Increasing the number of teen students in the dojo can be a major challenge. Many teenagers already have what they believe is a full schedule. Every teenager has school classes, homework projects, part time jobs, dating, parties, and other social activities. Others participate in athletic teams, school bands and other extracurricular activities. Trying to “squeeze” karate lessons into schedules can be difficult for many of them and their parents.
Teens who are most likely to join a dojo often like sports but do not belong to any teams or clubs. Others have a sibling or parent with a martial arts background. There are teens who are trying to overcome or manage obstacles such as bullying, shyness, and physical or mental challenges.
The teenage years can be challenging because teens sometimes just want to “fit in.” If their friends do not participate in an activity or their friends think that it is silly (not cool), it can be hard to get them to commit. Participating in competitions and demonstrations can entice teens to start lessons and stay active in the dojo. I call it the “competition bug.” Winning trophies and medals makes everyone seem to be “cool.”
Regardless of the reasons for starting lessons, teen students can be the best students in the dojo. Their physical coordination is better than younger students, their stamina is usually better than older students, they have good memories and they catch on quickly.
The key is getting them beyond the beginning stage where the basic fundamentals are drilled over and over. Those that stay into the intermediate level tend to last a long while. Boys tend to gravitate to the sparring aspect and the flexibility of girls usually make them outstanding kickers.
Taking on leadership roles in the dojo builds confidence and self esteem and also helps to keep teen members. This is an excellent way to develop skills needed in their future education, jobs, and families. It’s better to learn those skills now, especially during the teenage years when peer pressure issues can be a problem. They also learn that commitment can require sacrifice, and that going to class, even when they don’t feel like it on a particular day, is worthwhile in the end. Psychologists call this an understanding of “delayed gratification,” an essential experience they will need when making hard decisions in adulthood.
Martial Arts participation on a high school senior’s resume also creates a positive impression for college admissions officers and potential employers. It shows dedication to goals, the ability to work with others, take direction of adults outside of school settings, and a desire to improve character and health.
There are many selling points to attract teenagers into the dojo. Getting them to listen to the advantages of starting karate lessons is the challenge. As adults, we know that the reasons we first get involved in activities are not always the reasons we stay. Focus first on what seems to be most important to them at that time.
They may begin classes because a friend is a student, but they stay because they meet new friends, their sense of progress, and new feelings of confidence. Getting teens into the dojo is a major challenge. It’s important to focus on the benefits they believe are most important first. They will understand the other benefits as they continue their practice.
I have enjoyed working with the teens in the dojo. They can be a real joy to work with, and their progress inspires other students, and me as their teacher. Thank you for entrusting this important part of their education to me and the other students and families of the dojo.