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Top tags: company culture  staff training  human resources  management  leadership  customer experience  customer service  employee engagement  operations  climbing culture  community development  customer satisfaction  staff retention  standards  coaching  diversity  OSHA  programming  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  work-at-height  workplace diversity  youth training  certifications  employee turnover  marketing  member spotlight  PPE  women 

One Small Step (or how a close call changed my routesetting life)

Posted By Peter Zeidelhack, 13 hours ago
Peter Zeidelhack Routesetting

When I started climbing about 28 years ago, there were no climbing gyms around, so our dad built us our own little steep woody where my love for routesetting and climbing holds was born. Today I’m a routesetting nerd, a gear freak, and a hold-aficionado. I’m passionate about every aspect of routesetting, except maybe cleaning holds… I love the workout and feeling exhausted after a day on the rope. I love watching the members enjoy the routes my team and I set and seeing their happy faces (or the challenged, angry ones). As long as our members are happy, we are happy.

 

I also like to teach routesetting, which I’ve been doing for almost 8 years now. As our industry is growing, this is becoming progressively more important. More gyms mean more routes and boulders have to be set more often, and people need to know the fundamentals on all aspects of routesetting in order to be able to create a great experience for the customers. We want them to come back, don’t we?

 

As for Germany, it’s only in the last 15 years that the growth in climbing gyms really started picking up pace, and through that growth routesetting has become more and more important. My first contact with routesetting was at the 1991 World Cup in Nürnberg where a certain Wolfgang Güllich was setting the routes together with Kurt Albert and others. When these guys were routesetting from ropes back then, what did it look like? Maybe a bit like this:

 

Vintage Routesetting Technique

 

Some of us might have used techniques similar to this at a certain stage or actually still do.

 

When I started routesetting, everyone was using standard sport climbing practices. We thought, “Yeah man, climbing gym, cool, all good! No sharp edges, no cutting tools! We climb all the time with one rope, why would we need more than one rope for routesetting? We’re comfortable with height as climbers, no problem!” We felt invincible. We were teaching routesetters this way, we were routesetting this way ourselves, and we probably would still be routesetting this way if not for the wake-up call we got one day. A rope almost ruptured on a coworker of mine due to a sharp edge on the wall and luckily, we didn’t have to learn the hard way:

 

 

“Once in a lifetime” you say? Nope, this was not a singular event when it comes to damaged ropes. My team started to notice this happening with some regularity, and we determined that the hazards of a cut rope weren’t preventable. So, what do we do? Similarly to the CWA’s Work-at-Height standard, we apply techniques that are already used in other fields. We switched to a redundant way of routesetting and began teaching it this way from then on. Not only in Germany but also in other European Countries like the UK, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, and France. The community is rethinking safety standards for the industry on a larger scale.

 

Routesetting has evolved along with the sport of climbing, the climbing community, as well as overall industry growth. You all know this! A climbing film winning an Academy Award, combined sport climbing being part of the Olympic family next year, and the level of awareness of climbing and the gym industry is growing faster than ever. We have to meet this awareness with a certain level of professionalism.

 

What does this mean for routesetting? We have to be aware of what we are doing and the bottom line for this is: we are not climbing when we are routesetting, we are working, and we have to act accordingly! I will not dig into the hazard analysis and the legalities – this has been done here before.

 

My point is the necessary shift in our mindset as routesetters – be it the Operations Manager, the Head Routesetter, or the routesetters on the team. It doesn’t take much to embrace this way of thinking and if you value your life, this is the best way. I am not only talking cut ropes but also human error, injuries, and medical issues. Do we really want to wait for an even bigger accident to finally see the obvious?*

 

I‘m on a mission. And my mission is to make the routesetting profession safer on a global scale. With the industry getting bigger, more gyms popping up everywhere, and more demand for awesome routes, new routesetters need to know what they are doing. We want to give them the tools to pursue a professional curriculum and keep customers from getting hurt.

 

In order for our industry to keep growing, we need to reduce risk in routesetting. What I personally want most is to have routesetting stay as much fun as it is right now, and that involves safety: not third, not second, FIRST! The foundation of routesetting is all about safety. Creating movement and climbing come after that.

 

*Editor’s note: As this post was being prepared, an accident occurred in Germany resulting in the death of a climbing wall worker named Gerhard Haug. Mr. Haug was conducting an inspection on the wall and fell from 16 meters (over 50 feet). It is not clear what kind of rope system was in use, but it was not redundant. There was apparently no rope attached to his harness. We will share further information if it becomes available.

 

Peter Zeidelhack Head ShotAbout the Author

Peter Zeidelhack has been a routesetter for 16 years, specializing in commercial routesetting and routesetting safety. He is Head of Routesetting Training for DAV (German Alpine Club), manager of two gyms, and responsible for routesetting in 4 gyms with a total climbing surface of 16.000 square meters.

 

Tags:  certifications  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

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Member Spotlight: The Gravity Vault

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2019
Gravity Vault

Gravity Vault Founder Lucas Kovalcik was partway through grad school when he decided that New Jersey could use a climbing gym. Together with Tim Walsh, he opened the first Gravity Vault in 2005.

