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Member Spotlight: The Boulder Field

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Tuesday, July 9, 2019
The Boulder Field

California has the most climbing facilities of any state in the US, but new gyms are still finding markets to serve. One prime example is The Boulder Field, a Sacramento gym that opened doors in the spring of 2018.

 

With 10,000 feet of bouldering terrain and walls up to 14 feet high, The Boulder Field aims to provide a holistic climbing and fitness club. The facility also includes a fitness area, a yoga studio, a locker room with showers and saunas, and a café serving local coffee and beer. The building, a 33,000 sq. ft. warehouse, uses an open layout to create social and work spaces off the bouldering mats.

 

California has a deep climbing heritage, and The Boulder Field is no exception — the founders are none other than Black Diamond athlete Carlo Traversi and his brother David Traversi. We reached out to Carlo to get his perspective on starting a business and opening a gym.

 

CWA: California is a state with a vibrant history and culture of climbing, and you bring a wealth of experience as a professional climber. How did this perspective inform your mission and approach with The Boulder Field?

 

CT: As a native Californian and a longtime member of the climbing community, my goal with The Boulder Field was to take all of the things I've learned from working in climbing gyms over the past 16 years and create an environment that better cultivates and serves the local community.

 

CWA: Were there any challenges you think are unique to the history of The Boulder Field?

 

CT: Nothing stands out as unique in terms of challenges. However, I'm not very familiar with the challenges of other operations. Our development process was fairly quick and smooth. The only real issues we dealt with were final permitting problems with the City of Sacramento, but those challenges weren't unique, and we were able to deal with them rather quickly.

 

CWA: The location and layout of The Boulder Field seem to be central features of the gym. What was your philosophy in creating an open-layout bouldering gym with elements like a cafe and work spaces?

 

CT: The open-layout idea hasn't really been executed in other facilities to the same degree that we have. Mostly we wanted to have plenty of space for people to congregate off the mats. The café and ample work spaces are obvious additions that serve this mentality.

 

CWA: The Boulder Field is currently based in Sacramento — are there plans to open up more locations, and if so, what have you learned from opening your first?

 

CT: We are always keeping an eye out for new locations to extend our reach, but we don't have any new developments on the radar at this time. We have learned a ton from opening our first facility and we are obviously still learning a lot to this day. The biggest thing that I've learned is how important it is to surround yourself with a solid, hardworking team. Nothing great is done alone.

 

CWA: What sets The Boulder Field apart from other California climbing institutions?

 

CT: Community, culture, and quality. We are consistently striving to be the best on a daily basis. Also, very few gyms have owners that are climbing in the gym as many hours per day as I do.

 

CWA: What does it mean to The Boulder Field to be a CWA member?

 

CT: Being a member of the CWA means playing a role in the system of support and the sharing of information that keeps the indoor climbing industry thriving.

 

CWA: What's the biggest challenge The Boulder Field is currently facing?

 

CT: Our biggest challenge, and it's one we welcome with open arms, is how do we continue to better serve our community and our members in the best possible way.

 

BECOME A MEMBER

 

Tags:  member spotlight 

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Reflect on it! Why Processing Training Will Improve Performance

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, July 8, 2019
Climbing Practice Reflection

A phenomenon that we often see when working with climbing programs is a lack of time for reflection. Coaches and facilitators have limited time with their with young climbers, and practices are so jam packed with activity that by the end, there's no time to reflect on what each climber accomplished. Climbers will often trickle out as practice ends or go straight to being told by a coach how they performed and then closing out practice.

 

At Headwall Group, we have found that building reflection into a young person’s experiences is essential to their social and skill development. This is especially true in rock climbing.

 

Reflection is key for a few reasons:

  • Reflection allows climbers to make meaning out of their own journey through climbing, evaluate their own progress, and make plans for their own improvement. This level of autonomy increases buy-in.
  • Reflection allows young climbers to link together all their climbing experiences into one progressive experience, as opposed to isolated practices, competitions, or events.
  • Reflection allows young climbers to self-monitor. As a coach, you can only see so much. By building in reflection, young climbers begin to apply a critical eye to their own experience and by using thoughtful prompts, you can give climbers the tools to chart their own plan towards progress.

There are two types of reflection that will help enrich your climbing program: ongoing reflection and debriefing. Ongoing reflections are quick and easy ways to help young climbers think about what they are doing during the experience. Debriefing is a way to wrap up a practice or climbing activity that will prompt climbers to evaluate their progress and carry that into future experiences.

 

Ongoing Reflection

Ongoing reflection is easy to build into your practice. After a few sessions where it is consciously planned, the process will become natural to climbers and become part of their expectation for each practice or experience. Here are a couple creative and quick examples of ongoing reflection during a practice.

 

Coach Check-ins:

A very easy way to build reflection into practice is to formalize coach check-ins. Require that climbers come to you after each route, boulder problem, set of reps on the campus board, etc. and answer a very quick prompt. An easy example is: What was one thing you were doing well? What needed the most improvement? What is one technique we’ve covered that would help you improve on that?

 

Pick A Card:

Another quick check-in uses playing cards, an easy prop that a coach can keep with them. As you are moving around monitoring your climbers’ progress, find the time for each climber to choose one card out of a deck of cards. That card will indicate what they need to respond to you with. A Heart card is something they are succeeding at. A Diamond is something valuable they have learned from this practice. A Spade is something they are digging deep to improve upon. A Club is a frustration or area they are struggling with. The number gives an indication of how much the coach will follow up on the answer - a general guideline is the number of follow up questions you will ask to the climber, after they identify their answer. For example, a three of clubs means the climber will identify an area they feel frustrated with and the coach will follow up with 3 more leading questions to help the climber reflect on that one-on-one.

 

Debriefing

While ongoing check-ins allow climbers to think about their experience relatively quickly and in the moment, the goal of debriefing activities is to create space for climbers to come together and process their experience as a group retrospectively. You don’t have to sacrifice climbing time to do this if you get creative. Here is an example of a great debriefing activity that uses climbing.

 

Activity Name: HORSE in the Mirror
Category: Reflection
Objective: In this version of the popular game HORSE, climbers try to recreate difficult moves. In a twist, climbers will be answering questions related to the practice.
Equipment Needed: Traverse Wall

 

Rules:

  1. Coach will introduce the game by naming the activity to support the theme of practice. For example, POWER - if the team was largely training power moves or FOCUS - if the team was working on mental training.
  2. Climbers will line up at the designated Start Hold.
  3. When the coach says “GO!” the first climber will begin by making a challenging move.
  4. When the first climber completes that move, the second climber immediately attempts to recreate it. If they fail, they receive a letter: in our example a P would be the first letter.
  5. If a climber receives a letter the coach will ask them a directed question related to the theme of practice. Ex. In our practice, was there a time when you lost focus? What helped you regain it?
  6. If a climber makes the move, they get to make up a new move of their own.
  7. The game may be modified to allow a climber who falls more than once to choose another climber to answer questions.

