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Considerations for Returning to Youth Programming

Posted By Headwall Group, 9 hours ago
Youth Climbing at Ubergrippen

Climbing gyms in many parts of the US have begun to reopen or are making plans to. The policies that gyms have created around occupancy, sanitation, and personal protective equipment are great guidelines for users. However, returning to running youth programming while keeping young climbers and other clientele safe is a unique challenge.

 

Young climbers might not be the most reliable followers of cleaning protocols, youth climbing games often involve tight quarters, and safety protocols for belaying often require proximity much closer than a recommended six feet.

 

In this post, Headwall Group will provide some recommendations for reopening youth programs. Our next post will highlight some games and activities that are suitable for newly reopened youth programs.

 

Before deciding to re-open your youth programs, make sure to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC and check with your local health department. Health and safety are paramount. When the time comes to re-open your youth programs, here are some general recommendations to help get you started.

 

Communicate!

The first and most important principle that climbing gyms need to operate on is that families and young climbers need to be communicated with early and often about any changing expectations. Do not expect that the first time a new policy or protocol is communicated will be enough. We are living in a changing world and receiving new information at lightning speed, so build frequency and consistency into your communications.

 

Communicate with families in many different ways. Call families, email expectations, create handouts to go home with climbers, and post any policies and protocols in visible areas where your climbers are dropped off and picked up.

 

If the policies and procedures for youth climbing programs are different than for the gym at large, tell families and climbers, and tell them why. This will create buy-in. And, be sure to communicate with families how policies are being reevaluated. Is it monthly? Based on state or municipal guidelines? Or, are you waiting for certain testing capabilities or the release of a vaccine to relax any restrictions?

 

Be sure to check in with climbers and coaches at the beginning of each practice. “How are you feeling?” Should become part of every check-in at the beginning of practice or work. If someone appears unwell, has symptoms, or reports feeling unwell, they should not participate.

 

Communication and a clear plan for evaluating policies will ease familial anxiety and create buy-in for these new policies.

 

Sanitation

Have a sanitation protocol and include it in your daily routines. Do climbers have to wash or sanitize hands between routes? How often? Assign young climbers accountability buddies to make sure they are following protocol.

 

If social distancing protocols cannot be followed due to the size of your facility, we recommend that participants are asked to wear masks. There is a ton of evidence that suggests this can do a lot to slow down community spread.

 

Limit shared equipment. While providing shared harnesses, chalk buckets, and other equipment can increase accessibility, it is essential that shared equipment is limited or eliminated during this time. We don’t know a lot about how COVID-19 spreads through surfaces and soft goods. Families will be happy to keep their young climbers safe by purchasing their own equipment. Or, assign loaners for the season, rather than rotating them around through many hands.

 

Touching and Distancing

Social distance will be a challenge to maintain in a climbing program. But we can limit constant exposure. Have your climbers work in groups of four to five. Each group should attempt to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, significantly limiting their risk of spread or contraction of COVID.

 

Pick independent activities that require little to no time spent in a large group receiving information. Use activities that spread your climbers out around a space, rather than keeping them in a line or on a specific area.

 

We will provide some great activities that meet these needs in our next post.

 

Interaction with Other Users and Community

A goal of responding to this pandemic needs to be limiting external exposure, including off-site programming. While this may not be possible as competitions or field trips begin again, there are some ways to limit exposure. Shared transportation should be limited and if it is used, capacity should be reduced to half of standard. If hosting competitions, spectators should not be invited.

 

An evergreen challenge for climbing programs is young climber interaction with public users. This will be intensified as we are encouraged to monitor the distance that we keep from others. Use sanitation accountability buddies to check distancing. Make sure your climbers are staying a route – or some otherwise memorable distance – away from public users, and encourage self-monitoring.

 

Make It Part of Your Routine

The group’s collective health and wellbeing should be part of your group agreements or values. By tying this into the notion that a team or climbing camp must support each other, it will be easy to turn these restrictions into a positive behavior that can be praised. All of us are getting used to behaving in new ways to make sure we manage our own risk and our young climbers are no exception.

 

For more in-depth information on returning to youth programming, watch the recording of our CWA Community Call!

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

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  coronavirus  COVID-19  management  operations  programming  youth team  youth training 

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Long Term Athlete Development: From Good to Great in Climbing

Posted By Heather Reynolds, Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Long Term Athlete Development Climbing Escalade Canada

With the Olympics now entertaining climbing as a competitive sport worthy of being an ongoing part of the games, many young climbers have far greater dreams than those who came before them. Now youth can dream of podiums, medals, and national flags. Social media is bringing the best of the best front and center on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, influencing an entire generation of young climbers to dream of competing among the elite.

