School Owners/How to KEEP Students

For those of you that run/own schools I am wondering if you have any ideas on student retention. We all now the little marketing tricks to bring people in and sign 'em up, but what about keeping them once they sign up and beginning training?

I know there is going to be a 'trickle down' effect with enrolees, ex: 30 people visit your school in a month, 10 sign up, and of those 2 or 3 stick with it. With BJJ it's easy to say "Well, they just aren't tough enough." or "They don't like rolling/sparring, etc., etc.". With traditional MA's there is testing almost every month and that gives the student something to look forward to. How do we keep them focused and interested in BJJ?

I know it probally would work on the people who don't like to roll/spar, but if you have "enough" people, possibly monthly intra-club meets where the teams are drawn randomly on the day of it. A free competition once a month in place of a class for your members could keep those with a competition need interested. It'd just be gravy to me, but a lot of people I know say they just don't get into practicing as much unless they know they're practicing for something, a.e. a competition.

I think the biggest thing you can do to help stop dropoff is to call the people when they miss class.  Both my Muay Thai instructor and my Hapkido instructor back in the day would call me if I missed more than a couple days of class.  This would give me accountablility and I would feel guilty and get my butt into class.  Also, if you can try to get them involved socially it's a lot harder for them to drop out.  I would try to hold events outside of normal class like weekend cookouts, Fightwatching parties, or just going to a bar for a beer or 2 after class.  Once they make some friends in class then it becomes part of you life. 

Freestyle...I have thought about doing this before, just little in-house tournaments. We are afraid that students will feel like they HAVE TO compete, we want to make sure the competition is a fun and productive experience.

Rodney...I have definitly wanted to this and I am the only one to blame for not following through. Unfortunately, I have to work full time so my extra time around the school is limited. But this is something I could do on the weekends and during my day.

I laugh because when we sit and worry about our school and stuff like this, it seems so complicated, but you get right down do it, it all boils down to making everyone feel like a part of the team, and keep the classes focused and interesting.

I heard a quote from the guy that started Starbuck I thought was really interesting.  He basically said you can get a cup of coffee for a few cents anywhere.  What people are willing to pay extra for is the experience.  Same thing with jiujitsu or martial arts in general.  You make someone feel welcome, and let them have a good time, challenge them with new techniques and training and you should be able to keep a good portion of you students.  A lot of times it's the little things that make a huge difference.   You've got to look at it like you are in the service industry and your goal is to provide the best experience you can for each student. 

Good luck and good training,


I have very good retention rates. I need stronger skills on the marketing end.

Here are some of the things that have helped my student retention:

1) Honesty and sincerity when dealing with students. First and foremost, they must understand that you, the instructor, exist to help them. Be up front about it. Let them know that you value them, and not just as a source of income. Make it clear that their needs are your needs. Take comments (good and bad) and follow-up. And above all, if these is an issue, be up-front about it.

2) Connect with your students on a personal level. Personally, I feel uncomfortable calling people if they miss class, because a phone call can put people on the spot. However, I keep in touch with all of my students via email. I touch base with them even if they DON'T miss class. I like them to have a means of interacting with me privately, in case anything should ever arise.

3) This one's obvious: know everyone's name. Use it as much as possible. Be inclusive. Rotate who you use to demonstrate. Give people that personal touch. If they get through a class without feeling like you noticed them, they will get discouraged.

4) When it comes to MMA, BJJ, and other arts that can be "rough," be clear on your expectations for performance, behavior, and hygiene. It's important that you help the student be realistic with his/her expectations, and that they see that you are helping them reach their goals. It is also clear that they understand which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. They must also see that you have their back when someone else violates these rules. Lastly, be on top of hygiene, because it can make people uncomfortable (especially if they have to work with the stinky guy again).

5) Lastly, I don't see myself as a salesperson. Some people will argue that as the owner and head instructor, it is my job to sell lessons. In a sense, this is very true. However, I think that lessons are sold through the value of the program. When my students are in class, and they are feeling the excitement, the inclusion, and the progress that they expected to, THAT FEELING will sell more lessons than any talk we could ever have. The most important selling is in "producing the goods." I have never once asked a student to buy more lessons or sign a contract (I don't even DO contracts). I know that they will experience the value of my classes, and they will keep coming because they see the quality of instruction.