How to Instruct: Most climbers will be familiar with Horse and will understand the basics of this game. Make sure to emphasize control and pre-teach that this is a reflection activity. Emphasize that they should still be focusing on using proper technique while making challenging moves, and make sure all climbers are listening to responses.

 

Considerations:

  1. Safety is paramount. Pre-teach safety precautions before starting.
  2. Come up with a themed name before you start to ensure it’s topical.
  3. Prior to starting practice, be sure to have a list of questions that you want to ask to ensure they will support your goals.

 


Headwall Group at CWA Meetings

Want more tips, tricks, and strategies to implement in your youth climbing program? Don't miss the Headwall Groups at the upcoming CWA Meetings!

 

LEARN MORE

 

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  programming  youth team  youth training 

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Shifting the Indoor Climbing Industry from Dirtbag to Professional

Posted By Nicole Brandt, Monday, June 24, 2019
Dirtbag to Professional

Climbers fall into a unique lifestyle sport category where the identity is connected to the need to climb, often. Urban Dictionary defines dirtbag as “a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle; dirtbags seek to spend all of their moments pursuing climbing.”

 

The most famous dirtbags, the Stonemasters, have been captured in the movie Valley Uprising. One of the most famous examples of the shift from dirtbag to professional is Yvon Chouinard, who started Patagonia. Patagonia split to become Black Diamond and Patagonia, two pinnacle examples of mature professional organizations in the climbing industry. Patagonia has gone on to become #100 on the fortune 100 list.

 

A “dirtbag” entrepreneurial company is one that’s in the process of learning what problems the industry needs to solve, while an established professional company is consistently executing the business of solving that problem and building a foundation into the future. In the past, many climbing gym startups were providing a solution to outdoor climbers who needed an indoor space to train when time or weather did not allow them to go outside, yet had not thought far enough into the future to consider the needs of its future clientele. The industry and clientele have shifted vastly, and it’s up to each company to learn and adapt to those changes.

 

Original gym customer:

  • Lower expectations about facility cleanliness and aesthetics
  • Outdoor climbers first and foremost
  • Concerned about training tools and climbing-specific apparatus
  • Enthusiastic about the genesis and novelty of indoor climbing gyms

 

Today, those original training facilities have developed into an entire industry. Indoor climbing gyms have evolved along with their customers, and their current challenges involve operational efficiency, business profitability, accessibility to all levels of climbers, programming, crowd control, community, and facility/space optimization.

 

Today’s climbing gym customer:

  • Varies by region and demographics
  • Learning to climb inside the gym’s four walls
  • Most have never been climbing outside and might never go outside
  • Expectations of facility cleanliness and aesthetics are high
  • Customer service and process expectations are set from other experiential-based activities such as fitness gyms, gymnastic facilities, martial arts, crossfit, and yoga studios

 

Once a gym gains traction, startups must transition into more established professional companies. They must move into a more formal organization that adopts new functions and a strategic approach such as project management methodologies (and project managers), policies such as employee handbooks and gym rules, organizational charts with job descriptions and clear wages, new functions such as targeted programming, customer service priorities and a more structured approach to budgeting and financial management. For the company to be defined as professional, it must expertly understand and consistently produce products and services.

 

Wondering where your company falls? Here are four areas to check in with your level of professionalism: culture, process, branding, and practice.

 

Four Areas to Evaluate Your Company’s Level of Professionalism

1. Culture

  • Clearly state your mission or problem you are trying to solve. Identify your company’s “Why” and communicate it both internally and externally. This minimizes confusion and attracts customers/employees that have similar expectations and goals to what you are trying to accomplish.
  • People first. Humor and fun need to be a part of every day. Adapt your communication style based on the individual or situation.
  • Be accessible in person. Serve your employees, they are your customer. At least once a week, recognize and praise those that work hard. In turn, your employees are able to learn customer service and embody it to customers.
  • Create a culture where people trust one another. Do what you say you are going to do.

 

2. Process

  • Create formal and transparent organizational structure (who is responsible for what, with clear job descriptions) and employee management structure.
  • Empower employees to get work done through onboarding, training, defined development processes, and performance feedback.
  • Make sure customers understand what to do when they come in, what the gym offers/costs, and how to progress in their personal pursuits.
  • Make a strategic plan where you calendar your year and plan top priorities. Communicate these to all staff. This becomes even more important if you have multiple locations.
  • Timely responses to emails and phone calls is a professional given in this area.

 

3. Branding

  • Create a recognizable brand story that includes logo, recognizable colors, shapes, and program sub brands. Have this useable for employees creating outward facing content in print, social, web, and outside marketing to give them clear direction and support. Consistency helps avoid customer confusion.
  • Dress to impress when at work with your brand clearly represented. Customers and newcomers make first impressions based on staff appearance and a dress code ensures everyone has a consistent appearance. Other advantages include promoting a team atmosphere and quick identification when guests need help.
  • Maintain media outlets with consistent content, especially staying on top of channels customers are interacting with. People watch how your company engages with customers online; your communications share what the company cares about in real time and allow for customers to be directly involved with the conversation.

 

4. Practice/Continually Learning

  • Determine the minimum level of entry skills in order to create consistency with onboarding new staff. Give ongoing training support to employees, encouraging them to be at the top of their game.
  • Be sharp with your skills, know how the industry is trending, what’s happening outside your gym, new technology, and be open to learning. If you think you know it all, I question how much you know.
  • Provide mentorship and professional development opportunities for staff—often in the form of formal training programs, workshops, and conferences.

 

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Patagonia started in a garage. Becoming a more professionalized organization takes time, but getting clear on the points above will begin to morph entrepreneurial startups into more mature and formalized organizations.

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

Nicole Brandt runs Cypress Roots Consulting, a consulting company for climbing gyms helping them deep-dive into their company organization, programming, and culture. Nicole earned her degree in Outdoor Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism and has worked as the Program Director of Momentum and as a facilitator and guide across the Southeast and West. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, she spends her free time learning about yoga and herbalism.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  leadership  management  staff training 

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Chalk Dust: Mitigation & Source Control

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, June 10, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Dealing with chalk dust is something that climbing gyms are entirely too familiar with; everywhere there are climbers, there’s chalk. Most gyms implement chalk mitigation strategies, whether it’s a never-ending cleaning and vacuuming circuit, installing a chalk eater, or a state of the art HVAC system.

 

The father of modern bouldering, John Gill, who had a background in gymnastics, is credited with introducing chalk to climbers at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1954. While its effectiveness at increasing friction was immediately apparent, climbing purists objected to chalk and considered it an ethical dilemma. Not only was the use of chalk to improve grip and keep hands dry considered to be a questionable ethical advantage, it, additionally, builds up on holds and permanently discolors the rock.