 

Growth in participation, as well as the elevated aspirations of our young athletes, is an exciting opportunity for the sport of climbing. However, it is important to think long-term when creating training plans and programming for young athletes; that’s where Long Term Athlete Development comes in.

 

THE HISTORY OF LONG TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT

To understand where the LTAD program came from, you have to go back to the 1952-1988 era of Russian dominance at the Olympics. The repeated defeats on the international stage forced countries like Canada, Britain, and the US to look at what Russia was doing to develop their winners.

 

What they discovered was that Russia had created academic schools which also focused on developing athletes. Russia was simply using a concentrated method of developing the skills, strength, and agility of athletes from a young age.

 

In 1995, Istvan Balyi, a sport scientist working with the National Coaching Institute in British Columbia, Canada, packaged the Long Term Athlete Development program to provide a framework for improving sport systems in Canada.

 

The initial LTAD program described four stages of development, however with more research and review, and the development in understanding athletes, the model now describes eight stages of developing athletes.

 

Each stage is geared toward development physically, mentally, and in skill.

  1. Active Start: Birth to age 6
  2. FUNdamentals: Age 6 to 8 (F) or 9 (M)
  3. Learn to Train: Age 9 to 11 (F) or 12 (M)
  4. Train to Train: Age 11-15 (F) or 12-16 (M)
  5. Learn to Compete: Age 15-17 (F) or 16-18 (M)
  6. Train to Compete (Sport Climbing: Learn to Win): Age 16 and older
  7. Train to Win (Sport Climbing: Winning for a Living): Age 18 and older
  8. Active for Life: Any age after the growth spurt.

Like most sport organizations who now recognize this LTAD model as a foundation for athlete development, Climbing Escalade Canada has rewritten the LTAD for Sport Climbing.

 

This comprehensive document provides athletes, parents, coaches, and climbing organizations a great opportunity to identify the stage of an athlete’s development, to structure and focus training development, and to bring a higher level of safety and professionalism to our sport.

 

It is important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all model. Take Stage 3 as an example (the full chart is on page 13 of the CEC’s LTAD document):

 

Long Term Athlete Development Matrix Example

 

You’ll notice that not all 10 year olds will naturally have the FUNdamentals, or a solid foundation of movement skills, and those athletes may need additional support to catch them up in those areas. On the other hand, some 10 year olds may actually already be exceeding the Learn to Train level in strength and agility.

 

The CEC’s LTAD document breaks down each stage in full detail, which provides a guide to the appropriate strength and agility training, technical training, and mental and emotional development of the athlete. Use this guide to help you understand how to support your athletes at their various stages of development.

 

As our sport continues to grow and develop it will become more and more essential that coaches working with prospective competitors are able to provide a sustainable and healthy approach to athlete development. Stay tuned for my next post, where we will take a deeper look at the goal of the Long Term Athlete Development model.

 

References:

 

Heather Reynolds Head ShotAbout the Author

Heather is a licensed kinesiologist, High Five Trainer (Sport, PCHD), CEC Climbing Coach, and CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Certification Provider Trainer. She blends her knowledge of movement, physiology, and education to develop a multitude of successful climbing programs designed to support and engage youth. Having worked with youth for over 30 years as a recreation instructor, leader and educator, Heather supports the values and expertise available in the High Five Program, bringing quality assurance to youth-based sport and recreation programming.

 

Tags:  coaching  LTAD  programming  risk management  staff training  youth team  youth training 

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Sequencing Activities for Youth Climbing Programs

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Sequencing Activities

As coaches and climbing instructors, breaking down our goals for participants - either technical, social, or recreational - into achievable steps can be a daunting task. The key to helping participants reach their goals and giving a familiar learning structure to our programs is sequencing activities.

 

Sequencing means creating a familiar structure for activities that responds to the way our participants learn. Proper sequencing responds to how participants learn and gives coaches the structure and boundaries to make the most learningful and engaging programs they can.

 

Properly sequencing activities during a youth climbing program accomplishes a number of things:

  1. It forces the coach or instructor to identify their goals initially, making for a more meaningful climbing experience.
  2. It allows the coach to keep the flow of the program organized, which enables a seamless process of learning and transference for the participants.
  3. It matches the experiential learning cycle in which people learn by briefing, experiencing, and building new knowledge.
  4. Planning a well-structured sequence allows the coach to orient the program towards the overall goals of the program and specific goals of the practice.
  5. In a well-structured sequence of climbing activities, each activity is carefully selected and enforces intentional planning on the coach or instructor to meet their goals. These goals or outcomes can be social or technical/athletic goals, but the most effective sequences are built to meet both a technical and social goal.