 

After four years, the pair launched a second location, and in 2013 the first franchisee-owned location opened its doors. Today, Gravity Vault numbers six locations in New Jersey, two in New York, and one in Pennsylvania. In the near future, Gravity Vault plans to open four new locations in four separate states.

 

We reached out to Lucas to learn about the challenges of managing locations numbering in the double digits.

 

CWA: Are there any lessons you learned during those first years that you took into the later years of expanding the franchise and opening new locations?

 

LK: If you think about the landscape 14 years ago, what people’s perception was even of indoor rock climbing, it was certainly more of an extreme sport. One where the perception of our industry from the banking world, the real estate world was not one of favor. I tell the story that our first landlord asked me the question: “So if I lease you this space, how are you going to get the rocks inside the building?” I still laugh at it today.

 

CWA: Were there any challenges that were unique to this area or to Gravity Vault?

 

LK: I think that we were fortunate (or unfortunate, however you want to look at it) to be part of paving the way a little bit. We used the small business administration, the SBA, for some of our first bank loans to open our first few locations. There wasn’t a lot of history, even on the national level, with the SBA. Once we got our first couple of deals, we had a number of people calling us as referrals and references looking to use our successful banking relationship (that was underwritten with the SBA) for other banks to look at as a model.

Climbers at Gravity Vault

One thing that was unique to us in New Jersey was that we were originally governed by the Department of Community Affairs…we were actually considered amusement operators, and carnies, if you will. I had a “ride operator” license to operate the ride that we call indoor rock climbing.

 

CWA: What’s the biggest challenge in managing different locations in the current era of GV?

 

LK: In having multiple locations around the east coast and in different markets, what is good for one gym or one market isn’t always good for another. So it’s really just continuing to find a balance of the right programming, which I use as an umbrella term for everything from our classes to camps to lessons to adult programs. There’s not one widget that fits all.

 

CWA: What do you think sets GV apart from other east coast franchises?

 

LK: We strive to be as much of a customer service-based facility as a climbing gym. We try to be extremely welcoming, to that beginning climber or to that seasoned climber. We want to be able to be an un-intimidating environment while being a challenging environment to the climber. That’s a delicate balance, and that’s what we’ve strived to do and continue to work on.

Gravity Vault Facility Interior

CWA: What projects are you most excited about for the future?

 

LK: I have a vivid memory of a family that was there from day one just to check the place out. The daughter joined our climbing team after a few times and had a knack and a natural talent. She went up to competing at the national level, and the whole family moved to Colorado. From being in Chatham, NJ, having never experienced climbing and never touched a wall, to falling in love with this sport, finding a talent, and moving across the country…it’s just exciting. It’s something that’s forever engrained as part of their life. In a way, we were part of it. So what I’m most excited about as we continue to grow and open more locations is exposing more people to the sport that I enjoy.

 

CWA: What value does GV get out of its CWA membership?

 

LK: I think having that peer-to-peer community to discuss, whether you’re operating a gym in the northeast or the southwest or the northwest or southeast…we all face a lot of the same challenges on a day-to-day basis. I think having a group of individuals that are like-minded, and having that peer-to-peer interaction, is important for any industry to continue to grow. Yes, we’ve gotten to this point, and we’ve grown, and we have the Olympics coming in 2020, and the sport will continue to grow. I think the CWA continues to offer a platform of support for everything from group insurance carriers to overall advice.

 

BECOME A MEMBER

 

Tags:  member spotlight 

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Let's Get Engaged!

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, March 11, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

Employee engagement is a hot topic, and rightfully so. Companies that have a high level of success also have a high level of engaged employees. And no, I don’t mean vows and bridal bouquets. I mean “engaged” in the company’s mission statement and core values. Most companies don’t put a strong focus on creating a culture that engages employees. This is often because they don’t know how to do it. Before we get into the how, let’s look a little more at employee engagement as a whole.

 

There are three types of employees: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged employees are the ones you want. Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. Disengaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work. And actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they act out their unhappiness. Actively disengaged workers undermine what engaged coworkers accomplish. While engaged employees are the sought-after group in our facilities, research shows that they constitute only a small percentage of our work force, with the majority of employees falling into the other two categories.

 

So, what are the factors that lead to employee engagement? How can you engage your employees (without getting down on one knee)? Here are five keys to dramatically improve your employee engagement.

 

1. Fair compensation – All team members have to feel like they are being fairly compensated for their work. Make sure you do your research, and know what the going pay rates are for different positions. What a team member feels is “fair” may not be what the market dictates. That is important to know if you find them questioning their compensation. Even when explained and supported, the member may still feel under-compensated. Offer small incentives, raffles and contests to help combat these feelings, and couple these with the four other components provided herein.

 

2. Meaningful work – This starts with company vision, mission and core values. Your team members need to know these things and believe in them. It is important to constantly infuse those items into your team and into their work. That is global. Team members have to know that what they do as individuals matters, and has an impact on the bigger picture vision, mission and values. Even the most seemingly mundane tasks often have a deeper meaning. It's your job to make sure that everyone on your team understands the impact and importance of their respective roles and every task for which they are responsible.

