A new year is upon us, and in gyms around the world a new crowd of well-intentioned members are getting memberships and trying to make a change in their life. Jiu-jitsu schools across the country will see an influx as well. While the jokes about how poorly these life changes go for the resolution crowd are painfully accurate, someone trying BJJ for the first time—regardless of the reason—is a huge opportunity for your school and for your team.
Instead of looking down on the resolution crowd, give them the welcome and support they might need to stick with the sport when that new gi smells wears off.
Let’s start with some empathy. Once you’ve training jiu-jitsu for a year or more, you might forget just how hard it is to get started. Walking in the door of a gym is awkward and uncomfortable, especially when everyone on the mat looks at you to size you up. I don’t care how friendly you say your gym is, I’ve never been to a school that doesn’t do this, and even after 10 years in the sport it still makes me want to turn around and leave.
So just showing up is hard. Now remember what it’s like to be out of shape and have absolutely no context for any of the technique you’re learning. In a few minutes, a new student is likely sucking wind and experiencing that painful sensation of not being good at something. If we’re honest, this is one of the big reasons why new gym sign-ups bail after a few weeks. It’s not just about discipline; it’s about facing and coping with a steady stream of uncomfortable truths. Quitting is just easier sometimes.
You can help though, even if you’re not yet a veteran student yourself. Here’s what to do:
For the love of Helio, smile and say hi. When you train regularly, you get a good sense for who the regulars are. If you think someone is brand new (and it’s typically obvious), get up out of your private little jiu-jitsu clique and introduce yourself. Putting a positive spin on the first few minutes of being in the gym can be a miracle for an unconfident new student.
Introduce a new student to other students. If you’re brave enough to introduce yourself to a new student, be a good ambassador and introduce that student to other people in the class. Super nice training partners are often very shy, but you can help open that door but just creating the opportunity for people to shake hands and exchange names.
Be patient and supportive. Being new sucks, and jiu-jitsu schools are notoriously terrible at teaching decorum and procedure. If your school has specific rules about where students line up or something similar, give the new student a heads up, and give them a friendly heads-up if they are getting something wrong. As long as you are kind about it, the new student will appreciate it very much and will be spared embarrassment.
Tell them about your first day. When you’re the low man on the totem pole, imagining the slick tough purple as someone who was once out of shape and terrible at jiu-jitsu can be impossible. Offer up a casual story about what it was like when you started to give the new student some hope.
- Stop the binge before it starts. A new student will inevitably ask what they should do to get better. Try to help them avoid the pitfall of going too hard too soon. Encourage them to pick up a training schedule that is sustainable, even if they want to train 6 days a week right off the bat. And also suggest that coming to class is the most important thing, more important than instructionals or magic jiu-jitsu-improving workout gimmicks.
Embrace the new student rush, and use it to help jiu-jitsu grow. White belts can be awkward and annoying, but we all started there, and bringing more of them in the door is the only way for your school to survive and for you to have good training partners. Be a part of the effort to keep the sport open and accepting by helping a new student when you can.