Thursday, October 10, 2019

Jiu Jitsu Three Minute Hack #2: The Kids' Table Experiment and Child Psychology

Kids' classes are always a conundrum. While it's fun and fulfilling to teach jiu jitsu to receptive kid who have a deep, intrinsic motivation to do the sport, the kids who aren't really into it are a mental and emotional drain. It's basically like teaching world geography to freshmen in a public high school. 

<looks around innocently>

In the traditional martial arts studio business model, kids classes are basically the cash cow that keeps the doors open. The formula is pretty straight-forward: Offer parents a low rates at convenient times, the parents drop their kids off for an hour or two of babysitting, and you'll tire them out with some hyped-up games you either learned from elementary school PE class or found on Youtube.
"Hey, look. Sharks and Minnows. How very creative."

While this formula is handy for lining pockets of the owner, it ignores anything and everything we know about child psychology. The result? We end up with a whole lotta kids who, as future out-of-shape adults, can say they "tried jiu jitsu for a few months when I was a kid." Basically that McDojo's kids' program ruined martial arts for them because it treated the martial arts as if it were some sort of medicine that requires stupid playground games to be palatable.

No thank you. 

We can do better. We have an entire universe of published research on the nuances of child psychology. We know what it takes to create and maintain a high level of intrinsic motivation, yet we still rely on ineffective and even damaging strategies that rely on extrinsic motivators like giving belt promotions every day that ends in "Y." 

The solution isn't complicated, it just requires a bit of knowledge about the nature of human motivation. And there's no more basic idea than "humans want what they can't have." All we need to do is make our martial art elusive. Almost every martial art teacher I've met completely ignores this very basic rule by forcing the martial art on kids. Or worse, creating an environment where parents can easily force the martial art on their kids. That's a recipe for disaster. In my two decades of teaching and coaching kids ranging from three to eighteen, I can unequivocally say this situations ends in disappointment and resentment 100% of the time. 

So how do we use this magical scarcity principle? How do we make our kid's classes more elusive?

Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day party I've ever attended had an adults table and a kids table. Most of us have probably experienced sitting at that kid's table. You're just sitting there eating your lumpy mashed potatoes and over-cooked turkey, watching the adults laughing and having fun, just waiting until the day when you were old enough to graduate to the Big Leagues. You WANTED to sit at the adult table, and the anticipation was killing you! 

So there's the answer. Set up classes like Thanksgiving dinner. Make a kid's table. Figuratively, of course. Run your kids class concurrently with your adults class. Set up a mat area away from your main mat area, and let the kids train there during the adults class. Let the kids see the adults laughing and having fun... but keep them at a distance. Maybe give them an occasional taste, but make it clear they're not ready for the adults class until they can prove they're mature enough to handle it.
So why would this model be so different? 

This model leans on a primal drive all kids have - the desire to be a grown-up. It doesn't rely on crappy "motivators" like begging, pleading, scolding, yelling, bribing, giving weekly belt promotions, or playing crab soccer. As adults, we experience hedonic adaptation when we reach adulthood and forget just how much we wanted to grow up. We forget swearing whenever we were out of earshot of adults. We forget wearing makeup as a tween (my nod to both of my female readers.) We forget taking that swig of warm beer our dad left in the can. We forget how we would do anything to be big.
The real beauty of the idea is that desire to join the adult class will only grow over time, which gives the class instructors ample options to help regulate the kids' behaviors based on the specific criteria kids need to meet to get to the adult class. Teaching kids classes often feels like herding cats. It doesn't have to be like that. Age and ability is obvious, but you could also use knowledge of rules and procedures. The kids have to know how classes are run, why they're run that way, and how to behave in those classes. Or whatever you think is important. 

Will this model work for all kids? Absolutely not. There are always going to be those kids just don't give a crap and would rather be doing interpretive dance or badminton. No model is going to work for all kids. 

Over the next month, we'll be experimenting with this format. Part of it is done for logistics, but the main reason is to try to make a better kids class experience, especially for kids who have a genuine love for jiu jitsu. The current "martial arts kids class" model ain't doing these kids any favors, so why not try to create something better?

If any of my readers give this model a try, come back and leave a comment and tell us how it went! This idea has potential, but it's very new and untested. Lots of kinks to work out. Give it a shot.


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