I wanna to Quit!!!


Author:  Robyn  J.A.  Silverman

Nobody  likes  to  admit  that  it's  happening  to  them.  High  quit  ratios  are  the  proverbial  thorn  in  our

Sometimes  it  feels  like  our  entire  student  population  is  leaving  our  school  in  droves.

Somebody  lock  the  back  door!

Retention  is  one  of  the  most  common  concerns  among  all  professional  school  owners.  As  a

school owner myself, I have gone through the same frustrations as countless others. We put our

hearts  and  souls  into  each  student  who  joins  our  school.  Many  become  like  family.  Then  one

day,  they  move  on  or,  worse  yet,  they  quit  prematurely.  Haven’t  we  all  had  those  students  who

are  a  wink  away  from  black  belt  just  quit  right  before  our  eyes?  It  feels  like  we  have  been


Many of the school owners who I coach or consult for ask me why this keeps happening and why

they  never  saw  it  coming.  They  ask,  "Is  it  me?"  The  school?  My  staff?"  These  are  good

The  answers  might  just  give  you  the  information  that  you're  seeking.

The  Four  Main  Reasons  Why  Children  Quit

Children quit for all different reasons. Some children feel bored while others feel overwhelmed.

Some  children  have  unrealistic  expectations  that  they're  going  to  be  performing  the  kind  of

martial  arts  that  they  see  “in  the  movies”  on  the  first  day  that  they  attend.  Other  children  see

martial arts simply as another activity that they do —easily interchanged with football, basketball

or dance lessons. Still other children feel invisible to the instructor, picked on, misunderstood or

scared  when  they  take  class.

The  first  major  reason  for  quitting  is  the  instance  of  a  "Curriculum-Based  Clash."  Simply  put,

when  children  feel  overwhelmed  or  under-challenged,  they  will  want  to  quit.  After  all,  when

something  is  too  difficult  or  too  easy,  it  isn’t  fun  anymore!

The over-challenged child may feel as though he cannot keep up, catch up, or otherwise progress

at the pace that the other children in class are progressing. The under-challenged child may feel

uninterested,  disinterested  or  just  plain  bored.

Whatever it is, there's clearly a cla sh between the child’s learning level and the curriculum you're

teaching to them at this time. These children will surely start looking for other ways, whether it's

in  football,  hockey,  dance  or  a  marching  band,  to  fill  their  time  and  hold  their  interest.

The second major reason for quitting is the case of the "Value-Based Clash." If a parent doesn't

value  what  you  teach,  she  will  easily  pull  her  child  from  your  school.

A parent might see your martial arts program as “just another stop on the way between football

and piano.” Know the type? This parent might not know the value that your school provides that

clearly  separates  you  from  (1)  other  academies,  or  (2)  from  other  after-school  activities.  Why

should  they  be  concerned  if  their  child  wants  to  quit  something  that  has  only  little  or  no

perceived  value?

Children tend to take their cues from their parents —so when mom and dad don’t care, neither do

they. If the value of your program is unclear, it will be the first thing cut when there's a change in

schedule,  interest  or  homework  load.

The third major reason for quitting is the often elusive "Personal-Based Clash."  When children

or  parents  feel  uncomfortable  in  your  academy,  uncomfortable  around  you  or  undervalued  by

your  staff,  they  will  likely  want  to  quit.  There  may  have  been  a  misunderstanding  or

miscommunication  that  led  to  this  clash.  Boundaries  may  have  been  breached  in  some  way.

Perhaps the most common personal clash is when the child perceives that you don't “like him” or

“care about him” like you do about the other children in class. Perhaps there's some truth in this

assessment? Instructors and school owners are often left wondering what happened, since many

personal-based  clashes  are  left  unresolved,  unmentioned  or  disguised  as  something  unrelated.

Finally,  the  fourth  major  reason  for  quitting  is  the  instance  of  the  "  Situational-Based  Clash."

