Helping young students to progress may be one of the most difficult yet most rewarding aspects of being a martial arts instructor. In this series (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) on encouraging your students to be the best they can be, we’ve saved perhaps the hardest to deal with category of students for last. These are your apathetic students. If you don’t discover a way to help them find some motivation, these students are probably your most likely of all to drop out of martial arts altogether.
When it comes to apathetic students, you may feel tempted to just write them off. After all, you may find yourself thinking if they don’t care about being there, why should you care about trying to teach them anything? Try not to allow yourself to fall into that line of thinking. Sometimes the reason these students are apathetic in the first place is that they’re not used to someone taking the time to reach out to them. As long as they’re under your influence, put forth your best effort at engaging them in your class.
Find Out Why Your Apathetic Students Lack Motivation
Some students act like they aren’t motivated because they secretly lack confidence. Rather than admit that they’re just as afraid of failure as the nervous students, these students put on a cavalier facade. They figure that if they make it appear that they “don’t care,” no one will expect them to perform their techniques correctly. It won’t look like they’re failures, just that they’re mischievous troublemakers. They may also enjoy getting attention from the instructor even if it’s negative attention.
Focus on the Positive
If you go out of your way to praise these students each time you see them doing something right, that may be enough to pull at least some of them up out of their apathetic state. If you suspect that they’re seeking negative attention, you may try withholding correction for their more minor instances of not paying attention. If they see that you’re more likely to give them the attention they crave for good rather than bad behavior, it may help them to get with the program.
Consider Medical Causes and Respond Accordingly
Other students may have either diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions that can affect their motivation and concentration level, such as ADHD. One good way to find out if they’ve been diagnosed with such a condition is by having parents fill out a detailed medical history form whenever a student joins your class. If a student does suffer from an attention disorder, educate yourself on ways to effectively engage such students.
Liven Things Up
Some students may have a difficult time putting in the hard work that it takes to advance in martial arts, because they’re used to doing whatever they want to do when they’re at home. Perhaps they’re in an unstructured environment where they’re never told what to do and when to do it. If this is the case, try to find ways to make instruction fun.
This is especially true with younger karate students. Move quickly from one technique or activity to another, taking short attention spans into account. Use an enthusiastic voice. Employ teaching games. Sprinkle some lighthearted humor into your instruction. You could even try to come up with fun nicknames for your students that aren’t in any way demeaning.
Reward Baby Steps
For a class with several apathetic or young students, you may want to give out extra rewards for simple things like staying focused throughout the lesson, not talking out of turn, and participating. This would also be a great group to try the belt striping system with as it will undoubtedly take your apathetic students longer than most to advance in their belt progression.
Whether you’re teaching enthusiastic, nervous, or apathetic students, try to show them all equal amounts of encouragement and kindness. If you do, you may be pleasantly surprised to see students reaching heights that you never expected them to attain.
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