 

3. Appreciation and gratitude – You can never show too much appreciation to your employees. While you infuse your company vision, mission and values, and stress the meaningfulness of their individual roles, cement it with appreciation and gratitude. Gallup research shows that, at a minimum, an employee should receive praise at least once every seven days. I recommend even more. If you have someone on your team that you can't praise at least once a week, it may be time to get him/her off your team. I also strongly recommend creating a “gratitude” system. Daily business routines can sometimes neglect opportunities for employee recognition. Create a checklist, reminders, excel spreadsheet where you plan and track the gratitude you express. When people hear me give this advice, they often ask if that minimizes or trivializes the concept of gratitude. It absolutely does not, as long as you are authentic. It simply reminds us to do something that may have slipped our mind when things get crazy.

 

4. Personal growth – Employees have an innate desire to be better. Learning and self-improvement drive engagement. Disengagement can begin the minute a team member feels as though growth has stopped. Find ways to make sure that your employees are always growing in their work environment. That can come from reading, webinars, podcasts, conferences and more. Empower them to take part in some decision-making, and to handle certain things on their own. Even taking the time to coach them up on a regular basis lets them know that you care about their improvement. When team members know that they are improving and growing the will stay actively engaged.

 

5. Winning – There is nothing more motivating and engaging than achieving a win. Find ways to put your employees in a position to achieve daily victories. Set them up for little wins and celebrate them. A team member should never leave a shift without having at least one win. In practice, this could be setting up KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that can be reached on a daily basis. It could be as simple as empowering them to do a little extra for your members without having to ask permission. Find ways to make them the hero. If there is good news to deliver, a resolution to a problem that a member is having, or even some swag to give away, let your team member handle it. Hand them that win. Finally, in team meetings, start with asking them what their wins were for the week. Not only does that allow employees to celebrate achievements, it trains them to look for new and/or opportunities to accomplish!

 

Engaged employees “make” you. Disengaged employees, and, even worse, actively disengaged employees, “break” you. Try implementing some of the strategies above to make sure your facility is being made and not broken. None of the strategies above require much of a financial commitment. It just takes a little focus, attention, and time. It is well worth it. An engaged team leads to engaged members and that is the formula for success!

 


Employee Engagement Pre-conference at the CWA Summit

Want more employee engagement tips, tricks, and strategies? Don't miss Chris Stevenson's pre-conference workshop at this year's CWA Summit, Cultural Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Motivation. For assistance adding a pre–conference to your registration, reach out to us at 720-838-8284 or events@climbingwallindustry.org.


 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  staff retention  staff training 

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Seven of the Best Citizen Climbing Comps in the US

Posted By Emma Walker, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Best Climbing Competitions

Every year, more members are looking to test their skills as gym climbing grows in popularity. And for those with a competitive streak, there’s no better (or more fun) way to gauge progression than a competition at their local gym. Rallies and meetups at iconic climbing areas are all the rage—just look at the Hueco Rock Rodeo and 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, for example—but why should outdoor crags have all the fun? If you’re looking to start a comp at your gym, look to these seven citizen comps for inspiration.

 

Portland Boulder Rally

The Portland Boulder Rally, held at The Circuit, is among the country’s most beloved climbing events. With a $10,000 cash purse (and tons of raffle prizes and swag being handed out), it’s an aspirational event—and a chance for local boulderers to rub elbows with some of the top athletes in the game.

 

Yank-n-Yard

Albuquerque’s Stone Age Climbing Gym hosts the annual Yank-n-Yard, a major event for the Southwestern climbing community. In addition to the youth comp and competitive categories, there’s an affordable citizen comp—not to mention a beer garden, live music, and awesome after-party, complete with a dyno comp and slacklining.

 

Back2Plastic

Momentum’s Lehi, Utah location looks forward to the Back2Plastic citizen comp every year. The low-key redpoint format, along with four ability-based categories and a masters division, make Back2Plastic a super-approachable comp for members of all ability levels. Momentum Lehi makes the most of its comp night by hosting a “mega demo” and sale on tons of shoes and gear.

 

BKBDay

Brooklyn Boulders throws itself an annual birthday party in Chicago, and it’s not your average climbing comp. BKBDay pulls out all the stops and puts on circus and acroyoga performances, a highline, and sponsored food and drink. The party kicks off with a Do-or-Dyno competition and gives half the proceeds from comp t-shirt sales to the Access Fund.

 

Deadpoint

Salt Lake City’s The Front knows how to throw a Halloween party. Their annual, cleverly-named Deadpoint comp takes place at the end of October, and although there’s a “monster” cash purse, the most coveted prize is the Best Costume honor. (You’d be amazed at the intricate costumes people can boulder in—Disney characters, the Hulk, you name it.)

 

Touchstone Climbing Series

The gym that serves America’s most populated state has community climbing comps down to a science. The Touchstone Climbing Series runs for nine months of the year, and holds events for a wide array of skill levels, both on boulders and ropes. Each gym hosts its own self-scored comp throughout the series, complete with pizza and beer. Events are free for members of its gyms—and just $25 otherwise: a great way to draw in non-members.