 

While today the use of chalk is considered par for the course, in climbing gyms, chalk presents issues as it gets onto practically every available surface and the airborne particles affect air quality. The standard acceptance of chalk use places gym owners and managers in constant reactive mode, which means that in order to implement a successful mitigation strategy, the gym has to stop being reactive and become proactive. This is easier said than done.

 

What is Chalk?

The main ingredient in chalk is magnesium carbonate, also known as MgCO3· nH2O, it’s an odorless, dry fine or bulky powder. In addition to being used for climbing and other sports, magnesium carbonate is widely used as an antacid, an anti-caking agent in food and in personal care products. Pub Chem notes that magnesium carbonate is listed as a safer chemical by the EPA. It is known as a green circle chemical and has, “…been verified to be of low concern based on experimental and modeled data.” Pub Chem also notes that it has been reported to cause eye and skin irritation, with exposure routes topically on the skin or eyes and through inhalation, with recommendations to wash or rinse the skin or eyes with fresh water, or to breathe fresh air. As an inhalation it is noted that a “nuisance-causing concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed.” Which gym owners and staff know, as the air in gyms can appear hazy at peak times. Which leads to many questions about how chalk dust affects indoor air quality.

 

Indoor Air Quality

With HVAC systems running into the tens of thousands and chalk eaters cost nearly $2000 to clean 5000 square feet of gym space, understanding the basic of chalk particles and air quality is necessary to making good decisions on how to mitigate chalk in your gym. Airborne particles of chalk are known as particulate matter (PM). Understanding how air borne chalk particles affect air quality means understanding some basics of indoor air quality (IAQ). The EPA defines indoor air quality as, “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

 

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are:

  • Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles, such as VOC’s.
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants: Vehicle or building exhaust, plumbing vents
  • Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, insects, bird droppings and viruses.
  • Physical contaminants: Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air (which can include soil, dust, metals, organic chemicals, sulfates and nitrates).
  • Inadequate ventilation: Indoor pollutant levels can be increased by not bringing in enough outdoor air and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the building.
  • High temperature and humidity levels: High temperature and humidity are related to increased concentrations of some pollutants.

 

Size Matters

Visible dust on the floor, or surfaces of the gym is unsightly and messy, but unless it’s disturbed it’s not creating problems for air quality. Gym members can and will complain about chalk covered surfaces and greasy holds that have a build-up of chalk, sweat and skin oil. When you see chalk dust on the floor or on a surface it’s very fine, like talc, what you are seeing is a bunch of sub-micron particles lumped together to make a larger particle. It’s the smaller particles of chalk, the ones you don’t see or recognize that affect air quality.

 

The EPA is concerned about particles 10 micron or smaller because these particles are inhalable. These particles once inhaled can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. But it’s important to note that the EPA concerns are based on outdoor PM levels, which are well studied and documented. Outdoor PM effects on human health are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air. However, less is known about the specific impacts of indoor PM on health. PM is found in all indoor environments.

 

Due to poor ventilation and other contributing factors, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels, indoor levels can be gauged by MERV rating. MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value this rating was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers - ASHRAE. MERV values run on a scale from 1 to 16 and gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system in a building or indoor space. For instance, if your HVAC system has a high MERV rating, it is more efficient, meaning that the filter will trap more airborne particles. But filters alone don’t make for effective air cleaners: you have to figure in air flow through the HVAC system and how clean the air filters are. A dirty or clogged air filter or using a filter that is too restrictive may result in low air flow and could cause the system to malfunction.

 

90% of chalk dust is estimated to be 5 microns or less, it’s very very small. A "micron" is a unit of measurement and is an abbreviation of the term "micrometer". One micron is a millionth of a meter (1/1,000,000 meters) or about .00004 inches. Steve Smith with Camfil USA, a company that develops and produces air filters and clean air solutions, has extensively studied, how chalk particles fall. On average Smith says, in a controlled environment it takes 5.7 seconds for a 6 micron and bigger chalk particle to fall 10 feet. But, Smith says, chalk particles 5 microns and smaller are so small that gravity doesn’t have an immediate effect on them and it can take up to 33 days for them to fall down out of the air, but in areas that have air flow, the particles are constantly being moved and lifted. Chalk particles of 1 micron or less become permanent dust as gravity has no effect on particles of that nano size.

 

The physics of air flow creates a challenge when it comes to getting chalk dust out of the air. It’s difficult to generate a sucking air flow that is strong enough to pull the particles out of the air, so particles are removed by blowing particles through the air from one air cleaner to the next to collect all the sub atomic particles.

 

There are three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:

  • Source Control: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of PM or pollution or to reduce their emissions.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. This reduces the level of contaminants and improves indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Air Cleaners: An effective air cleaner is an efficient collector of PM and has high air-circulation rate.

 

When athletes and climbers are engaged in physical activity, they have an increase in respiratory minute ventilation which has a proportional effect on increasing the quantity of PM that is inhaled. Additionally, an increase in airflow velocity can deliver PM deeper into the respiratory tract. It is known that PM of 5 microns and smaller can enter the lungs and bloodstream where they can build up and cause health problems.

 

What is known about people who are exposed to poor IAQ is that they can experience health effects at the time of exposure or even years after breathing it. Symptoms can include: eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

 

Are There Effects of Breathing Chalk Particles?

There is no known research on the effects of humans breathing in chalk dust. Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a Pulmonary Physician with the University Of Utah Hospitals And Clinics and a climber herself, does research on the effects of outdoor pollution. The effects of breathing in climbing chalk is a topic that she has spent quite a lot of time thinking about. Dr. Pirozzi notes that to her knowledge there is no published data on the specific health effects of humans breathing in magnesium carbonate and that it isn’t known what the PM 10 or PM 2.5 concentrations in indoor climbing gyms are, “these are two big research questions that we need information on,” says Dr. Pirozzi.

 

Higher occupancy rates and the type of activity developing in the gym effects indoor air quality as athletes and climbers increase CO2, while high occupancy also influences PM concentrations. Dr. Pirozzi says that, “concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are going to vary quite a bit due to building characteristics, the filter, MERV rating, climbing traffic and time of day.” Generally speaking, Dr. Pirozzi can talk about the health effects of particulate pollution, but she thinks it is unknown how much particulate pollution climbers are exposed to in gyms.

 

A 2008 study and a 2012 study on chalk dust concentrations and reduction strategies both measured very high levels of particulate matter during busy hours. Dr. Pirozzi says, “This shows that climbing gyms may have very elevated levels of particulate matter, but there are likely many factors that would influence those levels. It would be interesting to evaluate with the newer filter systems.”