While  the  above  reasons  have  a  negative  undertone  causing  a  “falling  away”  or  a  “falling  out,”

situational  clashes  are  due  to  an  actual  lack  of  money,  resources  or  ability  to  continue.

When families don't have the money to pay for lessons, the car to get their children to your class,

or the person to bring the child to your school, they will likely need to quit. There may have been

a  divorce  or  a  death,  a  new  job  opportunity,  an  illness  or  a  layoff  that  caused  this  situation  to

We're  often  very  sorry  to  see  these  students  leave,  given  that  they  would  stay  if  they  could.

When  there's  a  clash,  you  need  to  fix  it  or  be  ready  to  let  these  people  go.  People  don't  need  to

clash  in  all  four  of  these  categories—just  one—and  if  it  remains  untreated  or  unfixed,  those

people  are  out  the  door.  Of  course,  w  hen  you  find  a  match,  things  just  feel  right.  It  feels  easy

and  comfortable.  When  people  match  on  all  four  of  these  criteria—you  have  a  student  for  life.

Perhaps  you  believe  that  creating  a  student  for  life  isn't  the  problem  here.  "We  are  in  crisis

mode,"  you  might  say.  "Just  tell  me  what  to  say  when  children  want  to  quit!"

Let’s not put the cart before the h orse. If you skip over the next step, you have lost your students

even  before  they  officially  walked  out  of  your  academy!

Teaching  Commitment

Laying the groundwork for commitment needs to happen as soon as a new student walks through

the  door.  If  the  first  time  you  are  talking  about  commitment  is  when  someone  is  trying  to  quit,

       you  are  too  late.

Here  are  seven  ideas  to  help  solve  the  problem.

  Teach  commitment  before  it  becomes  an  issue.  Respect  for  commitment  and  hard  work

should  be  part  of  the  daily  lexicon  of  any  parent  and  teacher.  Small  praise  phrases  such  as,  “I

appreciate  your  hard  work  and  commitment  to  this  class,”  can  assist  in  bringing  the  notion  of

dedication  to  the  forefront.

Even  nonverbal  cues  can  assist  in  teaching  commitment.  Take  the  extra  time  to  give  a  child  a

high  five  or  a  meaningful  smile  for  earning  a  stripe  or  a  new  belt.  This  can  help  children  to

realize  that  commitment  means  approval  and  praise.

One  eight-year-old  student  told  her  mother  recently,  “I  think  Dr.  Robyn  likes  me  since  she

knows  I  always  keep  my  promises.”  They  know.  They  can  read  you  like  a  book.

In  addition,  your  retention-based  character  program  should  effortlessly  intertwine  lessons  of

commitment  into  each  month  of  discussions,  projects  and  parent-connection  letters.  This  way,

when  the  children  are  discussing  the  importance  of  goal-setting,  courage  and  achievement,

they're also talking about stick-to-itiveness. It's vital for every good teacher to realize that, if you

say  it,  it  can  be  challenged;  when  the  children  say  it  themselves,  they  perceive  it  as  the  truth.

2. Reach out for assistance.  Believe it or not, you don't need to know everything about retention

to  run  a  successful  martial  arts  academy  or  Personal  Development  Center.  However,  if  you  or

one  of  your  staff  members  is  not  an  expert  in  child  development,  character  curriculum  writing,

martial  arts  retention  systems  or  commitment,  make  it  easy  on  yourselves.

Purchase  a  monthly  character  curriculum  that  incorporates  retention-based  language  and  join  a

consulting company that will give you some pointers on running a professional school. You can

also  enlist  the  help  of  a  personal  success  coach  for  you  or  your  staff  who  can  help  you  lay  the

groundwork  for  commitment.  These  programs  and  coaches  can  become  your  partners  in  success!

