I hope you made it to the SSA convention in Indianapolis.  It was fantastic.  Marty Hudson and the entire Indianapolis Soaring Association did an excellent job of hosting the convention.  One of the recurring topics at every convention is how do we keep new members once they join.  Every year we have 2000 new members coming in and, you guessed it, 2000 members leaving.  There are many theories about how to make the SSA grow.  One is, of course, to get more new members.  However, the one I’m working on is how to reduce the number of members who quit each year.  One approach the SSA is using to try to reduce this number is to attempt to give the members more of what they have said they want.  For instance, there are many of the members who have said they want to learn to fly cross-country.  Hence, the SSA is working on creating the infrastructure to handle this demand from our members for cross-country training.  The culmination of the SSA efforts is the SSA Master Instructor Program that I have written about several times.  However, this article is not going to be about the SSA Master Instructor Program.  Rather it is going to simply ask the question, “What kind of Instructor Are you?”  But, there is one little twist to the question.  What kind of instructor are you as it relates to not only getting new students, but also, keeping them?  See where I’m going with this?  Are you, as an instructor, part of the SSA membership solution or part of the SSA membership problem?


Certainly an instructor’s first and foremost duty to the student is to teach him/her to soar safely.  However, there are many paths to the same results.  People come into soaring to have FUN just like anyone chooses a hobby because to them it is fun.  No one picks a hobby or sport because they are really having a bad, miserable time while participating in that endeavor.  Fun can be defined in many different ways:  a challenge, pure excitement, an enjoyable learning experience, or maybe accomplishing a difficult task, but to no one is fun either miserable or scary or humiliating.  Where does your method of teaching fit in?  Do you try to keep a fun teaching environment?  Do you try to keep the student as relaxed as possible?  Do you praise the student whenever possible and positively criticize only when necessary.  Our students are not in the military.  They are not with us to be our whipping posts.  Have you ever raised your voice (yelled or hollowed) at your student?  If so, do you think that is helping the student have fun?  It is my personal opinion that if you raise your voice as a flight instructor you have totally lost control of the situation.  Granted, it is difficult to keep your voice at its normal mellow, calm tone while suggesting to the student that you are both going to die if he/she does not close the spoilers so that both of you as well as the sailplane will clear the trees on final.  However, make an effort!  I have had to do it more than once.  If you get so upset that you feel you must raise your voice, think what that must convey to the student.  Have you ever in your life thought you were having fun when someone was yelling in an unfriendly manner at you?  I think not.  The bottom line is HELP YOUR STUDENT HAVE FUN AS YOU TEACH HIM/HER TO SOAR SAFELY.  This can be done simply by thinking about and maybe, if necessary, changing the techniques and personality that you use while acting as a glider flight instructor.  Treat each, not necessarily as you were taught, but rather, as you would like to be taught – in a friendly, courteous, professional manner.  Then each of us will be helping the SSA retain as many members as possible.


Fly Safely and Have FUN!



Frank Reid