Queue busters

Queue busters: reduce downtime and maintain engagement in your kids martial arts classes

What the hell are queue busters? Let me explain………. When I first started martial arts back in 1990 at 16 (yep, I’m getting on a bit), we all performed quite a chunk of our training in ‘class lines’. You will recognise the familiar-looking matrix with the higher grades at the front and the lowest at the back. I am not sure about the logic of placing the new students the furthest away from the instructor but to be honest, we still use this configuration in our Taekwondo and Ju Jitsu classes. Happily, we never really adopted this practice for our 3-4 and 5-6 year old classes. Yes, we start the children’s classes in lines but the grade of the student has no influence over where they stand and we are not precious over having perfect lines.  

Another feature of the ‘old ways’ of running martial arts classes was to form long lines of children so they can wait to kick and punch the pads held by the instructors. While this arrangement goes against the ‘No line, no laps, no lectures’ rule, it does allow the instructor(s) to focus on the technique of each student. Then again, it also reminds me of a school PE environment when, due to a lack of equipment, you would have lines of young students standing around to take their turn on a piece of equipment the school inherited 50 years ago.

Queue buster: rope climb

I am sure you already know what happens when you put young children in a queue with nothing to focus on. More often than not they find something to entertain themselves. This often includes pushing, prodding, punching, kicking, licking or just generally invading the personal space of the child next to them. This then leads to bickering that can kill the momentum of a class and derail your motivation at the same time. This is where queue busters can help.

Now don’t get me wrong, we still have a little queuing in the 3-4 year old classes which are intentionally included to help the students to learn to take turns but beyond developing this skill, we want the students to be in motion as much as possible. Don’t forget that many of the benefits derived from our classes are obtained when our students are physically active. If we can introduce ways of minimising downtime, not only does it keep them moving but it also helps maintain engagement and focus.

What are Queue Busters?

‘Queue busters’ is a term I coined to describe tactics we use to reduce the amount of queuing in our children’s martial arts classes. Our tactics come in a few different flavours but generally, they use different methods to achieve the same objective, keep children moving.

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Multi activity drills

Students start in a small queue to demonstrate their techniques on handheld pads or a bag but then run to another area in the training room to perform a different activity, before running back and repeating the process. This can be as simple as running the length of the hall, putting a specific body part in a coloured hoop and then running back to repeat the process. Although the primary use of this queue buster is to keep the child active, it is also a great opportunity to work on some basic academic skills that children will need in their first years of school.

We have animals, colours, shapes, numbers, letters painted on boards mounted at the wall in our venues but we also use directions and body parts mixed in with the queue busters. You could easily replicate what we have on the wall by printing out images onto paper and laminating them for longer-lasting use. To be honest, even if this is not something you can see yourself doing, you can still have the children put a coloured hoop over their head, throw a beam bag at a target or ask the children to jump over a hurdle three times. As long as the activity adds to the student’s academic, movement or technical based skills, they will be getting extra development time while also reducing the time they spend inactive in a queue.

Partner work

If you have a programme that teaches 4-6 or 5-6 years old, you can usually start teaching them to hold pads for each other at this age. By the time the students move up to your next programme, they are often already competent at holding pads for each other. Partner work does not only mean holding pads for each other though. You can have them perform exercises with other equipment like foam noodles or working together for basic coordination, agility and strength exercises. As in point 5 in my article ‘25 Tips To Build Engagement And Fun In Your Kids Martial Arts Classes’, DON’T give the equipment out before you have explained the objective and up to 3 coaching points.

Interactive groups

Drills where students have to be ready to interact at any time also serve as another good queue buster. An example of this would be a FUNdamental Movement Skill (FMS) game we call Fiery Hoops where the pace is fast-moving and the group of students are very much caught up in the flow and excitement of the activity. Another coordination and focus game we play is where we throw bean bags to students to catch them but we are not necessarily looking at them when we throw a bean bag to them. Sometimes this results in the bean bag hitting them in the face but as the bean bags are made of soft cotton, this isn’t a problem. In fact, drills with an element of danger often heighten engagement and motivation.


We do use other queue busting tactics, especially with the 6-12 year olds but these are the main ones we use with the 3-6 year olds. Don’t feel that you have to stick with these suggestions only. Any way you can reduce downtime and keep the children moving will improve their development while preventing a headache for you. The next time you have had a hard day teaching your little dragons/ninjas, reflect back on your sessions and ask yourself ‘When I had poor behaviour in class, was it at a time that the children were inactive?’. If this was the case, make a mental note to add a queue buster the next time you run that session again.

If you want a little help planning your sessions, don’t forget that you can get a copy of our Session Planning Framework free of charge. This will help you plan your sessions with engagement in mind.

4 thoughts on “Queue busters: reduce downtime and maintain engagement in your kids martial arts classes”

    1. Thanks for your comment Michael, your feedback is much appreciated. My biggest takeaway from writing the article is to just keep the students moving as much as possible. They spend enough of their life sitting on their bums 🙂

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