including: 

  1. Making a strong first impression
  2. Connecting with the parents
  3. Winning over the children
  4. Having fun while training
  5. Rewarding effort and recognizing progress

Let’s dig in –

1. Making a strong first impression

When a parent walks in through the door, they start forming an opinion immediately. Your studio is on trial, and we need to make sure we address any concerns before they become full-blown deal breakers.

What parents are looking at:

  • How organized and tidy is your front desk area
  • How clean is your training hall
  • How does your instructor conduct themselves
  • How do the kids react to the instructor  
  • Does the space feel warm and inviting? Safe and professional?
  • Does the instructor have an engaging sales pitch?

Parents can see if the instructor has students who are confident and disciplined. They are looking for a gym that is clean, warm and inviting. And most importantly, safe for their kids to train in.

Once we engage the parents, we must actively listen to any questions they may have. Parents want to feel that their kids will receive the best training at your gym. So having an excellent pitch of your martial art and your studio is important. 

Help the parents understand the benefits of training for their kids – building confidence and discipline, forming friendship with fellow students, learning how to defend themselves all while getting fit and healthy. More than a sport, martial arts is lifestyle and it’s our job to convey how it can enrich kids’ lives.

2. Forming a connection with parents

Parents want to make sure their children are in good hands. From the first time the parents and child come to the school to talk with you, or to watch a class, you are getting to know one another. 

It is important that you make every effort to listen carefully to any questions or concerns you may run across. If you address their concerns with care, the parents will feel confident that you are being sensitive to the needs of their child. 

Additionally, parents have first hand knowledge of their kid! They know what interests and motivates their child. You should ask them questions and gather as much information as you can. It is the little details that show your knowledge.

You’re an instructor and at the top of your game for a reason. Let your personality shine through. Show your enthusiasm. Ensure parents that your gym is the best! But also a fun place to learn.

Let’s recap:

  • Listen to and engage with the parents
  • Gather Information about the kids
  • Answer questions enthusiastically 
  • Let your personality and instruction style show through!

3. Winning over the children 

Children aren’t adults. As instructors we have to take a different route in gaining their trust. Children want to feel special, and they want to have a good time. They want to feel comfortable when they come to your gym.

So let’s do our absolute best in pairing children with other experienced students. We’re looking for children of similar age, height and weight, but with experience so they can help guide new members. 

Do you have a senior student who is excellent with children? Let’s go ahead and have them teach a class that isn’t too fast for our beginner children.

We want to make sure that our children members are in the type of training environment that encourages them to be themselves,  to think critically and most important, to be confident in their actions. A confident senior student will only help this process further.  

Don’t forget to review what has been taught, even when it seems like the children are doing a great job. It is important to remember that even though we may have great senior students and staff, they are not a substitute for your actual teaching expertise.

A child just might not feel comfortable expressing outwardly that they feel like they’re being left behind. They may just prefer to talk to the authority, which is you. Encouragement and open ended communication between yourself, your newest student and all parties involved is a great way to build confidence.  

  • Appropriately match new students with existing junior students based on similar build: height, weight, age and disposition.
  •  Ensure that the curriculum isn’t too fast or too slow paced.
  • Match a beginner child with a senior student/instructor who is great with kids.
  • Be open and readily available to communicate with staff and your students.

4. Having fun while training!

While it is true that more effort is required to keep children focused, having a wide list of fun activities for them to engage in while training, will keep them enthusiastic and entertained. Making training fun will keep new junior members  coming back.

Here are a couple examples:

  • Relay Heavy Bag work. Set up punching bags as relay stations within the gym. Separate your kids into teams. Then have them run through their techniques on the bags. This is good for resistance training and to build a child’s confidence. Heavy bag work made fun.  
  • Tug of war. Having a rope and separating children into balanced teams. Set the rope in the middle of the gym, or in an open area. Then have them pull the rope across a dividing line. First team that gets pulled over the line loses. This is great for muscle endurance and resistance training.  
  • Relay Pad work. Similar to the heavy bag game. Have your instructors/senior students grab pads. Line up your kids and or separate them into teams. Call out a technique and have the kids go through the techniques for speed and accuracy. This is great for building confidence and endurance.  
  • Mini Competition. Small forms/kata competitions are a great example of instilling the competitive spirit. Have your children sit down and then one by one have them perform the kata they are currently working on. Critiques and feedback are especially important here.

5. Rewarding Effort

The activities listed above are sure fire hits for children. Not only do they help reinforce learning, but by putting your students into groups, it fosters a sense of community and camaraderie among them. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to securing junior members.

Rewarding your children with positive feedback will make them feel good about what they have accomplished. A reward for the winning team promotes a sense of achievement. These achievements make children happy.

Here are a couple of outside of the box ways to reward and incentivize your children:

  • Special Recognition. Shining a bright spotlight on students who earn it is a tactic we often forget about. Congratulating them in class is one thing, but feel free to send special notes home to parents highlighting their child’s achievements.
  • Pizza Party. Have your students exceeded your expectations? Why not reward them with a pizza party. Bonus points if you can put together a movie night/pizza party.
  • Trophies. This directly correlates back to the mini-competition. Your winners can be highlighted based on their achievement and given a trophy or a medal.

In Conclusion

Congratulations! If you have made it this far into the article then you should have a better understanding of how to build out your kids program. We spoke at length about making lasting impressions. We discussed how to connect with parents and how to win over children. Additionally we talked about how to make training fun and how to reward a child’s efforts. 

Given these points, let us not forget that we are living in unprecedented times. Throughout the process of building your kids program, it is important to ensure that everyone inside of the gym is following safe social distancing guidelines. In doing so you are ensuring that parents will want to bring their children to your gym as a permanent solution to their fitness needs.

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Published by Wille Colon

Wille is a 2nd degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate. He teaches out of Charlotte NC. He is a husband, father and author of books.

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