It’s almost the new year, and that means lots of people are going to start jiu-jitsu as part of their New Year’s resolution to get in shape or learn self-defense. The result is usually positive for BJJ academies, which receive a sudden and dramatic influx of new members who are (at least temporarily) motivated to change their lives through jiu-jitsu.
As everyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution knows, though, the hardest part of making a big change isn’t starting, but continuing. Jiu-jitsu has a high turnover rate as it is, and if you want to help your gym capitalize on the increase in new members, you need to contribute to a constructive and welcoming environment that makes them want to stick around for the long-term.
It’s easy to dismiss the New Year’s crowd as a bunch of one-and-done students, but if you want them to stick around, make sure you’re taking these steps:
1. Don’t leave them standing on their own.
Nothing makes someone feel unwelcome in a jiu-jitsu gym like awkwardly standing around while everyone else gravitates toward their friends to drill or roll. Be that teammate who actively looks for the new people and offers to pair up with them. You don’t have to be an upper belt or a long-time member to step up and help the new students, and any offer of help will be greatly appreciated from new members who may be feeling alone and shy.
2. Make sure they’re included in gym chats, groups, and events.
It sucks to feel like you’re the only person not invited to a party, and your new teammates will get a similar feeling if they’re left out of discussions or events that involve the rest of the team. Usually, one of the coaches would be the one to add the new student to Facebook groups or chats related to the gym, but especially in larger gyms where it gets hard to keep track of everyone, you may have to be the one letting the newbies know that the team is getting together to watch an MMA event.
3. Provide positive reinforcement.
You don’t need to grab pom poms and put on a cheerleader outfit to be a reasonably encouraging teammate. You never know what doubts or concerns are going through the new students’ heads, and complimenting their good habits can go a long way in convincing them to come back even one more time. Even simple encouragement like “Good to see you coming back!” can let a newbie know that their presence in the gym is noted and appreciated.
4. Maintain a clean, respectful, safe environment.
The nicest members and the best coaches won’t keep a new student for long if the gym is constantly filthy or the other students roll dangerously. The end of the year may be a good time to do some self-reflection and ask yourself if you’d want to train at your academy if you were once again a new student. If you believe that the hygiene or culture at the gym has decreased in quality over time, consider bringing your concerns up to your coach. And of course, make sure that you yourself are contributing to the atmosphere and reputation you want the gym to have.
5. Treat them as though you expect them to stay.
Learn their names. Talk to them. Encourage them. When multiple new white belts come in at once, it’s easy to assume that most of them will drop out soon anyway and that you don’t need to get to know them until they’ve proven they’ll stick around. But you have to do your part if you do want them to stay. Get to know them and help the gym feel like home for them. You have the potential to help build up new and challenging training partners for yourself and your teammates, and you should embrace that. Treat the new members like valued parts of your BJJ family, and that’s exactly what they’ll become.