Although quality of instruction, membership prices and the overall look of the gym matter, a good atmosphere by itself can keep students coming. A general problem with martial arts gyms is they invest a lot in marketing, they get a lot of newcomers coming, but the retention rate is low.
This is a problem that can be attacked from different angles. In this article, we will look at the atmosphere in the gym and provide you with some tips to help create a great atmosphere.
NO to bullying.
There is nothing more daunting to the atmosphere than allowing bullying and bad behavior to exist. This will create a gap between the higher belts (if bullying exists in the gym, it’s most likely from the higher belts) and the lower belts as well as smaller groups within the gym, leading to unpleasant incidents. While joking around may be permitted, depending on the gym, bullying should never be allowed and the professor’s position on this should be firm and public. Bullying can take many forms, from openly mocking someone to matt bullying and even elitism may be considered a form of bullying. Recently, Marcelo Garcia set an example for everyone to follow when he decided to ban Dillon Danis from the gym due to his bad attitude and trash talking.
Find the right balance of fun.
There are schools where people are way too serious, jokes are not allowed and produce a similar feeling to being in the army. Then there are schools where everyone is too relaxed which leads to complacency. Remember, most people come at Jiu Jitsu after a hard day of work, in order to get away and disconnect from all the worries. You don’t want to add to that negative feeling, you want to combat that in order to keep them coming.
Be open to everybody.
Have an open policy. Always be open for questions from your newer students and, even more important, let them know that all the higher belts are there for them as well. Make sure the higher belts are aware of their responsibility, as senior students, towards the new students.
Avoid politics and religion.
Although this is a common point to keep in mind in most public places, it’s even more important in a BJJ gym, where people of all cultural and ethnical backgrounds come. You can easily have people from 3 different religions inside your gym, not to mention political views. As such, you should generally look to avoid discussions regarding politics and religion. If things happen to escalate, one good way to close the argument is just tell everyone “let’s agree to disagree”.
Activities outside the gym. Any type of event that gets the participants together and gives them time to talk and bond works here. Dinner after training, hanging out to watch a sport event (UFC PPVs are a great way to get people together), going to the pool, hiking, etc. Caution should be taken when these events involve other competitive actions or sports.
Traveling and competing. Really, what is there better than travelling with your team mates to different cities, visiting places, having fun while competing and creating stories to tell for the ages? Although this is sometimes difficult to pull off due to expenses, give it your best to have a small team that travels and competes regularly. Others will be able to see the great time they are having and will want to join in.
Figure 2. Traveling with friends and competing. Stories to tell for ages.
Keep it clean. A big must for any gym. Keep the mats clean, keep the mats safe. Poor hygiene can immediately scare away newcomers. It’s a factor that influences the atmosphere and most certainly a big factor when it comes to your client’s decision to join or to leave. Not to mention the health hazards a dirty mat has. Staph infection can keep a person away from the mat for a long time.
Bring a friend! Going to the gym is always easier with a friend. The problem with Jiu Jitsu is a lot of people are reluctant to try it, due to what they already think of the sport or how it looks from the outside. That reluctance is not helped by any fee you have over a one-time session or gym membership. Now, while a friend recommending the sport may solve the first part of the problem, there’s still the session/membership fee that may be seen as a risk. Make sure you have some offers going on for bringing a friend. That can range from giving a free session to a friend, discounted membership or really anything that lowers the entry risk for the newcomer. You risk losing a session’s fee if that person never shows up again. On the other hand, you might gain a loyal customer and an enthusiastic new student.