 

Iron Maiden

As women’s climbing events and festivals become more popular, there’s increasing demand for women-only competitions, too, and the Iron Maiden delivers. An offshoot of MetroRock’s successful Dark Horse Bouldering Series, Iron Maiden offers team and individual competition. The all-ladies comps (and the fact that the gym has historically donated proceeds to a nonprofit organization) have generated great PR for MetroRock.

 

With the hundreds of climbing facilities now operating in the US and Canada, there’s no shortage of amazing programming and citizen comps out there! What other comps stand out to you? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  competitions  customer experience  customer service  marketing  programming  women 

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The Three Most Important Pieces of Personal Protective Equipment for Climbing Wall Workers

Posted By Aaron Gibson, MS, Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Personal Protective Equipment

Climbing wall workers are confronted with a number of potential hazards to be protected against. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the term given to wearable devices and clothing used in the workplace to protect workers from various hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that PPE “shall be provided, used, and maintained,” whenever necessary by risk of injury and hazard exposure to workers [1]. Each job task should be assessed for potential hazards (see my previous article about JHAs) but most climbing wall workplaces can benefit from three fundamental forms of PPE: eye protection, hearing protection, and hand protection.

 

Safety Glasses and Safety Goggles

Eye Protection

Eye protection is perhaps the most important protection device in your PPE toolbox because our eyes are delicate and vulnerable to a variety of hazards. OSHA requires that “the employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles…” [2]. Most notable in the climbing wall workplace are physical impacts such as projectile materials, particulate matter, and liquid chemicals. An approved pair of safety glasses with side shields can protect against metal shards, plastic particles from holds, and wood dust, such as when using an impact drill during routesetting. Safety goggles provide all-around protection and should be used for splash hazards often found during cleaning operations with liquid chemicals.

 

Earplugs and Earmuffs

Hearing Protection

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur as a result of both a one-time excessive noise level and from long-term exposures to excessive noise. While single intense “impulse” noises are possible in the climbing gym environment, more likely are chronic, long-term exposures to elevated noise levels (above 85 decibels) over time. The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. The use of disposable earplugs or earmuffs provides the necessary protection. Depending on the type of device used, these effectively reduce the noise levels by 15-35+ decibels, saving a worker’s hearing. Some workers may use music headphones or ear-buds in lieu of earplugs (or earmuffs) and while these may provide some noise reduction they are typically not designed to protect in the same manner as hearing protection. In fact, in some cases, listening to loud music while also performing work in a noisy environment may even increase your risk of hearing loss, so be aware of what type of hearing protection you choose.

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Hand Protection

As climbing wall workers, protecting your hands is important to your ability to both work and climb. Gloves provide the necessary barrier between our hands and what we are handling. Select appropriate gloves for the task you are performing. There are different gloves for different types of tasks weather it is housekeeping chores, hold washing, routesetting, or other manual labor. Routesetters that go without work gloves while stripping a wall are susceptible to cuts and abrasions to their hands from bolts, spinning holds, and repeated contact of handling holds. Workers can benefit from preventing blisters and abrasions by wearing a thin-layer work glove when performing daily cleaning duties.

 

In summary, the use of PPE is an important means of reducing workplace injuries and incidents. While protecting workers’ eyes, ears, and hands is a good place to start, keep in mind that training is necessary for proper work practices. An emphasis on worker participation and the demonstration of a positive safety culture by management is paramount to effectiveness.

 

References and Resources

[1] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132 – Personal Protective Equipment
[2] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133 – Eye and Face Protection
[3] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 – Occupational Noise Exposure
[4] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - National Institutes of Health – Information on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
[5] OSHA 29 CFR 1910.138(a) – Hand Protection

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson works as an EOSH Professional and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental safety and health. He’s worked with local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Since 2007, Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing gym industry as a gym owner/operator, coach, routesetter, instructor, and industry consultant/expert. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  management  operations  OSHA  PPE  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

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Member Spotlight: Triangle Rock Club

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Monday, February 4, 2019
Triangle Rock Club

Climbing gym operators often bring a diverse set of experiences to running a gym, but few more so than Joel Graybeal, Managing Partner at Triangle Rock Club. After working as an aerospace engineer at the Pentagon, he worked as a banker for 14 years before joining the ownership team at TRC in 2011.

 

Triangle Rock Club opened its first location in Morrisville, NC in 2007. Founded by two former Marines, TRC now operates four locations in two states and has a fifth location slated to open in 2019. We reached out to Joel to find out what it takes to run gyms in the mid-Atlantic.

 

CWA: It was six years between the opening of the first Triangle Rock Club and opening your second location. Are there lessons that have carried forward from the early years into managing all five of your locations?

 

JG: There are certainly more than a few lessons that we've carried forward. Here are a few:

  1. It's important that we earn our customers' business every day.
  2. In order to grow, it's important to take daily steps moving your business forward.
  3. We always need to be ready to take advantage of a good opportunity.
  4. Where we focus our time, energy, and resources is where we'll get our results.
  5. Hire great people who are aligned with your company's mission and give them the resources to move the company forward.

