Friday, October 11, 2019

Kids' Table Follow-Up

Welp, that was interesting.

In my last post, I outlined an idea Shelly and I were experimenting with regarding our kids jiu jitsu classes (the original post was published on our gym's website blog.) The idea spawned from one of our most significant issues we've had since transitioning between ourselves and Garrick, the previous owner. Originally, I planned on running the experiment for a month. However, the flaws in the idea sprang up almost immediately, which led us to the decision to shut it down.

The gist of the original issue?

We simply do not have the time or physical space to develop the kind of kids jiu jitsu program that would produce the kind of jiu jitsu students we want to produce. And we don't have a coach with the qualifications, availability, and desire to work with small children. If we had more physical space, which is a problem we'll resolve in the near future, this issue would be moot because we DO have coaches who would do an excellent job... but their availability is problematic.

But that doesn't help us today.

This was the impetus behind the "kid's table" experiment. We basically ran the kids bjj class and adult bjj class at the same time. We ran the experiment for three class periods - once last week and two days this week. The results? There were some clear successes and clear failures. Let's start with the successes.

The Good

  • The kids liked it. The feedback I received from parents was positive. The kids seemed to enjoy being part of the adult class, probably for the reason I mentioned in the original article. This fact alone assures we'll revisit the idea again in the future. 
  • Kids were exposed to higher level jiu jitsu. Jiu jitsu is a complex sport, and planting seeds of future progress early on is an excellent way to facilitate growth in the future. Psychologically, it gives kids a road map of sorts to where the future will take them.
  • Having small children in class was sort of inspiring. Watching kids be kids always makes you feel a little younger and is a powerful reminder of the importance of play.

The Bad

  • The adults were kinda "meh."As it turns out, a lot of adults go to jiu jitsu as an escape from the responsibilities of parenting and the noise of small children. Running the classes concurrently diminished the quality of the adult class.
  • The kids were exposed to a higher level of jiu jitsu. The kids were generally incapable of following the complexity of the techniques that we taught in class. They simply aren't at a stage of cognitive development that allows them to process and retain the complex steps of the adult bjj instruction. This forces the instructors to either simplify the techniques and short-change the adults, or risk sabotaging the kids' motivation to do jiu jitsu by making it too difficult. In child psychology terms, we were surpassing their optimal zone of proximal development (Thanks Vygotsky!) Further, we had little or no opportunity to differentiate the instruction in a way that wouldn't take a looooong time during class, which would once again short-change the adults.
  • The crowded mats made some activities extremely difficult. This was more of an issue with the kids than the adults. Kids need space to move, run, jump, and play. Our first attempt to fix this problem involved setting up a small mat space in an adjacent room. Those mats were too small, so we moved the kids to one end of our main mat space. Again, this proved to be too small to be effective. This is a problem that we won't be able to solve until we find a larger space.
  • The kids were really distracted by the adults. Keeping little kids on task is an art (which I personally do not possess... it's really hard work.) The adults at the other end of our mats proved to be far too distracting, which had a significant negative effect on the kids' actual learning.
  • Our kids coaches lost autonomy. This is the real deal-breaker. Because the adult class is the higher priority (way more students), the adult class drives the class. This forces the kids coach to work with and around the adults, which dramatically affects the efficacy of the kids class. 

Possible Future Ideas

It goes without saying, but we have to axe the "Thanksgiving Dinner Table" model, at least for the immediate future. Next week, we'll be re-instituting our separate kids classes and adult classes. The experiment was a net fail, but we DID learn a ton of good information we can use to tweak the idea in the near future. Here are some possible ideas:

  • Hold a "Family Class." Since all of our kids have parents who train, we could solve a lot of the issues from above without sacrificing any of the benefits by holding a weekly or bi-weekly "family class" in addition to our regular kids and adult classes. We'd develop a simple curriculum, teach it much like any other class, and have parents work with their kids. Then maybe have a snack afterward (ala Little League games.) 
  • Hold separate-but-concurrent classes with VERY limited interaction. This idea is predicated on acquiring a bigger space. Most of our problems stemmed from too much overlap between the classes, but space necessitated that. If we had more space, we could feasibly have one part of class specifically dedicated to adult/ kid interactions.
  • Implement a Big Brother/ Big Sister-esque Program. Okay this one's a little out there, but I actually got the idea from a Boys and Girls Club my kids attended for years when we lived in San Diego. Pair each child up with an older child/teen who has demonstrated the ability to serve as a role model. The role model could answer questions, show technique, model appropriate behavior in class and in the gym, etc. This could be of benefit for both the younger and older child. 


 Creative experimentation sometimes results in resounding successes. Sometimes it results in abysmal failures. That's the inherent risk of being open to innovation. This particular experiment was somewhere in the middle. Importantly, it provided valuable feedback for future experimentation. 

For coaches and gym owners who may read this, consider giving the ideas a go. If you do, contact me (Jason) at with the subject of "THANKSGIVING TABLE EXPERIMENT". This idea has some clear potential; we're just not yet in a place where it'll result in the kind of success I expect. Some of y'all may have some significant improvements or other ideas for experimentation; I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts!



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