An alternative model to help martial arts coaches survive the Covid-19 pandemic

Many clubs are going all out with their online solutions and still charging members the same price as they were charging for their in person classes. While this drive and determination is commendable, how sustainable is this approach? An alternative question maybe, ‘How much would students be willing to pay for your online service if they were not a member of your club?’. By the time we get to week 12, the answer to this question will be reflected in the number of members you have left.

Another worry for clubs that have moved their timetable online is that their employees may not be eligible to be designated as ‘furlough’ as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. If this happens they will not be able to claim the 80% subsidy towards staff wages. This could amount to thousands of pounds per month.

If you are delivering your live classes via a two way camera system like Zoom, there are also other child protection concerns to address. Do you have all the required disclaimers in place? Has everyone signed them? Are there any additional complications when teaching children online and have you addressed all the potential issues you need to? While these things are probably not show stoppers, they all have potential to cause you trouble in the future. By all means go with the two way classes but just make sure you ‘do your homework’ first.

If you have delivered full classes live online, you will know how much energy it takes. Usually when you deliver an in person class you don’t do the whole class yourself as most of your time is spent coaching. Delivering online classes few times a week shouldn’t really be a problem for most coaches but i am seeing some coaches are delivering a few sessions per day. Imagine you had a student that wanted train in 3-4 classes a night multiple times a week. Overtraining and burnout would be a justified concern and this is my worry for instructors using this approach.

As is usually the case with my posts and articles, this is not where I tell you what to do but only document the solution i am personally using. Each person is different and your own personal solution needs to fit your values and situation. If you choose to teach all your classes live online every night of the week i won’t be offended. All i ask is that you ‘do your homework’ and consider the pros and cons of different solutions before going ‘all in’.

We all knew the lockdown was coming so in the week or two before the lockdown we started filming the content of our syllabus. I am not usually a fan of ‘done is better than perfect’ but with time against us, i had to get the content recorded as quick as possible. The plan is to edit the footage adding teaching points for each activity and then replace the footage that is inconsistent with these teaching points as soon as we get the chance.

I stopped all classes and 1-1 sessions when we told we had to close by the Prime Minister. No closed doors private sessions, no sessions in the park and no live streamed sessions. This was partly down to the fact that a furlough staff member should not be working and i also question the return on replacing you’re in person classes with online versions. That not to say that online digital content cannot play an important role in subsidising you’re in person programme. I would question the effectiveness of replacing your in person classes with online versions.

We are probably going to be in this position for at least 12 weeks. I know we are going to loose students over this period. My staff could spend hours during the day planning sessions, setting up the kit and then steaming classes live on a night and we would still lose members. On top of that, if my staff were working they may not meet the requirements to be ‘furloughed’ and the club would potentially lose out on the 80% subsidy from the government.

After i realised that this layoff could be for around 12 weeks i decide that i needed to use this time to achieve something while also keeping myself and my family safe. My personal plan for the next 12 weeks is to:-

  1. Reduce the number of students we lose during this downtime
  2. Retain my dedicated staff
  3. Make sure i tick all the boxes required to get the government subsidies
  4. Put the club in a position to hit the road running when we get back to ‘in person’ classes
  5. Spend time with my family
  6. Devote a good chunk of my time to my ’side hustle’ project that i have made good progress on recently
  7. Look after my own health and wellbeing

To reduce the number of students we loose during this period we have implemented the following:-

  • Unless members has specifically told us to keep their Direct Debit at the same price, we have changed it to £20 per person per month. If we get all the government subsidies we will change this to £10 per person per month. We don’t need to make a profit from the members during this difficult time but it good if we can break even.
  • We are just in the process of putting our syllabus online. To do this we are splitting our websites. We used to have one website to service both members and prospects. In future we will have one website to service all members and then a website for each of the clubs to obtain new leads. The current members will be able to dip in and out of the syllabus content and videos whenever they want. With the addition of some footage covering warm ups and stretch sequences we can also use the footage to construct pre recorded classes.
  • We collectively made the decision not to remove anyone that cancels from our club management software. This means that even though they have cancelled their DD, they will still get our emails, access to our facebook groups and we will also give them access to our online content. In some cases these members have cancelled because they have lost their jobs and we are not going to kick them while they are down. It will also make it much easier to get these people back in to ‘in person’ classes when the lockdown is lifted.

Finding good martial arts coaches is tough. We are not in an industry where we can just put an ad out and have a queue of the ‘right’ people applying. In a small business like ours staff that have been with you for a long time often feel more like family. To look after these people we are:-

  • Making them furlough so we can obtain the 80% subsidy from the government. This will allow us to stretch out our emergency fund for longer
  • Adding the remaining 20% to the government subsidy so they receive full pay
  • Keep in touch with them on a regular basis and make sure they are ok

With our classes closed we need to accept that we are going to loose students with virtually no chance of obtaining new ones in the near future. During this time it is vitally important that we make the most of the subsidies offered by the government. If your club has some savings you may feel like you’re in a good position to ride out this storm. The problem is that when the government stops the subsidies, you will need those savings to rebuild your business. We plan to use the following government schemes:-

  • Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
  • £25,000 cash grant (Leeds) and £10,000 cash grant (Halifax)
  • 80% salary subsidy via furloughed workers scheme

While i feel we can do very little to grow our club at the moment, what I can do is work behind the scenes to make sure that we hit the road running when we are able to start teaching classes in person. When we return to classes after this break we will have:-

  • A member website that includes an online syllabus, articles, calendar, event photo gallery, event results and staff section
  • A new website for each venue that is optimised for the local area
  • A new young children’s programme with a full nested rotating curriculum 

While being stuck at home with your family 247 can be testing at times, it also gives you chance to do things you may not normally do. We have taken this opportunity to watch films together, cook for each other and do activities with the children. We have tidied the garden and we plan to take this opportunity to sort through the room in the house we normally ‘store’ everything that does not have it’s own place.

Some of you will know by now that for the last few years i have been working on a framework to help coaches develop their own children’s martial arts programme. I have been nudged by friends and colleages in the industry to create a course to share the framework with other coaches. This is work in progress and i should have something available in the next couple of months. What side line project could you work on while we have this enforced time away from our venues?

In this crazy time my own health and wellbeing is best served by staying at home with my family and only really venturing out for food or exercise. I do admit that today i had to call to work to pick up a printer and while i was there i also picked up some medicine balls and kettlebells. I am already doing around 7km a day on my family walk but having trained in gyms since i was 15 i would go crazy without some kind of weight bearing exercise. 

My question to you the reader of this article is, what are you going to do with the remainder of the 12 weeks we are probably going to be in isolation for? What are you going to be able to say that you have achieved as the end of this period? Is it going to be something that moves your life forward in a significant way?

While you are thinking about your future, make sure you allocate 45 minute to reading my free article on ‘Financial Independence for Martial Arts Instructors’. If you just take one or two points form this article it will hopefully put you in a stronger position to weather the next pandemic, recession or other unforeseen event.

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