3. Evaluate the match.  You should be using some kind of  Potential Student Evaluation Sheet.

Using it, find out if the program is suitable to this child and this family. You will want to know

the answers to some critical match-based questions such as: Does class meet at a time when the

child is energized or grouchy? Does it meet at a time when the parents are available or stressing

out  in  traffic?  What  is  this  family  expecting  of  the  instructor?  What  are  the  instructor’s

expectations  of  the  child?

Assess  whether  the  child  and  the  family  who  walks  through  the  door  will  have  the  greatest

success,  based  on  their  goals  and  desires,  at  your  academy.  Not  every  school  is  appropriate  for

every  child.

Six years ago, a very strict martial arts instructor at a school across town yelled at an inquisitive

eight-year-old  student  for  interrupting  him  during  an  introductory  appointment.  The  school

enforced traditional values like “children should not speak unless spoken to.” The family knew it

wasn’t  the  right  school  for  their  son

A  week  later,  the  boy  shyly  entered  our  martial  arts  school  and  met  the  upbeat,  progressive

It  was  a  perfect  fit.  He's  now  going  for  his  second-grade  black  belt.

When  the  program  matches  its  students,  the  school  owner  will  have  a  much  lower  quit  ratio.

4.Explain commitment each time the child commits.  When a parent is getting ready to enroll a

child  in  a  program,  a  discussion  should  ensue.  Whether  it's  a  brand  new  program  or  the  child  is

moving up into a special club, a good instructor will want to discuss what everyone is agreeing to

so  everyone  understands.

The  child  should  be  made  aware  of  the  time  commitment  as  well  as  the  commitment  to  effort

that  s/he  must  give  throughout  the  time  that  s/he  is  part  of  the  program.  Parents  should  be

encouraged to discuss the benefits of joining the program with the child as well as what the child

will  have  to  give-up  while  s/he  is  in  the  program.  This  way,  there  are  no  surprises.

  Explain  it  in  their  terms.  When  explaining  commitment  to  a  younger  child,  I  encourage

instructors  to  explain  it  in  terms  that  a  child  can  understand.  It  makes  no  sense  to  use  abstract

terms  with  a  child  who,  developmentally,  thinks  concretely.

Avoid  abstract  explanations  like,  “Joey,  are  you  ready  to  commit  for  the  whole  time?”

Remember,  this  is  the  same  child  who  asks,  “Are  we  there  yet?”  every  five  minutes  when  on  a

two-hour  trip  to  the  beach.  Time  doesn’t  really  make  much  sense  to  him.

Use concrete terms that a child can understand. One good example of a concrete explanation of

commitment  is,  “Jessie,  you  know  how  it  is  really  warm  out  and  we  are  wearing  shorts?  When

you commit to being part of this class, you will be in it until it gets really cold out, when we have

big  jackets  on,  and  Christmas  morning  is  right  around  the  corner.”

6. Put it in writing.  Have you heard of a promissory note? It binds the borrower and the lender

in writing. We use a promissory note of a different kind at our school. It is between the instructor

and the child. The instructor promises to teach and the child promises to attend class. In order to

have the child feel like part of the commitment process, you can have him put his name down on

his  own  agreement.

I have often had parents and children put the commitment down in writing, sign it in front of the

instructor,  and  then  hang  it  in  a  prevalent  place  where  they  can  see  it  each  day.  The  process  is

especially  useful  for  those  parents  who  say  that  their  child  has  trouble  keeping  his  commitments.

Sometimes  the  lack  of  commitment  may  be  due  to  the  fact  that  the  child  was  never  really

involved in making the promise to commit. The commitment should be read out loud at the time

of  signing  so  that  the  child  understands  that  commitment  is  taken  seriously  at  your  academy.

  Educate  the  parent  about  burnout  and  over-scheduling.  Children  need  downtime.  They

need  cuddle-time.  They  need  decompression  time.  Don’t  you?