We recommend building a sequence of activities that mirrors the way people learn and is derived from best practices of experiential education. This includes an introductory activity (pre-teaching), a primary (core) activity, and an activity that promotes transference (reflection activity). The function of each activity is outlined below.

  1. Pre-Teaching - Activity that introduces the concept/skill being taught. Primes the participants for learning, establishes group norms, begins group bonding process, introduces the goals (technical and social) of the practice.
  2. Core-Activity - An activity that allows participants to engage in the skill(s) being taught, challenges participants, allows participants to fail, learn, and improve.
  3. Reflection - An activity that allows the participants to process the experience, reflect on what they did, how they did it, and why they did it. Participants reflect on how what they have learned applies to them as climbers as it relates to the technical and/or social goals.

Before planning a sequence of activities, it is essential to identify the overarching goals of the program, the goal of the practice, and the goal of the sequence itself. The following questions should be asked and answered prior to building the sequence:

  • How does the goal of the sequence work to meet the goal of the practice?
  • How does the goal of practice work to meet the overarching goal of the program?

Once these questions have been answered the coach can begin plugging relevant activities into the model.

 

It is often easiest to first identify a core activity that will challenge the desired skill. This will help the coach identify a pre-teaching activity that will appropriately prepare the participants and a relevant reflection activity. Every step of the way during the planning process the coach should ask, is this activity serving its function and how does this activity help the group toward meeting the goal?

 

The three activities below are an example of an activity sequence. It is important to note that with creativity, a coach can use virtually any activity as a pre-teaching, core, or reflection activity.

 

The following example sequence could be used to meet a variety of goals based on how the activities are facilitated.

 

Goal: Goal Setting and Peer Encouragement

 

Pre-Teaching Activity: Mingle Warm Up

  1. On the coach’s call, climbers will begin the designated warm-up exercises (traversing, push-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, jumping jacks, etc.).
  2. When the coach calls out a number, climbers have 5 seconds to assemble into groups of that number.
  3. Coach asks the group a question or states an activity; groups discuss the question with each other or engage in the activity together.
  4. This process is repeated as many times as needed.

Make sure to prepare questions and activities that encourage climbers to begin thinking about the goal. Ex: How will you support your teammates during practice today? How do you set climbing goals for yourself? What is your current climbing goal?

 

Core Activity: Partner Bouldering

  1. Climbers are partnered and told they will have a set amount of time to have a bouldering session with their partner.
  2. Before they begin climbing each climber must tell their partner what their current climbing goal is. Partners do not have to have the same goal.
  3. Partners will then discuss and make a plan for how they will organize their session in a way that will allow each partner to work on their goal.
  4. Partners will also discuss how they will support each other throughout the session.

Reflection: Metaphor Debrief

  1. Hand each climber a piece of climbing equipment. Ex: harness, quickdraw, chalk bag, any equipment you have available at your gym
  2. Ask each climber to tell you how their piece of equipment represents how they think about their personal climbing goals or how they can support their teammates in reaching their goals.
  3. Give climbers time to think about the question and then have each climber share with the group.

 

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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CWA Meetings: Calgary Recap

Posted By Emily Moore, Monday, August 19, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019
CWA Meetings Calgary Attendees

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

Last week, the Climbing Wall Association team launched the first-ever CWA Meetings event in partnership with Calgary Climbing Centre!

 

Over the summer, we have heard from many of you who have questions about this brand-new program: what are CWA Meetings all about, who are these events intended for, and where are you headed next?

 

Let’s take a deeper look into CWA Meetings through the lens of our first event in Calgary.

 

Specialized Job Training

CWA Meetings are job training events by design. A ticket to a CWA Meetings event gives you access to:

  • One full day of workshops, for hands-on skills training
  • One full conference day, for discussion and lecture-based training

When you sign up for the event, you will select a content track that best aligns with your role in a climbing gym. This designation will determine the workshops, roundtables, and lectures you participate in for the duration of the event.

 

CWA Meetings content tracks include:

  • Routesetter, designed for routesetting staff, or head routesetters
  • Management/Operations Staff, designed for front desk managers, gym managers, and gym frontline staff
  • Adult/Youth Instruction, designed for program coordinators, trainers, and commercial coaching staff (competition coaching is not addressed)

 

Routesetters Workshop

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Community Building

Since CWA Meetings are regional events, the program calls in attendees from gyms in the surrounding area to connect with and learn from each other. Building these relationships is an opportunity to strengthen our industry, broaden professional networks, and keep dialogue open among different climbing facilities.