 

OSHA has standards of permissible exposure limits for magnesium carbonate that consider both the concentrations of magnesium carbonate in the air and length of exposure, however without specific data from gyms, there is no way to determine the air quality and how much , if any, magnesium carbonate indoor climbers are exposed to. The question Dr. Pirozzi wants to know the answer to is; are there different health effects from exposure to magnesium carbonate compared with other PM? The answer to this question, she acknowledges lies in study and research.

 

Source Control

The simplest approach is to implement reduction strategies, to reduce the amount of chalk dust in the gym and you’ll reduce the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces. Considering the ritual most climbers have regarding around the way they chalk up before a climb, or can obsessively chalk up while on a route, it’s not realistic to ban chalk. But there are strategies between all or nothing that can be implemented.

 

Specify the Type of Chalk and the Delivery Method Members Use

Many gyms ask members to not use loose chalk, asking members to use chalk balls or liquid chalk instead. A 2012 study on the air borne concentrations of multiple types of chalk using chalk balls, pressed chalk and powdered chalk. The study determined that with the exception of liquid chalk; chalk balls, pressed and powdered chalk leads to airborne chalk particles, the concentration of which is determined by traffic in the gym. While chalk in a chalk ball does not lead to a significant reduction in airborne particles compared to regular block chalk, it is worth noting that the chalk ball does prevent spills. But the study is clear in stating that chalk balls did not lead to a reduction of airborne particles. In comparison ethanol based (liquid chalk) led to the same low mass concentrations of airborne chalk particle as banning chalk entirely.

 

Educate New and Existing Members on How to Chalk Up

In general climbers use too much chalk, says Kevin Brown of FrictionLabs. A climber for over 20 years, Brown says it all too common for climbers to use too much chalk and cake it on their hands and fingers. Too much chalk he explains actually acts like a dry lubricant, and he notes that generic chalk contributes to the problem, as climbers tend to use more of it and it gets spilled. FrictionLabs recommends that climbers use less chalk and employ a layering strategy: apply a base layer of liquid chalk then reapply small amounts of loose chalk as needed, the liquid chalk base will reduce the total amount of chalk the climber uses in a session. Brown states, “just like there is a belay test and safety talks about the skills that climbers need, climbers need to know about chalk. Chalk creates a huge mess in the gym and no one really talks about how you should use chalk.” When you put chalk on your hands initially, Brown says, instead of reaching down into your chalk bag repeatedly for more chalk, you can move it from one hand to the other, distributing it from your palms to your fingertips. Layering with liquid chalk works by filling in all the nooks and crannies, and creates a good base layer climbers will need less additional chalk as they climb. Climbers don’t need a completely chalky hand to have a good grip, Brown notes that there’s a real opportunity for climbers to use chalk smarter.

 

Putting It All Together

Installing HVAC systems, chalk eaters, or implementing cleaning protocols impacts your bottom line either in major capital expenses or ongoing increased labor, this is considered a reactive approach, cleaning up after the fact. It’s nearly unimaginable that gyms could or would ever ban all types of powdered chalk, but implementing education about how to apply and use chalk is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

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:  chalk dust  customer experience  operations  OSHA  risk management 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part II - Tips for Boomer Instruction

Posted By Tom Weaver, Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

Part I of this series explained the business case for adding programming for Boomers to your climbing gym, and once you’ve decided to take that step, how to market and message that program. Now, it’s time to think through the considerations unique to working with this age group.

 

Boomer Instruction Overview

I start each class in Climb Iowa’s auto-belay and traverse wall area with a warm-up consisting of stretching and traversing. Stretching is very important, as well as some easy shoulder, forearm, and leg warm-ups. During this time, I talk about hold orientation and some basic climbing techniques.

 

Then I move on to a climbing-specific warm-up of traversing. I start by emphasizing center-of-gravity awareness, the importance of footwork (moving their base), and the fact that climbing isn’t about doing pull-ups. I spot Boomers with care, especially during their first class. Sometimes I’ll place one or both hands lightly on their backs as they traverse after first asking their permission. We discuss (and I demonstrate) how to fall if they come off the traverse wall or stumble on a padded floor mat.

 

Questions are encouraged at all times. After warming up and traversing, we then move to Climb Iowa’s easiest 5.5 top-rope climb on a slab. I explain why I’m wearing belay gloves, what belaying entails, and why I always use an assisted-braking belay device. I explain why the retrace figure-8 knot is used. We look up at the route’s anchor to ensure we’re tying into the correct rope for the route we’re planning to climb, and what could happen if we didn’t do that (a big swing).

 

I explain that we’re going to practice coming down from just a few feet up before they climb farther up the route. We introduce climber/belayer communications and risk management partner checks. This is all pretty standard stuff in your facility, I’m sure.

 

I pay close attention to energy levels in the Boomer class to ensure everyone has fun while learning, and that soreness following the first day’s class is minimized. If this means that a student climbs only one 5.5 slab route during the first two-hour class, that’s fine. Having fun and learning climbing movements and techniques while not pushing anyone too fast or too far past their comfort level is important with this age group.

 

A Summary of What Boomers are Taught: (Risk management best practices are emphasized at nearly every step)

  1. We recommend top-rope climbing only for Boomers, although some graduate to boulder & lead
  2. Having fun during each class, and to climb with fellow students between each week’s class
  3. Climb Iowa’s Belay Certification class is included at no additional cost
  4. Importance of Climber/Belayer communications (On Belay?/Belay On, Climbing/Climb On)
  5. Risk Management partner checks – every time on every climb (Explain what could go wrong)
  6. We practice traversing at the beginning of each class as a warm-up and to gain movement skills
  7. Footwork is emphasized (quiet feet, precise placement; a glue-feet climbing game)
  8. Straight Arm climbing (a Franken-Arm climbing game)
  9. Reminders to remember to breathe!
  10. Climb relaxed, conserve power with grace; use momentum to your advantage - make it look easy
  11. Opportunistic resting, watch feet onto footholds before looking away
  12. Hold types and directionality, Matching, Flagging, Weight-shifting, Balance and Foot-switching
  13. Mantling and Stemming Day is a big hit and proves that climbing isn’t all about pull-ups!
  14. The puzzle-solving, cognitive part of climbing: Route Reading, Rainbow Routes and Projecting

An interesting statistic: Women in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class have outnumbered men nearly two-to-one since the beginning of Climb Iowa’s Boomer initiative. At the time of this writing, one week before the first Friday in April, the sign-up sheet is showing that it will be another all-female Boomer class.

 

Teaching the Importance of Risk Management Partner Checks

At the beginning of the third week’s class I surreptitiously undo one of my double-backed harness buckles and leave it routed through the buckle but not double-backed. I then keep refusing to belay the first climber until one of the students’ notices what’s wrong, or until they give up. I usually get to claim a successful ‘Aha – gotcha!’ and proceed to show them the problem. Only three or four students in nearly four years have discovered the problem, and at least one of those was warned by a former student.

