Rickson Gracie once said to me, “There is a problem in our industry. The turnover rate is too high. People are quitting every day. Those people who are quitting need jiu-jitsu the most!”
This resonated with me. The entire year before, I was intensely focused on student retention, keeping customers that I had instead of getting new ones.
The turnover rate in BJJ is disastrous. Some academies use unbreakable contracts to force people to stay on. Others chalk up the students lack of commitment to their discipline, weakness, willpower, and on and on.
This is unfortunate. A true leader accepts responsibility for the problems that arise with their “team”. He or she solves it from the top down and looks at themselves first, paying attention to what is happening.
What Is The Problem?
That is not that simple. Let me try and break it down.
A jiu-jitsu academy opens its doors to all genders, ages, and individuals with various backgrounds and lifestyles.
It is a community of like-minded individuals who may be very different from one another, but share a common bond on the mats.
The problem is this: not every student is ready for every aspect of jiu-jitsu right away. The students who start out shy, who were perhaps picked on their entire lives, they are starting jiu-jitsu as a way to empower themselves. However, the thought of being pinned down and strangled is a nightmare. Unfortunately, this may be the first thing they experience, and first impressions are often the strongest.
So, what seems normal to the common jiu-jitsu practitioner, competitor, or instructor is a nightmare for some new students. To put them in a situation carelessly in which they are given too much pressure too soon isn’t going to help them.
Some people begin their training and are ready to take on everything. Others begin and barely have the nerve to walk onto the mat.
To create an environment that is welcoming for both, you must give each what they need.
Shy and timid students should be protected until they are skilled enough to take on stressful situations with some confidence. This means no rolling for awhile. They need to feel like they know what they are doing before they get thrown to the wolves. If they don’t learn progressively and are given too much pressure, they will become a ghost in your academy. Baby steps are the key.
Last year, we had over a 90% retention rate with a 300% student increase. How? I paid attention to every person that walked in through the door and made sure they were given what they needed.
Are they an intense person who wrestles and is fired up to train again? If so, I put them in the mix.
Are they timid because of past life experiences? If so, I held them back and let them learn. Sometimes, I even gave them a sense of false security. Over time, I stripped them of it.
Fight To Keep Them
Jiu-jitsu isn’t natural selection. It isn’t survival of the fittest. It’s a place where the weak learn to become strong, where a 120-pound man who has been bullied his whole life has a chance to transform and reverse the cycle.
Instructors need to guide students along their jiu-jitsu journey, not push them into the deep end before they are ready to swim.
Don’t say students quit only because of lack of discipline. Maybe they have a lack of inspiration. Maybe they feel out of place. They have felt out of place their entire lives. Do you think they want to willingly put themselves in a situation where they have those feelings again?
Be a leader. Take responsibility. Give everyone the experience they need. I promise you, in the long run, it will make a huge difference.