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Retention in the Age of COVID-19

by Christopher Rappold


If you had been told in January of this year that our world was about to shut down, would you have believed it? For most of us, the onset of COVID-19 was surreal, almost like watching a far-fetched movie plot unfolding in real time. And as with all unwelcome surprises, no one wants to go through it again. That said, I do want to make sure that our (literal) 20/20 hindsight results in the correct insights that will leave us better prepared for whatever else the future brings.

Because this column focuses on retention, my observations will target four key takeaways. The lessons to be learned — or relearned — from this pandemic are critical to sustained martial arts student retention and success.


1          Building strong relationships is a high-value activity.

To get through any kind of crisis requires more than just your efforts. It takes the collective support of friends, family, team members and the students in your school. Provided that these relationships are strong and have been properly nurtured, you’ll feel grateful for the people around you because they all want to be part of the solution.

All of a sudden, remembering birthdays, acknowledging effort, sending cards of congratulations, being your students’ biggest fan and showing genuine interest in the lives of your instructors and students have become key to laying a solid foundation that will enable you to thrive in uncertain times. If this mutual relationship hasn’t been fostered, your foundation will feel like it sits on shifting sand.


2          Open and honest communication makes a school strong.

This is especially true while navigating uncharted waters. Frequent communication becomes vital to keeping everything moving and ensuring that uncertainty and fear are minimized. Most people prefer someone who is willing to communicate even if they don’t have perfect answers, rather than someone who does not communicate at all.

Looking back, did you keep your staff up to date regarding critical decisions? Did you keep your students and families informed of your plans, despite not knowing how this whole situation would play out? Were you proactive and responsive to the special circumstances of those who had to bear overwhelming hardship?


3          How you respond either builds confidence or erodes it.

Whether you’re a longtime school owner or relatively new to teaching, everyone is paying attention to how you handle the pressure of this situation. Like a professional athlete when the game is on the line, some will rise up and shine, while others will crack under the pressure.

Depending on how you respond, the next time something happens, people will either look to you for guidance, help and direction — or they will look away.


4          Teaching the total experience of martial arts creates a high value in people’s lives.

If you didn’t realize this before, you know it now: There’s a lot more to martial arts than kicks, punches and submissions. A teacher who regularly weaves into his or her lessons the components of a true martial arts lifestyle creates a relationship that will prosper even in a virtual world. The release of stress, the perfection of skills, the importance of posture, the benefits of strengthening the body, the power of breathing, meditation and visualization — these are all invaluable tools that will improve any student’s life.

A narrow paradigm that mandates in-person, on-the-mat training creates vulnerabilities in the value of your teaching and may even limit your students’ potential during their martial arts journey.

Every individual and business will go through challenges that are the result of things both within their control and out of it, things like the COVID-19 pandemic. As I ride the wave of being a professional martial artist, I want to make sure the meaningful lessons of life and business are dissected and then used to make what I do in the future even better. I want to ensure that the notion of constant and never-ending improvement isn’t just a saying; I want it to be an applied business system. I’m sure you are the same.


To contact Chris Rappold, send an email to [email protected]


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