In part 1, we looked at 5 ways to fill your kids' classes, and hopefully, you've started to plan and execute that process. So let's move on to managing and enjoying teaching kids classes.
I've broken this into 3 sections - Atmosphere, Class Structure, and Games.
To have a self-sustaining kids program, you need the right atmosphere. These are some ways you can cultivate an enjoyable atmosphere at your school.
The first thing you must do is decide what school you want to be in. Are you family-oriented or competition oriented? Being family-oriented doesn't mean your school doesn't compete; it just means it's different from what you're focused on. We have a competition team that meets separately from the regular classes. But our primary focus is on the overall benefits of Martial Arts in a family-friendly atmosphere. If kids want to compete, they try out for the competition team. Generally, schools focused on building world-class competitors have a different atmosphere. You have to decide what type of school you want to have.
Don't allow parental coaching from the sidelines if you want a great atmosphere for your kids' classes. We let parents know before the first class that we do NOT allow coaching from the sidelines. Allowing even one person on the sidelines to begin coaching becomes a nightmare real quick.
We always have music playing in my school. I prefer hip-hop instrumentals. I have music playing before students begin arriving, turn it down low during bow-in, up during warm-ups, down during techniques, up during drilling, and so on, but it's always playing. The are numerous studies on how music with different beat patterns affects learning and retention of skills. But overall it sets an enjoyable mood in my school for kids and parents.
Engage with the parents as well as the kids. You don't have to have a wall, literally or figuratively, between you and your students. Get to know the parents and kids. Ask them about themselves. The more you know about them, the more connected you become. Then, after each class, tell one or more of the kids how well they did in front of their parents.
You will undoubtedly observe them doing techniques incorrectly, getting frustrated, or forgetting them. So when you do, it's important to be patient. Stay calm with them. Don't say things like "What are you doing?", "Why are you doing that?", "That's not right.", "You're doing it wrong.", "That was stupid." Instead, respond with empathy and patience. For example, I see you did X, what if you tried doing it this way. I see you're frustrated. Are you having a hard time with Y? Let's try again. I'll help you.
Kids will inevitably cry at some point. If you have kids' classes, you already know this. They will get hurt or get their pride hurt. The first thing we do is make sure they're not injured(hurt and injured are two different things). First, I have to calm them down. There are usually a lot of tears and.. snot. Talk to them calmly. Saying "calm down" or "stop crying" is ineffective because they don't know how. If they get hurt, we'll guide them through breathing exercises, try to get them to laugh, and tell them to get some water or go to the bathroom to wash their face. If it's hurt pride, a conversation about how you've been in the same situation and how we all get beat usually does the trick.
It's essential to set expectations for kids and parents. What to expect from their training and what your expectations are from them. For parents, it's simple - We expect them to let us coach and for them to support their child's learning. Not to put huge expectations on the child to be the next big thing and not to compare their child to other kids in the class. This goes back to what type of school you want to have. From kids - to always give their best effort. To not compare themselves to other kids in class or see them as competition but instead as teammates.
Building a group of volunteer assistant instructors is good for business and camaraderie. Paying students that also volunteer reduces your overhead while giving students a sense of purpose. You must first identify students with the potential to be good assistants. Tell them you think they would be a good fit and ask if they are interested. I have a blend of adult students(parents of kids that train), teens, and pre-teens. It's important to mention that when dealing with volunteer instructors, you set expectations - how many days per week, to let you know if they can't make it, etc. You must conduct regular training for assistants to keep up the quality of instruction you and the parents expect. And to ensure your values are represented by your assistant instructors.
With a clear class structure, managing large kids' classes is easy. Here's how we structure our classes.
Before we bow in, all the coaches give the kids fist bumps.
After we bow in, we will do a quick warm-up - something that's related to the technique or concept we're working on. First, we partner them up(we do not let them choose their partners; we select them based on size and skill). Then we sit them in a square(we have colored tape to shape ¾ of a square) with instructors forming the rest. Everyone in the square says their name one at a time, and we all repeat after them.
I then demonstrate the technique of the week. We stay on one technique all week, adding small details or variations as the week progresses.
Keep it basic, stick to the fundamentals, and try not to get too technical and overly detailed. Instead, I convey the idea of the technique and tell them it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to work. Let the kids figure out how it will work for them. I explain and ask why I am doing "this" or "that." This allows them to actively participate in teaching and learning.
I break the move into 3-5 steps asking questions along the way. Then, after I've demonstrated the move a few times, I'll ask them to raise their hands to tell me what each step is.
Once the demonstration is done, I'll have them stand up, and we'll break them into 2 groups with their partner. Group 1 on one side of the mat, Group 2 on the other. We have Group 1 stand up, space them out on the mat, get them to their starting position and call out the steps for them to practice 2-3 times before switching top to bottom or back to front or whatever the move calls for. If it's a standing technique, I designate one of the kids as partner 1 and the other as 2. Then we repeat with Group 2.
After the drilling session, we follow the same Group 1 and Group 2 processes for live sparring for a specific number of rounds.
Once sparring is complete and they have behaved properly if time allows, we let them play a game. To help with structure, when one group is drilling, the other sits with their legs crossed, watching the other group practice. We tell them there will be no talking if talking gets above a whisper.
Playing games with the kids is not only good for letting loose a little but is a great tool to encourage good behavior and make classes easier and less stressful to manage.
Rule number 1 for all games is NO screaming. If there's any screaming, games end immediately.
We choose 3-4 kids to be "werewolves," and the rest are "humans." Werewolves line up in the center of the mat in a bear crawl position and must bear crawl to tag the "humans." Once the game begins, werewolves tag the humans. Once tagged, they become a werewolf and start tagging humans. The game ends when all humans become werewolves. We'll play 2-3 rounds, changing the werewolves each round.
This is just like Werewolf, only in reverse. 2-3 kids are "humans," and the rest are "werewolves." The humans start in the center of the mat, and the rest of the kids get down in a bear crawl position. Humans tag the werewolves, and once tagged, they get up and start tagging the werewolves. The game ends when all werewolves are turned into humans.
All kids line up on the wall, and there is one ball. We throw the ball in the air to start the game. The object is to be the last one standing. If you get hit, you sit on the edge of the mat with your legs crossed, not interfering with the game once out. If you have the ball, you have 5 seconds to throw it. To get someone out you, the ball must hit them before it hits anything or anyone else and must leave your hand. No catching is allowed. You catch it; you're still out. No consecutive throws. Someone else must throw it at least once before picking it up again.
This is like Spiderball, only with 2 balls. The difference is you can only hit someone else that has a ball once you're the last two people with a ball.
This is similar to Spiderball, except the coaches are the only ones that can touch the ball. The coaches get to hit the kids with the ball. Coaches can pass to one another. No catching by the kids.
This is like dodgeball, the difference being if you get hit switch to the side that hit you. If your ball is caught, switch to the side that caught your ball. I recommend setting a timer. The game ends when the time expires, or everyone is on the same side.
We play many more games, but they're usually reserved for Saturdays.
We've found ways to manage large groups of kids while keeping high-quality instruction and low turnover. But it didn't happen overnight - it took a lot of work and trial and error. So you may find a variation of our process that works better for your gym. Use what works...