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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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