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Projecting Anti-Racism: Asking for Free Labor

Posted By Anaheed Saatchi, Thursday, July 16, 2020
Asking for Free Labor

Developing anti-racist businesses, organizations, philanthropic ventures and so on, requires considerable long-term investments in labor and education. The nature of working towards a future without racism is complex, nuanced, place-specific, and emergent (ever-evolving). Companies that have recently decided to pursue “becoming anti-racist” have much work to do.

 

The trending phenomena of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) being solicited for free labor has spiked since the uprisings around the United States in defense of Black lives. Industry professionals in all sectors have been put on the defensive: where they do not know how to--or do not want to-- pursue an internal review of their operations and so they post a black square, virtue signaling solidarity without real change. They might also contribute to the flooded inboxes of BIPOC and JEDI experts without offering to hire them.

 

In the act of asking for “advice”, the result is often harmful. It is extractive and perpetuates the narrative that anti-racist work can be an afterthought and not the driving force behind our socioeconomic pursuits.

 

You are not the only gym, brand, publication, club, team or, well, anyone in any industry, really, to decide now is a good time to make some changes. You are not the only one to track down that person who seems to be doing this kind of work, either professionally or because they have invested in their community. In fact, you are one of countless others who email them, or worse, direct message them on Instagram, with a paragraph explaining who you are and how dedicated you are to making changes before asking them to chat. No mention of compensation, no acknowledgment of their work as work.

 

This looks like something a lot of BIPOC have seen before - the image of a white person or institution extracting information without really doing any labor or investing anything themselves. This becomes devastating. The practice of understanding these racial optics is an anti-racist practice. Are you perpetuating a pattern of harm? Can you learn to see the bigger picture?

 

These solicitations lead to burnout for BIPOC and while you may be thinking, “it’s just a conversation,” or, “well, the person I messaged seemed happy to help,” you need to consider your own impact.

 

It is essential to understand that these are not casual conversations for non-white people. There is an extreme lack of perspective from the industry when it comes to the harm that befalls BIPOC put in these positions of having “friendly conversations” with industry members in the early stages of unlearning their own racism. Know what you’re asking: this is trauma.

 

You wouldn’t expect an engineer to build you a bridge for free, so it is not appropriate to ask a BIPOC person for their guidance without compensation. And no, a punch pass to your gym doesn’t count as currency. If you don’t have the budget to pay someone, then tap into the deep pool of online resources to educate yourself further. What you’ll invest, instead, is your time until you’ve restructured in such a way that you are able to afford hiring a consultant for your business.

 

Read/Follow/Learn:

Books

Resource Guide

Resources for Climbers of Color: For Allies

 

Instagram Accounts

 

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It is great that so many brands, organizations, and individuals are committing to social justice work - provided they follow through. But as you do, remember that no one owes you emotional labor. No one owes it to you to educate you. This includes people who do advocacy work. • Asking people to give you the emotional labor of explaining their lives is not the same thing as "lifting up our voices." Asking people to share their trauma and provide solutions so that people don't harm them again is not giving someone a platform. . There is one phrase I find particularly demeaning: "I want to pick your brain". My brain is not here for you to pick apart and use whenever and however you want. My knowledge and experience is not a resource to be extracted - my body is not a resource to be extracted. • Here are some tips when asking for free labor (i.e., information), even from advocacy groups: 1) Google is your friend. Most organizations have a website where your questions have been answered. I promise lots has been written online. Have a general understanding before you ask for more info. 2) Introduce yourself. It sounds basic but you'd be surprised how infrequently it happens. Say hello. Introduce your name and a bit about who you are and why you have questions. It shows respect and that you aren't taking the time for granted. 3) Be specific. Asking general questions takes more time to sort out exactly what you're asking. Also see 1# 4) Its ok that you don't know. You don't have to apologize. Please stop apologizing. 5) Offer something back. Give a sincere thank you. Share their work, and credit them when you use the info they gave you. Best of all, pay them for their time and expertise, whatever you can afford. • What do you wish people would do when asking for emotional labor? • [ID: an image of mountains in a purple hue, text overlaid in all caps reads "Asking for emotional labor is not giving someone a platform"]