 

Aside from the conference curriculum, CWA Meetings offers a Member Meetup, which invites gym staff from the region (not just attendees) to socialize and make new connections.

 

Management Roundtable

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

How Do CWA Meetings Differ from the CWA Summit?

CWA Meetings offer a unique opportunity to spend several days collaborating with folks in similar job functions. Unlike the CWA Summit, which offers a broad set of conference topics and a full-blown trade show, CWA Meetings are highly focused.

 

Upon registration for a Meeting, you select a track and then remain with that track from start-to-finish. The three tracks contain their own workshops, lectures, and roundtables in a highly engaged learning environment. The CWA selected top workshop facilitators and presenters who can offer a meaningful experience and help hone important skills for each attendee.

 

Additionally, the curriculum goals of CWA Meetings are largely suited towards early and mid-career professionals. While upper-level management are best-served by the Summit, CWA Meetings are built for growth-oriented professionals who are seeking to increase their professional responsibilities through training, discussion, and certification.

 

Management Roundtable

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Tell Me About CWA Meetings in Calgary!

Not only was this the first CWA Meetings event, this was the first CWA event in Canada. Let’s take a quick look at the event by the numbers:

  • 1 outstanding host facility (Calgary Climbing Centre)
  • 13 facilities in attendance across 3 Canadian provinces and 2 U.S. states
  • 4 workshops
  • 1 keynote
  • 1 film
  • 3 breakout presentations (1 per track)
  • 6 roundtables (2 per track)
  • 2 product presentations

Here’s a look at the event from our attendees’ viewpoint:

 

“CWA Meetings Calgary was a terrific event. I participated in the Youth & Adult Instruction track, and the information was fresh, well presented, informative and extremely applicable. CWI Provider course was also very well run and is such a great certification to have. Facilities, logistics and communication were also very good. Well worth the trip from Chicago!”

- Dave Hudson, Co-owner and Program Coordinator, First Ascent Climbing and Fitness

 

“I found the whole event to be great opportunity to meet other setters and see where standards are at the moment. We have a lot of work ahead. But this event created that energy to keep pushing leaning and standards in the right direction.”

- Juan Henriquez, Head Setter, Calgary Climbing Centre Hanger

 

“CWA events are a necessity for newer gyms. It allows you to get all of your staff up to speed with the industry in a very short amount of time. Send them to it.”

- Terry Paholek, BLOCS

 

Get Involved

The strength of CWA Meetings is found in a diverse representation of facilities and attendees who can contribute a variety of ideas and experience to the event. Don’t miss out on taking part in year one of CWA Meetings!

 

Check out our CWA Meetings Hoboken and CWA Meetings San Francisco events coming up:

  • Hoboken: September 16-20
  • San Francisco: October 21-25

Register yourself or your staff today for CWA Meetings! If you have questions, you can email Emily Moore at emily@climbingwallindustry.org.

 

REGISTER

 

Tags:  certifications  coaching  customer experience  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  member retention  operations  programming  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height  youth training 

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Reflect on it! Why Processing Training Will Improve Performance

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, July 8, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 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 Group 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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Making Training Fun: Incorporating games to meet youth training goals

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, November 19, 2018
Youth Training Games

Meeting the learning objectives of beginner climbers in youth climbing programs can be a challenge. Varying ability levels and learning styles of youth climbers can make it difficult to structure programming in a way that keeps everyone engaged and allows them push their own abilities. To make matters worse, young climbers often come to us after their school day and are not ready for more instruction. That’s where group games come in.

 

Creative group games can be an effective way to engage young climbers and teach challenging concepts to groups of beginner climbers. Building games into the structure of youth climbing programming can also have the ancillary benefits of fostering a culture of fun and learning, helping with systems of group management, and allowing students to challenge themselves.

 

Using principles of experiential education and intentional facilitation, it is possible to take virtually any game, draw out targeted learning concepts, and guide climbers to learning goals all while creating an engaging, challenging, and fun experience for climbers.

 

Here’s how we, at Headwall Group, train climbing coaches to approach this process using one of our favorite examples.

 

In Preparation for Any Activity

Answer the following questions:

  • What? What is our tool for teaching? Games work best when named because young climbers connect ideas to actions. When we name an activity, we give a reference point for our climbers. For example: “Remember the way we practiced footwork while playing the tag game? Use that same technique here.”
  • Why? Why are we playing this game; what are the targeted concepts/skills?
  • Who? What do we know about this group? What are the ages/skill level(s) of this group?
  • Where? What equipment and space is necessary to play this game?
  • How? What are the logistics for game play? Preparation is key; have a plan for setting up, explaining, and managing game play. Have a plan for debriefing. Prepare questions designed to pull out key concepts.