If  a  child  points  out  that  s/he  likes  four  different  activities,  s/he  really  should  be  advised  to

choose which one or two that s/he would like to participate in at this time. One of the best things

parents  can  do  is  tell  their  child  to  “pick.”  Too  many  activities  lead  to  too  much  strain  on

After  all,  everyone  gets  crabby  while  running  from  place  to  place.  Summer  time,  or

vacation  time,  can  always  be  used  for  extra  activities.

By  the  same  token,  burnout  can  occur  at  your  martial  arts  academy  if  a  child  is  attending  too

many  days  per  week  and  too  many  hours  per  day.  When  someone  loves  something,  they  need

time  to  miss  it  a  little  so  that  they  are  fresh  and  excited  every  time  they  get  a  chance  to  do  it.

Encouraging  children  to  attend  classes  five  days  per  week  might  seem  like  a  fine  idea  for  your

over-achievers, but that kind of schedule isn't for everyone. Feed a child cookies all day long and

eventually,  even  though  the  cookies  are  great,  he  is  bound  to  want  something  else.

But  I  Want  to  Quit  Now!

Now  you  have  laid  the  groundwork  for  commitment.  Stick-to-itiveness  is  an  integrated  part  of

your  character  program  and  your  martial  arts  academy.  You  have  done  everything  to  promote

loyalty  to  the  martial  arts.  But  let's  say  they  still  want  to  quit.  What  should  you  do?

1. Find out the reason.  Get out your checklist and do some digging. What kind of clash are you

detecting  when  it  comes  to  this  child  or  this  family?  Is  there  a  lack  of  fit  between  the  child  and

the  curriculum  or  perhaps  between  the  parents  and  your  staff’s  teaching  style?

I've often found that, with some digging, the child reveals that s/he is bored or stressed in some

When  you  get  the  answer,  you  can  move  forward  in  solving  the  problem.

  Evaluate  the  problem.  Whether  we  like  it  or  not,  there's  some  truth  in  every  real  problem

related to quitting. If a child feels like s/he can’t keep up, but you think s/he's doing fine, there is

still  some  truth  in  the  problem  according  to  the  child.  It  is,  in  fact,  the  truth  according  to  the


If a child feels ignored in class, but you feel that you spend equal time with everyone, there's still

some truth in the way the child  perceives  being ignored. Be understanding of the problem. There

may  have  been  some  lack  of  communication  or  s/he  might  be  reading  you  wrong.

Acknowledge  the  child’s  bravery  in  coming  to  you  or  let  the  parent  know  you  appreciate  their

The  question  here  is,  is  this  problem  valid  and  can  an  adjustment  be  made  to

accommodate  the  issue?

  Make  an  adjustment.  If  the  answer  is  no,  then  be  upfront  about  it.

For  example,  I  had  one  school  owner  tell  me  that  when  he  became  more  of  a  Personal

Development  Center,  everyone  was  thrilled  with  the  new  character  curriculum.  In  fact,  it  had

brought many new people to his school and rekindled interest and excitement among his families

in his school. However, one child was unhappy and didn't want to learn about how to strengthen

his  character.  He  threatened  to  quit.

While  the  problem  had  truth  in  it—he  altered  his  curriculum  so  that  character  was  taught  --  the

school owner was unwavering about changing the curriculum back. This child was respectfully

released  because  no  adjustment  could  be  made  to  accommodate  him.

Jonathon  VanCleve  hit  the  nail  on  the  head  in  his  "Employee  Insights"  column  in  September’s

      maSUCCESS  when  he  wrote,  “I  wouldn’t  keep  a  bad  student  and  risk  losing  good  ones.”  Well


Of course, if you can make an adjustment to fix the problem, by all means, do so! Don’t take the

easy  way  out  just  to  avoid  a  little  extra  work.  Small  adjustments  are  appreciated  and  show  you

They  also  help  the  children  to  stay  committed  and  add  value  to  your  program.

If you talk about a reasonable adjustment plan, but the student still wants to quit, you may need

to  go  back  to  step  #1  above.  You  haven’t  quite  figured  it  out  yet.