 

This tactic has proven to be memorable to our students and emphasizes that you don’t just casually glance at a climber’s or belayer’s harness as you conduct those critical risk management partner checks (every time on every climb). We must look directly at harness buckles to know for sure they are double-backed and secure. Based on feedback, students have enjoyed and appreciated this lesson in particular.

 

Understanding and anticipating what can go wrong and conducting thorough and specific risk management partner checks every time on every climb is mandatory in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class and throughout Climb Iowa.

 

Auto-Belays vs. Boomers

Kids love auto-belays, but most Boomers new to climbing are just the opposite. Older Boomers are especially leery of auto-belays and find them very scary. Making Boomers go up an auto-belay route and let go as their very first rock climbing experience is a tough introduction. My experience has taught me the older the Boomer, the scarier auto-belays are.

 

Boomers do better when introduced to auto-belays toward the end of the first day’s class. They have made their first climbs and descents on top-rope routes with a gentle belay. This gives them a better feel for standing away from the wall and coming down with their feet wide apart during descents. They get a feel for what it’s like to be suspended from a rope by their harness. We then explain auto-belay descents are the same but a bit faster coming down, and that it’s not necessary to ‘stick’ the landing on their feet. We also caution them about getting a foot hung up on a hold as the auto-belay is lowering them.

 

A Fun Graduation Ceremony

At the end of the final Boomer Climbers Movement Class, I hand out a graduation certificate we’ve created and laminated. This single-page certificate is two-sided and covers the climbing skills learned during the class and the reasons why indoor climbing is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

I point out their remarkable progress since their first climb and congratulate each student on the courage they’ve shown and on the climbing skills they’ve acquired during their month-long indoor climbing adventure. All agree that they have come a long way, and most are delighted with their achievements.

 

Most Boomer students go on to purchase annual memberships and continue to climb with a new circle of interesting friends. All seem to enjoy the under-appreciated inter-generational aspects of indoor climbing.

 

The Best Health and Wellness Activity for Retirement Years

At first glance, climbing appears to be a highly unlikely activity for Boomers. The fear of falling and injury is common, however once the remarkable benefits of indoor climbing are explained, a significant number of Boomers begin to realize that indoor climbing’s fall prevention system, emphasis on center-of-gravity awareness, strength and agility improvements, intense balancing practice, and attention to precise movement and footwork actually make it an ideal fitness activity for many Boomers.

 

In addition to the programs being run through indoor climbing facilities, we are now seeing small businesses being created to engage with this audience, like Stay.stoked Adventures. This business will be the first (that I know of) to offer Introduction to Rock Climbing schools for the 50+ demographic, located in Squamish, British Columbia. There is so much potential for the future of rock climbing that involves the Baby Boomer generation.

 

I use my experience as further proof that indoor climbing can be a great path to lifetime fitness and health for Boomers. Simply put, I’m a greatly improved new version of myself since discovering indoor climbing. I have fun, I meet new friends, it keeps me fit, and it’s the greatest reason to keep my weight under control I’ve ever found. Climbing is fun and, even better, is a perfect way to focus on health and wellness! I can’t imagine an exercise activity better suited for retirement years than indoor rock climbing.

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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An Opportunity to Lead in Indoor Climbing Sustainability: B Corp Certification

Posted By Lindsey Wilson, Monday, May 6, 2019
B Lab Business as a Force for Good

B Corps and the New Responsible Business Story

The story of business is changing. And that story is being reframed to value people and planet as much as profit. People across the world are demanding business be more responsible and make a positive impact on the world.

 

I work for B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corporation Certification. Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

 

There are now over 2,700 B Corps in 60 countries and 150 industries - including leaders like Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Kickstarter, & Athleta - driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.

 

Why & How to Become a B Corp

Becoming a Certified B Corp is not just about achieving a certification or seal of approval; it’s about joining a community of other likeminded businesses dedicated to the same vision and goal. Companies pursue certification for a range of reasons including benchmarking and improving performance, building credibility and amplifying voice, protecting mission, and attracting talent.

 

To become a Certified B Corp, a company must complete and submit the B Impact Assessment - an independent assessment of a company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. A company must get a minimum verified score of 80 points in order to earn B Corp Certification. There is also a legal requirement for Certification that a company must incorporate its social and environmental commitment into its governance articles. Read more about Certification requirements.

 

How B Corp Applies to the Indoor Climbing Industry and Where to Start

As a climber myself, I know that the sport of indoor climbing is growing rapidly and moving into the mainstream. Most major cities - and many smaller cities - now have at least one climbing gym and the sport will officially be added to the 2020 Olympic Games. Of course, more interest in climbing means more demand for indoor climbing facilities which means more opportunity for the indoor climbing industry - which is great! But on the flip side, more indoor climbing means more facilities, more energy to run those facilities, and more materials used to build indoor walls. As the indoor climbing industry scales rapidly, it has a responsibility to grow ethically and an opportunity to lead on sustainability.

 

It can be intimidating to approach sustainability as a climbing gym operator without a roadmap. The B Impact Assessment is a free, open-source tool B Lab has created to allow companies to benchmark and measure their performance so that they can see where they are doing well and what might need improvement. It provides a framework for companies to assess their impact. In climbing terms, it is much easier to complete a route when you have beta, which B Lab and the existing B Corp community have already developed. The best place to start measuring your impact is to log into the B Impact Assessment and see how you stack up. It takes only 30 minutes to get a quick snapshot.

 

Of course, measuring your impact and working to improve business operations and efficiency is important from both an ecological and economic perspective, but there’s another big reason B Corp Certification is important for the indoor climbing industry. That reason is Millennials. According to a recent article about Millennials and purpose-driven business from Inc., “Millennials as a generation are motivated by more than profit when it comes to the opportunities they seek to pursue. They're seeking purpose, both in their personal lives and the types of businesses they're starting. This is a crucial understanding both in regards to Millennials and entrepreneurship, and the companies that seek to earn their business.”

 

Want to find a room full of Millennials? Hop into your local climbing gym. Millennials are a large source of growth for climbing, and it’s important to take note of their tendency to reject business as usual. They want to know the companies they support are ethical. They are demanding more information, more transparency, and more accountability. Becoming a B Corp is just another way to build trust, build community, and create a lasting positive impact in the indoor climbing industry.

 

For those looking to start their journey or those curious about B Corp Certification in general, join me for a Lunch and Learn session at the 2019 CWA Summit on Thursday May 16th at 12:45.