CWA: What has been the greatest challenge in expanding to new locations?

 

JG: Capital is always a challenge. Because of our desire to stay independent and to not dilute current ownership, we've had to continue tricking banks into buying into our vision. In addition to funding new locations, there's always a need to continue investing in current locations. As probably any climbing gym operator can attest, there are limitless ways to spend money when you own a climbing gym.

 

CWA: What sets Triangle Rock Club apart from other east-coast franchises?

 

JG: We have a singular mission statement that we think drives our company behavior and decisions: to enhance and transform the lives of others by enthusiastically sharing our passion for climbing and fitness. That mission statement is a great compass for our company. Something else that might be different is that we have phased four out of five of our gyms. It's allowed us to open earlier, start building the community, and then have a planned enhancement later. We've been able to "throttle" our growth and manage expenses by designing our projects to be phased.

 

Lastly, we've been a big user of SBA funding to grow our business. We've completed five rounds of funding and are in process for our sixth. While the paperwork is rather arduous, SBA has allowed us to keep our equity infusions lower plus give us fixed-rate financing for 20 years. That all translates to long-term fixed costs for our real estate, and it makes getting to cash-flow positive quicker.

Triangle Rock Club

CWA: What's the biggest challenge TRC is currently facing?

 

JG: Access to capital at good terms is always a top need and challenge for us. We're looking at future opportunities in the context of our current expansion commitments. With our business so capital intensive, getting loans at favorable terms is always important. I keep asking our bank partners for a $5M unsecured credit line at prime - 1% but haven't been able to talk anyone into lending to us on those terms!

 

CWA: What projects are you most excited about for the future?

 

JG: Triangle Rock Club Durham is going to be our best laid-out and most balanced gym yet. We had a lot of flexibility laying out the space, which is ironically in a previous Walmart (built in 2011). It's going to be a terrific gym. Plus, our Phase 2 ground-up addition to our Richmond gym will be a phenomenal enhancement to our Phase 1, which opened in April 2018.

 

CWA: What does it mean to Triangle Rock Club to be a CWA member?

 

JG: We've been proud to participate as an active member in CWA. For the last 12 years, Triangle Rock Club has been represented at the annual CWA Summit. Helping our industry grow and thrive has been important to us. Others before us have been gracious in helping us get started. We, in turn, have strived to be a good resource for new and aspiring gym owners. For every one person in the US that has a climbing gym membership, there are 100 people who have a monthly fitness or health club membership. If we as an industry convert just one out of a hundred regular gym members, we double the size of our industry. Growing and working together through an industry organization like the CWA is important for all of our futures.

 

BECOME A MEMBER

 

Tags:  member spotlight 

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Meeting Social & Emotional Learning Goals Using Climbing

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, January 28, 2019
Social and Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has become a hot topic among youth workers of all stripes. The core competencies of SEL, as identified by CASEL, have positive implications on young people’s lives: “improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school” (CASEL 2018). When working with young climbers, the more we can seamlessly support their development and the framework other social support networks use, the better for our programs.

 

Benefits in using the core competencies of SEL learning for our young climbers go beyond the obvious benefits to their life listed above. These 5 competencies also provide a clear, measurable way to define the emotional competencies related to performing at a high level, while supporting pro-social development.

 

Youth climbing programs have traditionally assumed that the social and emotional skills associated with climbing will develop as we support young climber’s technical development. Rather than depending on these skills to develop as a corollary to developing the physical skills associated with climbing, it is important to identify and explicitly train these skills so our climbers can succeed in life and on the wall.

 

We will briefly share the 5 core competencies and the relevant actions to climbing, why they are a benefit to young climbers, and how we as coaches and climbing program staff can support their development. These foci and the associated activities or practices can be addressed in sequence, or as single lessons to address team growth areas.

 

SEL Competency: Self-Awareness

Description: Self-awareness is a key component of focus and improvement. The ability to self-identify one’s own assets and growth areas and take on a growth mindset about one’s deficits is the foundation for any improvement in climbing. This attitude translates into the ability to identify and improve technical weakness (i.e. poor footwork or inability to use slopers well) and also allows your young climbers to help each other improve by making positive self-reflection and improvement part of your team’s culture.

 

Activity: Spend one practice where all climbers climb the same three routes: one you identify as pumpy (physically demanding), one that is beta-intensive (technically challenging), and one that has a challenging crux that the coaches point out (mentally intimidating). Once all climbers have climbed all three, have them self-divide based on which of those they identify as their largest area of growth – physical, technical, or mental. These groups will then create a training plan of action to address that deficit.

 

SEL Competency: Self-Management

Description: Self-management is the next natural focus for a young climber, as it is about self-control, setting goals (and sticking to them), and managing stress. These skills are essential for young, developing climbers to perform.

