Keeping students on track so they can see progress is vital to the success of any youth martial arts program. As a martial arts instructor, you may find it challenging to know how to approach students with different levels of motivation (see Parts 1 & 2). In this third article of our series on encouraging young martial artists to progress, we’ll take a look at one of your more challenging categories of students: nervous students.
Encouraging Nervous Students
Whatever their natural ability level may be, nervous students tend to find it more difficult than other students to enjoy their martial arts training. Nervousness in any area of life often stems from the fear of failure. More than anything, you need to demonstrate to your nervous students that it is okay if they don’t do everything right all the time. In fact, it’s not the end of the world if they completely blow it from time to time. Remind them that what you’re most interested in is seeing them try their best even if they aren’t always correct in their execution of various techniques.
Get to the Root of the Problem
One of the keys to helping nervous students is to try to find out what’s making them nervous. Do they have a parent who is pushing them or being overly hard on them? If you notice that this is the case, you may need to approach the situation with diplomacy. Start out by verbally encouraging the student in their parent’s presence. Perhaps the parent is under the mistaken impression that belittling or criticizing their child will help them to advance.
If you notice this to be the case and the parent doesn’t pick up on your encouraging attitude, it may be time to schedule a private meeting with the parent. In such a meeting, you’ll want to avoid focusing on the parent’s negative behavior as this may cause them to become defensive. Instead, you could mention, “I notice that Susie seems to be overly hard on herself and get discouraged when she doesn’t perform her techniques correctly. I think this nervousness could be hindering her progress. Perhaps if we both try to focus on what she is doing right and give her plenty of praise and encouragement it would help her to feel less anxious.” Whether the parent responds correctly to your advice or not, at least you’ve given them something to think about.
Some students who have very encouraging parents are still nervous. It can be part of their personality or due to some kind of psychological or medical condition. You can feel free to mention that you’ve picked up on the nervousness to their parents and see if they can give you any insight or strategies they may know of that work well for alleviating their child’s anxiety.
Don’t Tolerate Bullying
Another important factor in helping nervous students is making sure they aren’t getting picked on by their peers. Some kids who have a tendency to bully others look for those who appear anxious and single them out for ridicule. They can be sneaky and try to do it behind your back. In youth classes, however, there’s usually at least one student who will eventually spill the beans and let you know if certain kids are picking on others.
If this is the case, do your best to immediately nip it in the bud. Make sure any students belittling or deliberately hurting others in your class are given consequences for their behavior. If the bullying persists in spite of correction, dismiss the perpetrator from your class. Many nervous students will relax when they see that you’re willing to stand up for them.
Most importantly when dealing with nervous students, praise them far more often than you correct them. When you do need to correct their technique, try to do so gently. Though you may feel like you’re “babying” them at first, remember that when dealing with youth, you have to employ different instruction methods than you do with older students. Also be careful how you joke around with these nervous students as well, as they can sometimes be slow to understand playful humor. Giving your nervous students a big dose of praise can work wonders for boosting their confidence.
Continue reading with Part 4.