 

Lindsey Wilson Head ShotAbout the Author

Lindsey Wilson is passionate about using business as a force for good. Growing up backpacking and skiing in the mountains of Colorado and northwoods forests of Minnesota, Lindsey has always had an immense passion for protecting the places she plays which led her to initially pursue a career in conservation policy. Realizing many of the ecological challenges the world faces inherently live in social and economic systems, Lindsey went back to school to pursue an MBA in Global, Social & Sustainable Enterprise at Colorado State University and shortly after began working in Business Development for B Lab supporting companies in becoming Certified B Corporations. Lindsey believes in the power of B Corps to create a new economic paradigm where planet and people are monitored as rigorously as profits and all businesses work collectively to solve social and environmental problems. Lindsey is an avid skier and hiker and dabbles in climbing.

 

Tags:  certifications  community development  company culture  leadership  management  operations 

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6 Ways to Retain Your Members

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, May 6, 2019
Climbing Gym Member Retention

You’ve gotten new members in the door, and now there’s a new challenge: keeping them engaged so they become loyal, long-term members. Conventional fitness clubs track their membership trends closely – it’s well-established that membership spikes significantly right after the holidays, then drops off a few months into the new year. With a niche climbing audience, though, retention is more nuanced.

 

We chatted with a few managers at gyms who are successfully retaining members, even when the slower months hit. Here are their secrets.

 

1. Build a community

There isn’t just one magic incentive or trick you can use to retain membership. “It has be a core value that is applied across all aspects of the gym’s facilities, operations, services, etc.” says Rich Breuner, Director of Operations at Bend Rock Gym. The gym’s #1 goal, he says, is to support and facilitate an amazing community experience. “That translates to people wanting to become and stay members,” he explains. It’s working. BRG has seen member attrition rates drop significantly since 2016, when they began examining programs gym-wide and implementing adjustments with member retention in mind.

 

2. Quality walls, quality routes

Members want to climb at gyms with excellent routes. Bend Rock Gym’s commitment to quality begins with the most basic element: its walls. “They’re built well, they’re maintained well, the routes and volumes are always changing,” says Breuner, who compares setters to the cooks in a kitchen. The ingredients, or holds, might be similar to what you’d find anywhere, but a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant can really make you want to come back. Their routesetting, he says, is a key differentiator and major factor in keeping members coming back for more.

 

3. Education isn’t just for kids

Anchorage’s Alaska Rock Gym offers adult programming free with monthly membership, says Operations Manager Eric Wickenheiser. At some point, Wickenheiser says, “new climbers hit a plateau. After a few months, people think, ‘Hey, how can I climb 5.12?’” ARG’s Climbing 101, 201, and 301 classes, plus lead clinics and women’s-specific programming, keeps members engaged when they might otherwise burn out and let their memberships lapse.

 

4. Invest in customer service

This begins at the front door, but it’s key for staff to get out on the floor and get to know members, too, says Breuner. BRG expects all-star customer service from its staff. “We’re flexible and adapt our customer service experience with the needs of our membership,” he explains. “People come in and they don’t feel like they’re going to war with the staff—they see friendly faces and people who are getting to know them on a personal level.” BRG makes a concerted effort to get desk staff onto the floor to help with waivers and answer questions, which creates a fun, accessible culture for climbing.

 

5. Find the right instructors

When it comes to programming, “the instructor makes or breaks a class,” says Wickenheiser. One of ARG’s most popular yoga classes is at 4:30 p.m., when members are ostensibly at work or in traffic. “The teacher is incredible, so people come anyway. The class is always full.” Wickenhesier adds that when local celebrities (guidebook authors, pro climbers) teach a fitness class or give a talk, it tends to be full.

 

6. Keep track of the trends

“We’re a little isolated here in Alaska,” Wickenheiser laughs, “But we try to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.” Lots of ARG’s members have climbed at big-name Seattle gyms (most flights in and out of Anchorage go through Seattle), where they see the most cutting-edge gym developments. Members want those amenities at their home gym, too. Heading to the CWA Summit each year, he says, is the best way to keep an eye on industry trends and make sure ARG is up to speed.

 

“The bottom line in member retention is not treating members like a number,” Wickenheiser says. ARG has recently moved to a brand-new facility, but it’s been open for 25 years – Wickenheiser attributes that success to little things like taking the time to remember members’ stories and treating them like the important part of the climbing community they are.

 

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  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  leadership  management  marketing  member retention  operations  staff training 

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Focus on Workplace Safety – Eye Protection for Workers in Climbing Facilities

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Eye Protection

Despite how the muscles in your forearms might feel while climbing, the muscles that control our eyes are the most active in the human body. Likewise, our eyes, part of our nervous system, are one of our most complex organs, second only to the brain. Even though only 1/6 of our eye is exposed to the outside, and our eyelids, brows, and lashes help to protect our eyes, they are still highly vulnerable to injury. Our eyes are susceptible to UV light, harmful substances, and trauma.

 

Workplace injuries are the leading cause of eye trauma, vision loss, disability, and blindness. In 2017 alone there were over 23,000 non-fatal workplace eye injuries in the US. Thankfully, 90% of eye injuries are preventable with the proper safety eyewear.

 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in CFR 1910.133 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, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

 

Of all the tasks in a climbing facility, routesetting is the most likely, but perhaps not the only, job where eye protection is needed. These days, most professional routesetters use impact drills, which increase the exposure to flying debris hazards.

 

Not all safety glasses are intended for the same purpose, so make sure to select equipment compatible with the work you are doing. OSHA requires that safety glasses be specially rated and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). All safety glasses and goggles should be rated ANSI Z87.1 for eye protection, with the Z87 mark on the frames or lenses. Using glasses that are not safety-rated may increase your exposure to a hazard because standard eyeglasses and sunglasses can shatter.

 

Cody Grodzki, Director of Routesetting for High Point Climbing and Fitness in Tennessee and Alabama, said they have recently employed the use of face shields, like the Petzl Vizen, during routesetting activities while on ropes and ladders. A face-shield provides wrap-around protection from flying debris and particles. The Vizen is compatible with the helmets they wear, provides full-face protection, and meets the ANSI Z87.1 standard.

 

Eye injuries can result in vision loss, so if an eye injury occurs it is important to recognize it and respond appropriately. First, do not attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself – seek medical attention. If a person has obvious pain, trouble seeing, a cut or torn eyelid, blood in the eye, or something that is not easily removed, it is important to seek medical attention. Attempting to remove something that is embedded in the eye can create more damage.

 

Some facilities may offer portable eyewash stations with rinse bottles. These can be helpful for minor first-aid response, but keep in mind the limitations of an eyewash bottle. Eyewash stations should be easily reachable with clear access. From a risk management program perspective, the rinse solution in eyewash bottles has an expiration date and needs to be inspected and maintained.

 

As with all work, remember to take the necessary precautions before beginning and make sure you understand the hazards in the tasks you are performing. If possible, try to eliminate the hazard first. Ensure that tool guards and other “engineering controls” are in place. Make sure your eyewear is comfortable and fits. Finally, don’t overlook eye protection – use it.