 

Activity: Devote time to practice focusing and positive self-talk. While this may seem like an unnecessary distraction during limited practice time, until this sort of stress management is identified and practiced, it will be a challenge to develop. While starting a practice, have all climbers come together and practice breath counting: silently breath in for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 3 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds. Practice this for 5 cycles. Then, set aside one climb during each practice where climbers must pause as they are cruxing, and count their breath for two cycles and relax while physically or mentally stressed. Be certain to have one-on-one check-ins with climbers and address this practice.

 

SEL Competencies: Social Awareness and Relationship Skills

Description: While the last two foci were individual skills, Social Awareness as a goal allows you to focus on the dynamics in your team. This SEL competency is best trained in tandem with Relationship Skills. Social Awareness is the ability to take on another party's perspective, and Relationship Skills focus on communication and teamwork. These skills are necessary to develop if your climbers are expected to productively support each other in training and competition.

 

Activity: There is no better practice for teamwork, communication, and empathy than practicing falls. With young climbers who are lead belaying each other, this is a relatively easy practice. For those who are only being belayed by coaches, be certain that this is done where the climbers can witness each other’s falls. The distance is unimportant to the activity; the important part of the activity as SEL competency development is processing. Following the practice falls, the group should be brought together, and the experience should be processed using the following model: What did we have you do (climber, belayer, and larger team)? Why did we do it? How did it feel? Once climbers share their individual experience, use this as a jumping-off point to discuss strategies for managing fear that they can share with the larger group.

 

SEL Competencies: Responsible Decision-Making

Description: Responsible Decision-making means many things, however, here we will focus on the ability to identify and solve individual problems. In the context of a climbing team, the best approach to training this skill is to have young climbers practice reading and executing beta.

 

Activity: Have climbers approach a route at their onsight maximum. With a partner, have the climber walk through their proposed beta for the route. The climber will then – with the reminder of their partner – attempt the route with that specific beta. When they fall, they will be lowered, and propose new beta, repeating until success, or until the coach has instructed climbers and belayers to switch roles. Once both partners have participated in the process, allow time for review. Specifically encourage the climbers to focus on what moves they correctly identified and how.

 

Takeaways

The SEL competencies are relevant to all areas of young climbers’ lives and using the SEL model allows them to identify what they need to improve on mentally and emotionally. Identifying the competencies brings relevance to their climbing, allows them to practice transferable life skills, and gives clear and identifiable targets for the emotional skills associated with successful young climbers. It is a model they will encounter elsewhere, so it draws their social development into their passion – climbing – and makes climbing relevant in their everyday life.

 

In the end, naming these skills – so climbers can identify what they are working on – and building time for reflection on them into practice – so climbers can gauge their improvement – are the two most important steps you can take to allowing climbers to develop their SEL competencies.

 

Bix Firer and Pat Brehm Head ShotAbout the Headwall Group

The Headwall Group distills the lessons learned as educators and leaders working in dynamic and high risk environments and brings them to youth-serving organizations. The Headwall group provides trainings, consultation, and curriculum development services that are rooted in our experience as outdoor experiential educators for climbing gyms, summer camps, and schools.

 

The Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is currently the Director of Outdoor Programs at College of Idaho and has worked as a wilderness educator, trainer, facilitator, and experiential educator for over a decade. Pat Brehm works as a professional organizational trainer and has spent his career as a climbing coach, facilitator, and outdoor educator.

 

Tags:  coaching  youth team  youth training 

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Balancing the Business, Creativity, and Labor of Routesetting

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, January 21, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

As businesses, climbing gyms use business strategies, protocols, and methods to establish and operate the gym, but that approach doesn’t entirely work for routesetting. Unlike fitness gyms that use standardized equipment, climbing gyms are engaged in selling the climbing experience to members, which means routes and boulders set in the gym must emulate the very elusive concept of natural rock. Managing routesetting means balancing the business aspect, the creativity, and the manual labor. These are 3 distinct and very different skill sets, and it’s nearly impossible for anyone to be engaged fully in all 3 at the same time. The goal of managing a routesetting program is to engage the right staff, at the right time, in the right task, to the right degree.

 

Understanding Creativity, Business, and Labor

Creativity can be defined simply as creating something that didn’t exist before, ie: a new route or boulder in the gym. Inherently, creativity and productivity don’t mix and can be challenging in business. When you see a routesetter staring at a wall, many managers will think, “that person needs to do something.” But approaching routesetters and routesetting this way will only lead to frustration and conflicts. It’s important to know that it’s nearly impossible to see the creative process. People generate ideas in different ways, but research shows that ideas typically come when the mind is free and random thoughts can occur.

 

Business tasks on the other hand, unlike the creative process, are observable. It’s easy to tell when admin tasks are not completed. The business side of a routesetting program includes measurable tasks like placing orders, writing schedules and signing off on payroll – meaning you can determine the average amount of time it takes to accomplish these tasks. Of the three key elements to managing a routesetting program, the business side is the clearest cut, but due to the nature of the other aspects of the job, can present challenges.

 

The manual labor of routesetting cannot be measured in terms of productivity in the same way that other positions can be. This is due to the variable sizes and complexities of routes, and while the routesetter will have a plan of how they want to set the holds, there will be changes as the route takes shape on the wall. Furthermore, unexpected problems can arise that slow down the process, like a broken drill or a spinning t-nut. Additionally, routesetters often work outside of gym hours to set routes.

