Re: Beginners Retention Rates
Hi David -
I have to bite: from previous exchanges, I have a picture of you as someone who has a very clear vision of what you want and you ask it. I also know that I could not find a place in your dojo - you ask too much, or rather, you ask the wrong way for someone like me.
On the issue of commitment, I am deeply and utterly committed to my family, choices get made with it in mind. Hence, I do aikido at lunch at a dojo that fits my schedule, that way I can spend awake time with my family. I chose my dojo for that reason, it just happens to turn out to be a place where I am extremely happy.
It is in fact my pre-existing commitment that makes me what you (at least I think it was you) have termed a "dabbler" - albeit a very committed one, and I don't see that as an oxymoron. I love my dojo, the community, and what aikido does to me. I cannot, however, commit to a certain number of training days per week - my circumstance - and my choices - do not allow it. Work, which pays for the rest of my life, including dojo fees, must be attended to in all its whims. If I had to call and say "sorry, can't make it" every time an ad hoc meeting got in the way, I would start to feel bad about what would indeed then feel like my lack of commitment, and it would become a lack of commitment.
However, even more than the impracticability of work, I would balk at being made to make a commitment in that way. I already give up something to come to the dojo, valuable time that could be spent with my kid. If I choose to enter into a relationship with a dojo, I will play by the rules; that is understood. If I can't do that, I must leave. But if you demand demonstration of my good will and deny me flexibility in an otherwise well meant effort to make me accountable, I will resist. I know, I know, this could be just me, and it may even be something I need to pay attention to. But my understanding of being an adult means that you take your commitments seriously, and that you are accountable. I have a mutually accepted relationship with the dojo, I do not have a reporting relationship with the dojo.
I had a period of two months where I only went to training 15 times. It was very unpleasant, and I was aching to go. Had I had to make excuses every time, the desire might have turned into something else. I go because I want to, and that is what my dojo expects of me.
I am just someone - what I am trying to illustrate is that I think many people have things they are deeply committed to, and they really like aikido as well and try to fit it in where they can; that, to me, is commitment. I don't know that fostering commitment through what I essentially see as a contract ("I will train this much and on these days") would work for a lot of them.
The chicken or the egg question - are people attracted to aikido and stay because it jives with who they are, or because they want to remold themselves and experience some success in that endeavor? And further, back to that old question, can we change through aikido at all? You must think that we can - that you can cultivate desirable changes in people. If people seek you out to change, they have the motivation, granted, and then you can build a culture around that. If you provide a certain structure, then I trust you get students who respond well to that. Personally, I do not feel transformed through aikido - perhaps uncovered and strengthened, but I am not some other being than I was before. And I cannot separate the fact that I just have gotten older (which has a great influence on me!)
If dojos have the students that are attracted to what they propose to offer... I don't know that you can increase retention rates other than making it as easy as possible to come train. Yes, a big part of that is the community and a welcoming attitude, that beginners find people they can identify with, but it is also as mundane as a generous schedule and a reasonable fee structure.