 

References

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Vision Council
National Eye Institute

 

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:  job hazard analysis  operations  OSHA  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  standards 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part I - The Boomer Opportunity

Posted By Tom Weaver, Monday, April 22, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

My Story

I’m just a flatlander Iowan, but I believe the information and lessons I’ve learned as the instructor for Climb Iowa’s Boomer Climbers Movement Class could be valuable for your climbing gym operation.

 

Ten years ago, at age 63, I walked into an REI flagship store with my two granddaughters (5 and 7 years old), and there was a 50’ climbing tower with people dangling from ropes. After my initial surprise, I carelessly said, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it” and they took me up on it! Instant regret - I’m not fond of heights. The oldest granddaughter climbed and then it was my turn. Wait, I thought, climbing can’t be good for folks over 50, 60, or 70…right? That’s certainly how I felt as I stood at the bottom of that tower looking up and wondering how the hell I’d gotten myself into this fix.

 

At that point I was like many Boomers. I thought I was pretty active but knew I was a ‘bit’ overweight, a ‘little’ stressed, didn’t exercise ‘quite’ enough (who has time?), had a ‘little’ problem with asthma, and had a ‘bit’ of a problem climbing too many stairs at once. I had never heard of, much less considered, indoor rock climbing.

 

Fast forward ten years, I’m 55 pounds lighter, have a resting heart rate about 25 beats/minute slower, and for nearly four years I’ve enjoyed being the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa. I look forward every month to helping a new Boomer class have fun and rediscover exhilaration while greatly improving their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility. My hope is that all of our Boomer students will find that indoor top-rope rock climbing with grace and skill is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

The Business Case for Boomer-specific Programming

Beyond the fact that climbing can make a positive impact in the lives of Boomers, there is a compelling business case to be made:

  1. Millions of Boomers have the time
  2. Millions of Boomers have the money
  3. Retired Boomers can attend classes and climb during weekdays
  4. Boomers are increasingly interested in fitness and health
  5. There are 108 million Americans over 50, and 10,000 of them turn 65 every day

108 million folks over 50 are a few too many to ignore… agreed? Get started now if you haven’t already! Find the right instructor, design a Boomer class, and add a vibrant community of mature adult climbers to your business. It’s a big opportunity and a smart strategy.

 

According to Climb Iowa’s management team, climbers 50 years and older represent 7% of their membership base, and that number is rising every year. Some of these members are climbing 5.11 and 5.12 routes. The route ratings are not lenient, and these are flatlander Iowans – non-climbers prior to taking the Boomer Climbers Movement Class. Boomers at Climb Iowa learn that climbing techniques and precision movement skills are a great path to a lifetime of fitness, social interactions, and a new circle of friends.

 

The Boomer community is an enthusiastic and growing part of Climb Iowa’s business. Boomers may be vocal about their climbing, as it seems they do a good job recruiting new members after their experience in our month-long Boomer Climbers Movement Class.

 

Marketing Tips for Boomer Classes (ages 50 and over):

  1. Create signage and place around the gym
  2. Seniors prefer the term ‘Boomers’
  3. Word of mouth is best, find ways to encourage this
  4. Plan a few fairs or events per year specific to seniors/Boomers
  5. The instructor should be a Boomer who enjoys presenting indoor climbing’s benefits to his/her age group
  6. Train gym staff to explain the Boomer class to interested individuals

 

Potential Obstacles for Boomers

The primary obstacle for Boomers is fear of falling and injury. They require a logical and convincing discussion to even consider trying it. Most Boomers have had enough injury in their lives – been there, done that. Therefore, they appreciate an obvious and ongoing attention to risk management more than most and need to see risk management best practices outlined in class descriptions and hear about it at the outset of any discussions.

 

The secondary obstacle preventing Boomers from indoor climbing is that most have never been exposed to it. Among those who have, few have been presented with good information and available classes specific to their age group.

 

Messaging for Boomers – Overcoming Objections

Both of the obstacles mentioned above are easily addressed. Many Boomer students have mentioned that my age and ability to relate to their concerns were reassuring factors as they were making their decision to enroll. When we meet, I assure them I’m as interested in avoiding injury as they are, then explain that risk management will be emphasized and taught at all times throughout the month-long class. I also make a point to assure them they won’t need to do anything unless they’re willing (I encourage but don’t push).

 

Some “always wanted to try it” and saw that we had a class specifically tailored for Boomers. Others were like me; searching for a way to exercise that was more interesting than doing the same repetitive exercise motions over and over again week after week, month after month, year after year. Indoor climbing is pretty much the opposite of repetitive!

 

Several Boomers who attended our class either know climbers or have close family members who are climbers. Since Iowa winters seem to get longer every year, many Boomers who found their way to our class were simply looking for a great winter exercise activity.

 

Some students suffer from arthritis and had been prescribed regular exercise but got bored doing the same movements all the time – curls, treadmill, elliptical machines, weight machines, dumbbells, rowing machine, etc.

 

At least one student got enrolled in our class as a birthday gift from his family.

 

When Boomers express their concern about risk prior to taking the class, I explain that climbing is dangerous but that published injury rates for indoor top-rope climbing are remarkably low compared to other sports and activities like tennis, biking, or even treadmill exercising. Explaining the difference between actual risk and perceived risk is particularly important for Boomers who are new to climbing. I’m not fond of heights and explain that I didn’t begin taking classes at Climb Iowa until I had researched indoor climbing’s injury rate. Many laugh at that, but I can tell they feel pretty much the same. They’re glad to know injury rates are low compared to other popular sports and activities – many of which they have done before.

 

I go on to say the goal for the class is to learn to climb with skill and grace and have fun while doing it. It’s also important that the class encourages successful aging through fitness and health. I explain that although it seems unlikely, indoor climbing is actually a great fall prevention activity. We discuss why that’s true and how the strength, flexibility, balance, and agility gained through indoor climbing can help improve their daily lives.

 

I also mention how much fun it is watching your friends’ faces as you casually mention that you went rock climbing the other day. Boomers who rock climb in Iowa are about as common as big game hunters, but this type of comment may not be as effective if you live in Colorado or Utah.

 

A Summary of Messaging for Boomers:

  1. Climbing is dangerous, yet indoor climbing has a remarkably low injury rate per thousand hours of participation when compared to other activities (Again, see Fear vs. Reality on my website)
  2. How indoor climbing changed the instructor’s life; he’s an active climber at age 72
  3. Indoor Top-Rope Rock Climbing has a remarkable list of high-value attributes:
    • It’s Exhilarating and Social; you meet new friends and interesting people
    • It Never Gets Old (routesetters are always busy)
    • It’s Low Impact – smooth movements, not jerky, doesn’t pound on joints
    • It’s Inter-generational; you can belay and climb with grandkids, children, and younger adults
    • It’s Confidence-Inspiring and enhances self-esteem
    • It’s a Total Body Workout, yet so fun you don’t even notice how much you’re exercising
    • It’s Physical and Cognitive; fun on many levels!
    • Functional Strength is best realized through skill development. Indoor climbing can improve daily life by delivering true functional fitness to Boomers.
  4. Indoor Rock Climbing is a great Fall Prevention Activity – here’s why:
    • 2.4 million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries annually, 700,000 are hospitalized
    • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in the United States
    • Indoor climbing has a world-class fall prevention system – perfect for older adults
    • This fall prevention system develops balancing muscles and skills – great for older adults
    • Indoor climbing strengthens the core, hips, and legs, and supercharges agility and center-of-gravity awareness. This all adds up to make indoor climbing a great way to reduce the risk of falls in daily life.

