If you’re a few years (or even a few months) into your Muay Thai journey, you’ve probably met a few people on the mats who, whether they realized it or not, made you decide against quitting. As therapeutic as Muay Thai can feel, it can also be brutal on the mind and body, and when your technique feels all wrong and you start to feel that this particular martial art may not be your true calling, the right or wrong environment inside the gym may be what determines whether or not you’ll keep coming back or simply leave one day and never return.

The fear and discomfort that comes with Muay Thai can manifest at any point, from day one all the way to years of training. And no matter how advanced you are or how long you’ve been training, you have it in your power to help cultivate an environment inside the gym that makes people want to keep showing up even when it’s difficult.

While most Muay Thai students can acknowledge that they enjoy the technical and physical aspects of the sport (Who doesn’t love to punch & kick their friends after a hard day at work?), the social components of Muay Thai are often just as important, especially for people who aren’t naturally athletic or get more out of Muay Thai than just a workout. It’s important to acknowledge this as we interact with our teammates, especially the ones who seem nervous or confused. Particularly when it comes to newer students, we often have no idea what goes on in our teammates’ lives once they leave the gym. They might be coping with invisible mental or physical health problems, or they might be going through a traumatic life event. Maybe their lives are fine at home, but they just don’t feel like they belong in the sport they’re growing to love.

If we want those teammates to stick around and improve their lives (and our lives, as we can only stand to gain from the addition of new, confident training partners), we have to make the effort to give them a positive experience in class. That doesn’t just involve giving them a simple smile and nod at the beginning of class or helping them when we see them struggling with a technique — it means being encouraging when we see them having a tough time and asking them to train when they’re standing uncomfortably on the side of the mat, too shy to call someone out on their own. Sometimes this may mean foregoing a class partnered up with one of our preferred teammates to drill with the newer student instead, and that’s ok — that one moment of feeling seen and appreciated can communicate to that student that they’re valued in that class.

Ideally, of course, your entire gym culture is so open and welcoming that stepping up to make newer students feel comfortable is the norm. But even if it’s not, that doesn’t mean you have to follow that trend. Be the person you needed when you were at that point in your Muay Thai journey. Be someone that your new teammates don’t want to let down. Be the person they look forward to seeing in class every day. Be the person who makes them feel more at ease in a challenging environment just through your presence. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but that extra bit of kindness can help keep them afloat until they feel comfortable forming their own friendships on the mats.

There is no firm rule that you have to put forth an extra effort to optimize other students’ experiences. But if you can, then why wouldn’t you? The entire community stands to benefit from having more people on the mats, and the impression that you leave could determine whether one new student brings in a few of their friends as well, or if they quit Muay Thai forever. It’s not your responsibility to make that decision for them, but if we want to grow Muay Thai and move it in a positive direction, being the mat mentor we needed when we were newer students is the least we can do.