 

Creating a routesetting team that meets business goals, creates dynamic and fun routes that your members enjoy, and operates productively and efficiently can be a challenge to manage due to the unique skill set required for the position. Luckily, there are some approaches that can help.

 

Apply Strategic Thinking

Labor productivity research shows that the main characteristics influencing staff productivity fall into two categories: 1. age, skill, and experience, and 2. leadership and motivation. How you engage and interact with your team plays a significant role in determining the outcome. Identify the strategic requirements of the job – how does this job contribute to the overall mission and goal of the business? Then identify and prioritize the activities that would reach that outcome. Unfortunately for management and staff, the connection between their role and the strategic contribution they should be making is not always obvious, and losing track of this very important ideation can lead to poor productivity and skewed expectations. Simply put, your staff should be able to say the goal and objectives of their role as routesetters within the larger framework of the gym and know how their work directly affects the business.

 

Schedule Team Meetings Appropriately

While most of your staff probably keeps a regular schedule, routesetters may be setting after hours to avoid business interruption, which can lead to late nights. This may sound obvious, but expecting routesetters to attend early meetings after a late night or a re-set after a comp isn’t setting them up for success, pun intended. While team meetings are important and often need to occur right after events to recap, schedule them when they make sense and with consideration of when your routesetters usually pull shifts.

 

Cross Train on Varied Tasks

As an employer, don’t fall into the trap of a one-stop shop employee; sure, the idea of a creative routesetter/business wunderkind/workhorse sounds good, but as your gym grows, this approach limits what your staff can do and can lead to burnout. Be creative and do what works for your team; if you’re unsure of what your team needs, ask them for input. Cross-training the routesetting team on all the tasks that need to be accomplished for the business, while allowing them to develop skills and take on new responsibilities, will in turn support the strategic plan and growth of the gym.

 

Build Creativity Into the Schedule

We’ve already covered that creativity happens when the mind is free, so build in time for routesetters to be creative as a part of their job. Simply because you can’t see it doesn’t mean your business won’t benefit from the process that routesetters undertake to create routes; and they need to be compensated for their creativity. What does that look like at your gym? Ask your routesetters when and how they get their best ideas for routes, then include time for them on their schedule to foster and develop creativity. You’ll know it’s working when your gym members are happy with the routes and providing positive feedback.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Balancing creativity, labor, and business doesn’t have to be challenging once you know what you need to accomplish. Managing your team well means that you know the strategic objective of the job and the strengths and weaknesses of your team.

  • Define Routesetting Strategically
  • Identify and Prioritize Routesetting Tasks
  • Schedule Meetings so Routesetters Can Participate
  • Cross Train on Varied Tasks
  • Schedule Time for Routesetters to Be Creative

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  operations  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention  staff training 

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The Two Keys to a Great Customer Experience

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Monday, January 14, 2019
Climbing Gym Customer Experience

A few months ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal, presenting to more than 1,000 club owners on membership sales. The presentation was about experiential sales and the concept of serving instead of selling. (This great concept will be a future blog topic.)

 

The event was held at the Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa. The hotel completely lived up to its name, delivering an absolutely unparalleled customer experience. I travel a ton, both personally and professionally, and this was by far one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had. The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa nailed the two fundamental components to a great customer experience: A product or service that efficiently and effectively meets all of your needs, and a product or service that finds opportunities to surprise and delight.

 

Key #1: All of my needs were met efficiently and effectively. I arrived in the morning and my room was ready. Having flown on a redeye for over 14 hours, this was important to me. The reception staff was proactive about informing me of all of the amenities and things to do in the area. The few questions that I did have were answered by the first person with whom I interacted. There was no escalation, the person I spoke to was well-equipped and well-informed. (As a side note, one of the most common complaints from consumers is escalation – wherein a staffer needs the assistance of someone else in order to respond to an inquiry – so make sure you minimize that at your facility through your training program.) My room was cleaned every day as soon as I left it. There were complimentary waters in my room every day. The entire staff was bilingual, so I never had any issues communicating with anyone. Everything that one would expect from a hotel was in order, efficiently and effectively meeting all of my needs.

 

Key #2: The Epic Sana Hotel Lisboa also excelled at finding ways to surprise and delight me. There was literally a surprise and delight around every corner. The TV in my room said, “Welcome Mr. Stevenson,” when I arrived. The room was automated based on my behavior, so when I returned, the room automatically went back to the way I left it. The lights I wanted on, came on; the curtains I wanted open, opened; and the TV turned back on to the station that I left it on, at the volume I had set. The bartender comped me a few drinks over the course of my stay. The housekeeping staff turned down sheets every night and placed a piece of chocolate on the nightstand. To top it off, when I forgot my outlet converter, the hotel staff went and purchased it for me at no charge and delivered it to my room.

 

With all of the traveling that I do, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had at a hotel. All of my basic needs were not only met, they were exceeded, and I was consistently surprised and delighted. I had a great customer experience.