  Re-visit  the  notion  of  commitment.  Remind  the  children  that  when  they  make  a

commitment,  it's  important  for  them  to  follow  through.  This  is  how  people  become  their  very

Prompt  them  to  recount  how  commitment  is  regarded  in  class  and  in  life  and  recount  the

conversation  you  had  with  them  when  they  first  joined.

In addition, help these students to understand that it's normal to feel frustrated, stressed and even

a  little  bored  at  times.  Everybody  does!

As an instructor, you can help the students to find ways of dealing with these feelings. We often

like to focus on the upside of commitment, and rightly so, but there's always an implied sacrifice

when we dedicate our time to achievement in one area. It's our job to help children cope with the

This  is  part  of  the  commitment  process  too,  isn’t  it?

  Ask  for  a  verbal  or  written  recommitment.  You  can  both  sign  the  recommitment  paper  or

pledge your recommitment with a handshake and a smile. You might be wondering, "What do I

have  to  recommit  to  in  this  scenario?"

Well,  that  depends.  You  might  be  committing  to  providing  the  child  with  a  tutor,  moving  the

child  into  a  different  class,  or  personally  checking  in  with  the  child  every  few  weeks.  Your

recommitment helps the child and the parents realize that s/he has a partner in success. The child,

of  course,  would  be  recommitting  to  sticking  with  the  program.

6. Re-evaluate.  This is one area where people often fall down on the job. They might think they

have  fixed  the  problem,  but  they  forget  to  check  back  in  to  see  if  the  adjustment  is  working.

Do  not  just  open  the  door  of  communication  and  expect  your  student  to  emphatically  walk

through! Let the child and family know that you would like to meet or have a call in two weeks

to  make  sure  that  the  adjustment  is  working.  If  not,  go  back  to  step  one.

7.  Praise  loyalty  and  effort.  Nothing  is  better  than  hearing  your  superhero  tell  you  that  you’re

doing great. Wouldn’t you want to sti ck with a program in which the instructor congratulates you

on  your  efforts  and  praises  you  for  your  stick-to-itiveness?  We  all  would.

Take the time to look each child in the eye and let him know you are proud, especially when that

child is overcoming a challenge with commitment. That pride will translate to the way that that

child looks at himself in the mirror each time he gets a new stripe, patch, belt or rank. When he

sees  himself,  he  will  see  a  future  black  belt.

  Black  Belt  Excellence.  The  end  result  should  be  that  the  child  follows  through  with  the

program without incident. You have set an important precedent, though —you've shown that you

care  and  you  have  put  a  retention  system  in  place.

Putting  It  into  Action

Quitting might be a part of life for martial arts academies; however, school owners can improve

their  retention  ratio  with  a  little  planning  and  systemization.  Once  you  take  the  time  to  lay  the

groundwork for commitment, you're conquering half of the retention battle. Knowing what to do

when  someone  utters  those  dreaded  words,  “I  wanna  quit!”  takes  care  of  the  other  half.

What  do  you  plan  to  put  into  action  today  to  ensure  better  results?  It's  up  to  us  to  teach  our

students  to  refrain  from  throwing  in  the  proverbial  towel  and  get  them  to  use  it  for  a  better

purpose  --  like  wiping  the  sweat  off  their  faces.

Dr  Robyn  J.A.  Silverman  is  the  co-owner  and  child-development  specialist  at  EEMA  Fitness  &

Martial  Arts  in  Weymouth,  Massachusetts.  She  has  developed  the  POWerful  Words  Character

Toolkit, a systemized, easy-to-use, age-appropriate, character-education program for all martial

arts  schools.  The  Toolkit  is  currently  being  used  in  over  300  large  and  small  martial  arts

academies  worldwide.  For  information  or  booking  Dr.  Robyn  for  a  parenting  or  staff  training

seminar, contact her at 1-781-718-1640, e-mail jsilverman@powerfulwordsonline.com or check

out  the  website  at  www.powerfulwordsonline.com.

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