 

How to Facilitate the Game

Three components to facilitating for each game:

  1. Prepare
    • Explain the objective and the rules. Be VERY clear about what is expected of climbers. Introduce the targeted skill. Check for their understanding.
  2. Game Play
    • Signal the beginning of the game. Engage in the process with the climbers. Try to refrain from giving too much feedback/instruction during game play; allow climbers to try and fail/succeed on their own. Pay attention to specific things that can be recalled during the debrief.
  3. Debrief
    • Avoid lecturing; use questions to draw out “ah ha!” moments from climbers. Start broad, narrow the questioning to lead the conversation to the targeted skill/purpose of the activity.
    • Use specific examples of things that happened in the game to emphasize the point. For example: Johnny’s feet cut twice at the beginning of the traverse but by the end, his feet stayed on the wall for every move. What do you think Johnny changed about his approach to improve his footwork?
    • End by drawing out how they will apply what they learned in the game to their approach to climbing.

This framework can be useful for coaches who may be very articulate about climbing concepts but struggle with application. It can also be very useful for coaches who are very skilled in the fundamentals of climbing but struggle with articulating these concepts to newer climbers. Further, this framework makes it possible to modify any game to meet a variety of different learning objectives. Below is an example of a game built out using this framework.

 

Example Game: Beta Map

Main Purpose: Introduce concept of planning, remembering, and executing beta
Skills Practiced: Concentration, footwork, balance, teamwork
Equipment Needed: 16 spot markers (loose climbing holds work well), open floor space, spray wall or traverse area

 

Part 1 Set Up: Create a 4x4 grid on the floor with the spot markers (use climbing holds if available), ideally in the same area as the climbing wall you will be using. Draw the grid and map a sequence from the starting hold to the finish hold; don’t let the climbers see the map.

 

The loose holds are arranged in a grid, only the coach knows the sequence from start to finish.

 

Part 1 Prepare:

  • Explain that the team’s goal is to get everyone from the start hold to the finish hold, using a sequence the coach has pre-determined.
  • The first climber will stand at the start hold and move to any hold that is adjacent to the start hold (front, side or diagonal) and the coach will say “yes” if this was the correct move in the sequence and “no” if it was not.
  • If the climber chooses the correct move, they get to go again, if they do not, they go to the back of the line and the next climber starts from the beginning and attempts to remember the sequence that has already been revealed, and then guesses the next move.
  • If they make an incorrect move or move to a hold out of sequence, their turn is over and they go to the back of the line.
  • Continue until the entire sequence has been discovered and every climber is able to move through the entire sequence.

 

Part 1 Game Play:

  • Specify what you want climbers to do when they are waiting their turn (stand in line, do push-ups, clap every time the active player makes a move. Be creative to keep them engaged).
  • Give the team as much time as it takes to uncover the sequence.
  • Try to notice strategies being used, things they are doing well, and things they could do better.
  • Provide positive feedback but stay hands-off as much as possible.

 

Part 1 Debrief:

  • Was it easy or difficult to remember every move in the sequence?
  • What strategy did you use to remember the sequence?
  • How did your teammates help you reach your goal?
  • How do you think this relates to climbing?
  • How will this become more challenging when on a climbing wall?

 

Part 2 Prepare:

  • Explain that they will now attempt the same goal, but on the climbing wall this time.
  • Encourage them to be thinking about their strategy as they play because they will be discussing it following the game.

 

Part 2 Game Play:

  • Using the same rules, play the game on the climbing wall. Prepare the sequence ahead of time. The moves in the sequence should be attainable for all climbers in the group.
  • Provide encouragement and make sure all climbers are staying engaged.
  • When first playing the game, use open feet. To increase the difficulty, feet can be made “on” or “off in sequence.
  • Focus on the targeted skill – don’t worry about coaching for footwork if the targeted concept is deciphering beta.

 

Part 2 Debrief:

  • Was this easier or more difficult than playing the game on the ground?
  • Was remembering the sequence difficult? What made it difficult?
  • How can remembering beta help you when you are working on a route or boulder problem?
  • How do you support your teammates when they are having a hard time figuring out the beta on a climb?

By using the Prepare → Game Play → Debrief structure and applying games to a climbing practice, coaches can engage a large group in the process of learning targeted skills, while being certain young climbers are having fun.

 

Do you have creative games that you use to teach skills? We would love to hear them. Leave your ideas and feedback in the comments section below. You can also reach out to us directly at info@headwallgroup.com.

 

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 training 

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