Is there many women training at your gym? In my experience and travels some gyms have a dedicated strategy to develop a strong female membership while other gyms have few if any women training.
Having a mixed gym is healthy and having a diverse team makes BJJ a family sport which is the way it should be. Personally I want my daughter, sister, and female friends to have the option to train Jiu-Jitsu and have the same amazing experiences as me.
However there are more barriers to entry for women when compared to men. BJJ gyms can often be very macho places and it can be intimidating for women to start training, especially if they do not already know any other members or if there are no other women on the team already.
So here are some suggestions on how to make your gym more female friendly:
Give ladies their own space
At the gym I was at previously, the men got changed in a dedicated changing room which included lockers, showers, and a separate toilet. Meanwhile the women had to change in a small toilet that was shared with the adjoining gym. Having a lack of space is a legitimate problem and it is hard to justify a large investment if only a few of your members are female. However, how do you expect to attract more women if they have to share a cramped toilet as a changing room?
Academies should make the investment now so that they can grow their female membership in the future. Providing a decent space to change should be the first step.
Female only training class
Many women prefer to train and spar with women for a number of different reasons.
Women are physically different than men. They do not have the same level of strength and are generally smaller in stature. Training with people the same size and strength allows you to practice techniques safely and also allows you to compare yourself to your peers.
For many women, rolling and having such close contact with guys that you do not know can be a very intimidating experience. It is a scary experience for any new member but it is particularly difficult for many potential new female members who are put off joining as a result.
One solution to these issues is the addition of a women’s only BJJ class to the timetable. Having a female only class will also encourage more women to join. Once they have joined and gain confidence in their ability they then have the option of joining a mixed class.
Look out and support the women
If girls are getting smashed in every roll by their physically stronger and much heavier training opponents they will be more likely to quit. As training partners we need to look out for anyone (including women) who are consistently getting a hard time off stronger and bigger opponents. Getting constantly smashed does not lend itself to a healthy learning environment for anyone.
Looking out for and supporting our female training partners does not mean going easy or letting them win. Instead it means rolling in a way that ensures that you are both learning. This skill is often difficult for white belts to comprehend as they are usually unaware of their power and how to use it safely. To combat this, higher grade belts and experienced members should keep an eye out for ladies and anyone else constantly getting a hard time.
Develop a kids team with 50/50 boys & girls
One of the easiest way to attract women is to get them to join as kids and encourage them to keep training. Parents are generally happy to sign kids up for martial arts regardless of gender. BJJ is excellent for developing kids confidence and also gives them a base level of self defense which is useful for both both boys and girls.
One of the biggest challenges for any gym is to retain these kids as they get older. Research shows that teenage girls are more likely to quit sport than boys so it is important to work hard to retain the girls in order to see them progress into the senior classes.