I really feel contracts are helpful in retaining students~if they are paying they will come.
You can offer a discounted rate if they sign a year contract and make the price go up as they pay 6 months cash in advance or pay monthly cash if they do not want to be on contract.

ttt, good thread.

A good way to keep students who are foreign is to confiscate their passports.

maximus' girl,

I'm not disagreeing. I DO offer discounts for students who pre-pay 3, 6, or 12 months. But I personally am just not comfortable with contracts. It's because I worked in (don't laugh) an Arthur Murray dance studio. The contracts were sleazy and were only used to bilk the students. They manipulated the contracts beyond belief. It left a bad taste in my mouth for contracts. (There's a kungfu mcdojo in my town that is similar.)

With that said, I understand that most martial arts schools use them to help the student build a habit of budgeting their martial arts payments.


I use contracts but I always mark the box that is open-ended. It rolls over month to month and the student can cancell with a 30 day notice. The biggest advantage to using contracts is the monthly bank draft. It takes alot of pressure off having to ask people for the monthly tuition when they are late. It is a buisness and should be treated like one. The head instructor is there to teach, not be a bill collector.


I think it also helps to change things up in training. I have been to classes where its the same warm up, drill moves, Roll.

Great post.

RodneyPoldrack is correct - well as the occasional wet-t shirt comp and
beer night.


You have a great school. Pride in your abilities, your school, and the goals of your schools will help build the experience.

You are a great grappler, they have several excellent role models at your school, exploit this.

One constructive comment I can make is the web page. Freshen it up occasionally, post pictures of your students as a group and individually having fun, sweating, etc. so that they want to check it out and ultimately feel connected.

Also, I don't know if you do this, but post pictures of the students in your school. A wall of fame/shame so to speak. With the increased connectedness will come a more reliable contingency of students.

Regardless, you will notice turn over. Our game is hard, rough, complicated, and political. The average bear wears out of the practice, but if a love of the game is built and nurtured, you will gain a fan and supporter.

my 2 cents,

Tim (IUBJJ/Caique)

LOL..EVERYONE hates our website. We are in the process of finding someone to 'liven' it up a bit. I think this an important subject for primarily BJJ schools since we aren't afforded some of the program options that a karate or tae kwan do school does. And dc1 is correct, the old school warm up, moves, and then spar class is fine for the hardcore bjj'er, but maybe not for the 55 year old business man, who has no desire to be the next UFC champ.


I hate to say it but if you REALLY want to retain students (not just the hardcore guys) you need to offer at least some classes that teach self defense and jiu-jitsu techniques without too much (or no) competitive sparring. Most people want to learn how to protect themselves but don't really want to be straight killers.

The hardcore guys will spar for an hour in the rain while you throw buckets of dog shit at them to "toughen them up", and will keep going until the puking stage. You really don't need to do anything special to retain these guys other than keep teaching them cool stuff they can beat people up with.

Usually the tough guys have very little $$$$ also, so providing something for the doctors and lawyers of the world will help your bottom line alot (they like private lessons too). Of course you need to keep the sparring and conditioning for the scrappers, just in a seperate class.

I definitely do not believe you should promote people past a few stripes on their white belt until they show some sparring profficiency though...

One other thing that is realativly simple is to create a mailing list.  Then, you can send mass e-mails with either a monthly news letter,  weekly tech tips, or just an e-mail telling everyone were meeting at the bar down the street to watch the fights.  Also, it's a great way to contact the guys who are missing class.  All you have to do is create one form document and shoot it to the guys who miss class every couple of weeks. 

Another good idea (I got from my massage therapist) is to send out an email or post card overing a discount on private lessons.  My massage therapist sends them out on your birthday which I think is a good idea.  Some people who may not think about private lessons can't pass up a good deal and will take you up on the offer.  This can really increase income from your private lessons, maybe get someone back into class that has dropped out and if nothing else you lost a few cents sending someone a birthday card.  It's good marketing no matter how you look at it. 


Here are a couple of things that can help with the experience factor

Have a fight night

Have people ome in on Friday( for example) roll or spar for a bit then watch a UFC or the Latest Pride. It works very well.