 

Take a few minutes right now and think about your facility. Are you hitting the two fundamental components of a great customer experience? Is it easy and welcoming for your customers to park, enter your facility, buy a membership, climb the way they want to, etc.? Are you doing things like recognizing birthdays and membership anniversaries, memorizing names, anticipating needs, and finding other creative ways to surprise and delight your customers on a regular basis? If not, start brainstorming how you can. If you believe you’re already nailing both of those fundamental keys, brainstorm how you can be even better. As the climbing industry continues to become even more competitive, a great customer experience becomes even more essential.

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  staff training 

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Team Dynamics: Managing Different Ages/Abilities on a Small Team

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, January 7, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Youth comp teams have experienced massive growth in the last 10 years, and with the release of Free Solo and The Dawn Wall in theaters nationwide, as well as climbing’s debut in the 2020 Olympics, that growth is not going to slow down. USA Climbing reported a consistent 17% annual growth in youth memberships since 2012, and that growth is good news for climbing gym owners. In addition to branding and marketing opportunities, comp teams provide an additional revenue stream and employment opportunities for staff. While smaller teams can be easier to manage from a coaching perspective, one of the struggles can be balancing different ages and abilities before your team is big enough to justify adding staff or creating separate categories. Not only do coaches get frustrated, so do athletes, as kids will have more fun climbing and training with their own peer groups. Navigating team dynamics doesn’t have to be frustrating – let’s talk through some ways to eliminate the most common challenges that small teams face.

 

Align the Team with Your Business Model & Staff

Team athletes will clog up routes and boulders during peak times, so it’s vital that having a comp team fits your business model and staff. Every member of your staff, from routesetters to front desk staff and coaches, will have to be on board to facilitate the infrastructure, the routes, and other needs that a team has. Put another way, your gym staff has to come together as a team to create the strategy, structure, and processes that support the youth team and set clear goals for the program.

 

Rec Team First, Then Comp Team

Before even looking at how to effectively manage your comp team, it’s important to look more broadly at your youth programming offerings and the difference between recreation and competition teams. Recreation teams focus on developing kids who love climbing – who become proficient with basic climbing movement, techniques, and safety, while competition teams focus on developing youth climbers into competitors. Research shows that over 75% of youth athletes drop out of sports by age 13. These athletes cite burnout, injury, and pressure as their top reasons. Starting youth out on a rec team can eliminate ability differences and substantially reduce the chance of burnout, ensuring that you have an engaged team of athletes who enjoy climbing. The youth climbers in your gym that want to take their climbing to the competitive level will be easy to spot.

 

Develop a Training Program

If you’ve currently got your team just showing up and climbing, it’s time to regroup and develop a training protocol specific to the physiology and psychology of the youth athletes on your team. Developing a well-rounded training protocol for sport and bouldering season will ensure that your athletes are training correctly and will reduce their risk of injury. To maximize efficiency, teams can be divided into groups or partners to work through specific drills or protocols, such as: mobility, power endurance, finger strength, technique, overall conditioning, etc. Group games can also be a powerful tool.

 

Make Parents Your Allies

The team might only be for youth athletes, but where there’s kids, there’s parents. Getting parents on board is crucial to creating positive outcomes for the athletes and will help to avoid parent problems down the road. When athletes and their families choose the commitment involved in competitive climbing, make sure they know the expectations for what practice looks like and that they have a realistic idea of how their athlete will perform at competitions based on their category and ability.

 

Coaching Is More Than a Job

Coaching youth is a calling, not just a job. Simply put, the coach can make or break your comp team. Coaches must have climbing-specific experience, training know-how, and most importantly, they must be able to connect with their athletes. Research shows that effective coaches share similar core elements in their coaching philosophy: coach development, athlete development, managed competition, and positive motivational climate, while including fun in all elements. Coaches should also be able to evaluate their programs and make changes based on mistakes or outcomes they’d like to work towards.

 

Learn From Others

There are many established teams that have already worked through many of the challenges that your small team and gym are dealing with. Attend the CWA Summit to network and talk to owners and coaches. Ask for their thoughts on how you can develop your team further. USA Climbing offers resources for coaches, routesetters, and judges: having your staff on board with regulations and rules supports the team and paves the way for your gym to host competitions. You can also hire a consultant or a coach to come in and identify specific issues you need to correct.

 

Putting It All Together

Addressing challenges with team dynamics is the only way to resolve them. Learning how to effectively manage and develop the athletes on your team will not only improve your athlete’s performance, it will keep employees engaged through success in their jobs and reflect positively on your brand. Building a solid team doesn’t happen overnight, it takes:

  • Getting the entire gym on board to create the strategy, structure, and processes that support the comp team.
  • Creating athletes who love climbing first, then developing competitors.
  • Training for goals – effective coaching is about reaching goals; training programs are the road map to get there.
  • Getting the support of parents to ensure that athletes are prepared for training and competition.
  • Developing coaches that are the right fit for your team and gym.
  • Learning best practices from other teams and using consultants to implement new processes.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  coaching  youth team  youth training 

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