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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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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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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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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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