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We do get the usual leaving patterns: after a few sessions, after six month, after a few years, and after getting shodan. While we, as instructors, can guess why this is happening, I am looking for hard evidence. Clearly, this will depend on too many things to be answered here. Thus what I am looking for is a method of finding out why people do not come back.

We tried questionnaires (no one would return them), phone conversations (too much pressure, thus no truth), and guess work (does not work).

Once we know why people are leaving, should be able to see what we are doing something wrong and what we could improve to retain members.

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Perhaps the only way is to find out why people are unhappy before they leave, e.g. by using regular questionnaires? – DNA Mar 22 at 8:53
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@DNA: Please do not answer in comments. Make an answer! Get lots of fake internet points! ^_~ – Sardathrion Mar 22 at 9:05
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I left 2 dojos for 2 reasons. Lack of money, and lack of money – user3479671 Mar 22 at 18:20
up vote 7 down vote accepted

You have an annual meeting or a Christmas party. Ask people to fill in anonymous little forms with:

  • Three things I really like about this dojo

  • Three things I would change.

They could also nominate their favourite sensei and say what he does better than the others, that kind of thing.

Then you'll get lots of surprises.

(I gave up karate after I got kids, because I was no longer able to train every day. Some clubs now have oldie sessions for people like me.)

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This is a really nice idea! – Sardathrion Mar 22 at 11:34

Using google forms (or equivalent) to provide an anonymous feedback mechanism is as good as you'll get, I think.

Bottom line: if people don't want to tell you, then they won't.

A pattern I've observed at my club is that one of the instructors is particularly good at alienating the more experienced players: he's very negative under the guise of providing "constructive criticism" - so everyone just goes to the other class and/or club in the town to avoid him and his class only has lower graded players as a result.

If you have problems with higher graded players leaving, that's when you should really be worried: if they had the persistence to achieve a high grade, then chances are there's probably a good reason they're choosing to quit/go elsewhere. (instead of the more "normal" reasons you might expect from lower graded players)

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If the rate of people leaving isn't too great, then perhaps a personal visit might help, especially for the more blatant cases where you thought that the person was a good fit but left anyway. Be sure to be non-confrontational and state very clearly that you goal is not to convince them to come back but rather to learn how you could make the dojo better.

Hi, as a ____ (insert some relevant personal trait of the student) I would really value your opinion as to how I could improve the dojo. If there is anything that you would like to share, or anything that you think that I should know, please do tell. I'm not writing anything down, and your advice will be known to me only. Thanks!

This strategy might even encourage a few to come back!

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This has the same problem as the phone conversation: the recipient feels pressured and thus does not tell you anything negative. All you get is "It is me, not you" excuse. – Sardathrion Mar 22 at 11:22

As you have pointed out, it is difficult to get straight answers out of people who are unhappy or apathetic.

Start collecting data when they begin training when you have access to them. You should start with what their goals are, how long they expect these goals will take, and how often they plan to train. This will help to understand whether their goals/expectations are realistic, whether there are preexisting factors, or whether they are looking for things you do not emphasize. You may not be able ask them why they leave, but you can ask why they show up.

Most people do not approach martial arts as a lifetime undertaking. It's unrealistic to expect that most people will continue indefinitely. A local joke is that the quickest way to get rid of someone you don't like is to give them their shodan (first black belt).

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This is a great question.

As most sports go you will find ones who just leave no notice, no reason, and no one knows why. I mostly consider this a few ways.

1.) What did we do wrong -Well if something was wrong with the class or instruction then they would have said something or a parent (in some cases) would have informed us of the situation.

2.) It happens -Some students find its not for them and are not interested in completing anything more.

3.) Did someone else leave - Maybe a good friend left of has gotten to busy to train right now and plan on coming back later, but the student doesn't know anyone else lets make some friends!

4.) How can we stop this - Monthly question-ares (during class) have a sit down with students and have the complete a (What did you learn this ...) with a section for (how can we improve what would you like to learn next..) make it optional to fill name out. Call them after (Hey we noticed you have left us please help improve by telling us what we did wrong thank you)

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Don't wait for people to leave. Find out if they are happy before they leave, and do what you can to ensure they are.

In our school, our instructors have cultivated an atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement, to the extent that it feels like one big family. We have the ocassional informal activity, sometimes outings that are purely social and nothing to do with martial arts. Our instructors are all very approachable, and will happily have a chat either in class, or one to one if we prefer.

All this adds up to a sense that it is our club. We're not just paying customers, we're part of it, so when we have someone leave, 9 times out of 10, they tell us why, and even stay in touch.

Of course some people just leave and there is no way to know why. Martial arts training is physically, mentally and emotionally tough. Some people just don't feel it's worth all the effort and so just fade away. That would be no slur on the club or the teaching staff, nor is it a sign of weakness or anything negative in the student. It's just the way it is.

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