Next Time, Tips for Boomer Instruction

In Part II of this series, I will go into detail on how to structure classes for Boomers and provide my best tips and tricks for working with this age group. Keep an eye out for it in the CWA newsletter!

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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Building Your Team's Performance and Cooperation With Some Simple Activities

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, April 8, 2019
Building Team Performance

Establishing buy-in and cooperation from the young climbers in a climbing program must go beyond simply establishing a set of rules and reactively enforcing them. Rather, it is important that the structure of the program is built on a foundation of activities and participant-created expectations that promote cooperation and give youth climbers agency over their own progress and development. In doing so it is possible to create a programmatic environment that keeps climbers engaged while promoting their independence. This structure also holds them accountable to their peers and themselves rather than just to their coach. These practices can make the task of keeping climbers focused on practice much easier for coaches. Among the most intentional ways to build this cohesion and accountability in a group is to cater activities to help a group develop together.

 

Using Tuckman’s stages of group development as a road map, coaches can build simple activities into their practices that promote individual and group cooperation. Depending on the stage of your team’s development, the coach can use climbing-related activities to contrive situations that assist the larger group to act as a unit, commit to the process, and move forward to an ultimate goal of performing well together. In doing so, the coach can foster an inclusive environment that values commitment to self and team, which often leads to the team holding its individuals accountable for meeting goals rather than letting that responsibility fall solely on the coach – a dynamic that can be very challenging for the coach.

 

When a group comes together, educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed that they naturally move through 5 stages of development. Most groups will move through in the same order, and these stages of development will generally be observed as a new group comes together (i.e. as your team all meets each other), when a significant change happens (i.e. a new coach or a bunch of new team members join), or as a major goal is put forth (i.e. competitions are looming).

 

The developmental stages are as follows:

 

Forming - Your climbers will be reserved. They will focus on determining their role within the group and be conflict-avoidant.

 

Storming (some groups may skip this stage) - Members of your team begin to create judgements about each other, their coaches, and their ultimate goals. This stage requires skillful openness, conflict resolution, and an ability for your team members to be heard and find a unifying project. Conflicts over process, communication, and interpersonal differences are common.

 

Norming - This stage is all about making sure your team understands their common goal - whether it’s an upcoming competition or a focus on holding each other accountable during training. During this stage it’s essential to allow your group to practice succeeding together and celebrate their successes.

 

Performing - In this stage, if you have helped your team reach a high level of performance by ushering them through the previous stages, your job is to facilitate activities that will help your team perform above and beyond their expectations, using the collective energy and focused goals you have helped curate.

 

Adjourning - If your climbers are to perform well, they must reflect as they complete their goals. This is the greatest investment you can make in helping your team come together quickly as they continue to take on new challenges.

 

Here is a simple framework of climbing-related activities that can help your team work through these stages:

 

1) Forming - Sorts and Mingle Climbing Partners

 

a) Climbers are performing a simple warm-up (Jumping Jacks, Burpees, etc.) to start each round. Coach yells out a number, cueing climbers to form groups of that number. Coach will assign one activity and one discussion topic for groups to complete (Ex: Complete three high-five push-ups and discuss your favorite climbing style). Once complete, climbers return to the warm up exercises and wait for the next number to be called out.

 

b) After a few rounds, coach leads debrief encouraging climbers to share something they learned about a teammate.

 

2) Storming - Team Points

 

a) Instruct the team that their goal is to climb a certain number of V-Points or YDS-Points collectively as a group. Set the goal based on time allotted, number of climbers and general ability level of climbers. Give the team 15 minutes to strategize with each other before they begin. The strategy session can include discussion of individuals’ strengths and planning for who will climb which routes/problems. Adjust the challenge by allowing or not allowing boulder problems or routes to be climbed by more than one climber or establish a maximum number of total problems (Ex: 50 V-Points in 10 or less boulders). This will encourage the team to discuss the best strategy and assign certain problems/routes to certain climbers.

 

b) As potential conflicts in strategy or ability arise, pause the activity and work with the group to come to a resolution that suits all members of the group.

 

3) Norming - Blindfold Buddy Climb

 

a) In groups of three, one person is the climber, one is the belayer, and the other is the guide. The climber wears a blindfold and attempts to climb a route (well below their flash level) while the guide to instructs their movements.

 

b) Be sure all group members perform each role.

 

c) Focus your debrief on the successes of your group.

 

4) Performing - Train Your Weakness

 

a) Climbers are paired up based on their strengths and weaknesses such that ideally, each climber is strong or at least proficient in his/her partner’s weakness (If this is not possible, partners should be flashing around the same grade). Groups then play PIG with boulder problems. Climber 1 chooses a problem they think will challenge their partner’s weakness and attempts to climb it in one try. If they are successful, Climber 2 must complete the problem. If they do not, they get a “P”. Partners take turns choosing the problem until the time allotted has run out, or a group member gets PIG.

 

b) The debrief should focus on supporting each other in improving and communicating needs. Encourage your climbers to focus on how these skills will help them succeed at their ultimate goal.

 

5) Adjourning/Reflection - Team Add-On

 

a) The team is instructed by the coach that they need to set a new boulder problem or route (with existing holds) that represents the accomplishments of the team. This can be done following a competition, at the end of a season, or at the completion of a longer-term team goal. Each climber should be represented in the finished product by at least one move that represents something that they accomplished or that they brought to the team. (Ex.: A climber who developed their crimp strength over the season might add a difficult crimp move that they might not have been able to do when they joined the team. A climber might add a move that resembles a move on a boulder in a competition they won or did well in). The coach should take a backseat in the process of creating the boulder or route. When the route is complete, the climbers take turns climbing the entire problem or route and explain why they added the move they did and how it represents their accomplishment or contribution to the team.

 


Creative Coaching: Tools to Help Climbers and Coaches Meet Their Goals

Want more tips, tricks, and strategies to implement in your youth climbing program? Don't miss the Headwall Groups's pre-conference workshop at this year's CWA Summit. For assistance adding a pre–conference to your registration, reach out to us at 720-838-8284 or events@climbingwallindustry.org.


 

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  leadership  programming  youth team  youth training 

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