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I've been trying to think through the next step for this account and where I've landed is to post activities/reflections/guided lessons for practicing different conflict skills, as well as ideas for how to start small in engaging in healthy growth-based conflict routinely. If that interests you - stay tuned! Image text: We cannot be both anti-racist and fully conflict avoidant. Our learned behaviors are often in tension with anti-racist values, which is why our best intentions are often at odds with what we actually say and do in the moment. If my homegrown conflict strategy is to avoid or walk away from conflict, how can I challenge the most insidious forms of white supremacy—those that live within myself and people close to me? Once I identify that I have learned to avoid conflict at the expense of practicing anti-racist values, I become responsible for learning new skills and strategies. Confronting racism is necessary; therefore our anti-racism depends on the practice of conflict skills and the healing of traumas and insecurities that stand in the way of action. Conflict Skills: sitting with discomfort, directness, confidence, curiosity, listening, honesty, patience, speaking toward growth rather than shame, openness rather than defensiveness, self-reflection, etc.)

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And this is why I wasn't down with hwhite and non-Black folks posting their black squares on social media when: 1) you weren't vocal to begin with and now you want to participate in a national blackout where you get a free pass to continue saying/doing nothing? 2) radio silence and crickets from you all since the black Square. This is performative. 3) I see many of you going right back to "normal" by rock climbing outdoors, centering yourselves in this movement, and asking for free labor from Black and Indigenous people (like we all aren't being inundated right now with requests for advice and action from brands, companies and individuals. Do you think you're truly the only one?) 4) you all are already tired and taking breaks from activism after approximately 2 minutes, citing your mental health, while Black and Indigenous people who have been keeping this tempo for years continue to disproportionately do this work. Do you think our mental health isn't suffering? Do you think we haven't known loss, grief, trauma, racism, and on top of that we still do this work daily AND know how to not act a fool and go outside without masks and climb and travel in the middle of a pandemic? What is wrong with you all! 5) Some of you didn't even post a Black square. You're still climbing away uninvolved and unbothered. If you think anyone is impressed by you using your white privilege and disposable income and generational wealth to focus on climbing rocks in the middle of a Civil Rights uprising and global pandemic then you are sorely out of touch with reality. I believe in my community to do better and this isn't it. Everyone who posted a Black square but isn't following up with action AND SELF EDUCATION, this is your call in. I am not sugarcoating how I feel for your comfort. I know you all can do better and I hold you to higher standards. We need everyone on board doing this work, not just a select few who are the most impacted by inequality & systemic racism. BOOKS BY BLACK WOMEN TO AT LEAST SELF EDUCATE: ⬇️⬇️⬇️ Me & White Supremacy (Layla Saad) So You Want to Talk about Race (Iljeoma Oluo) The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) Eloquent Rage (Brittney Cooper)

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Prioritize this labor. Pay for this labor. Hire a facilitator, guide, or coach to help you along your journey. Just make sure you appreciate the skill and expertise involved in this work, as well as the toll it takes on the educators.

 

Anaheed Saatchi Head ShotAbout the Author

Anaheed Saatchi is a queer and non-binary writer and community organizer. They cover themes of social justice, diaspora, the outdoors industry and identity politics. In 2018, they co-founded the rock climbing initiative BelayALL, based on the unceded territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) nations. Examples of their work can be found in Alpinist Magazine and online at Melanin Base Camp.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  employee engagement  human resources  JEDI  leadership  staff training 

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Projecting Anti-Racism: Highlights from Flash Foxy’s Stronger Together Episode with Abby Dione

Posted By Anaheed Saatchi, Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Shelma Jun and Abby Dione

As the months continue to pass, it is increasingly evident that our climbing industry is not likely to return to ‘normal’. For some, this might signal sadness and loss. For others, an opportunity has presented itself to finally address and change some very real and damaging aspects of the industry. This is the first in a series entitled, Projecting Anti-Racism, intended to unpack some of the important and complex messages that are coming out of the Black Lives Matter uprisings. Each post will highlight at least one resource and give recommendations for individuals and companies within the climbing industry to take action. The end goal will be for the climbing industry to treat this work as if it were a passionate climbing project requiring patience and perseverance. That said, here is Part I of the series!

 

COVID-19 has slowed us all down, and we are all witnessing, at the very least, the movement taking place in ensuring that Black lives matter. Instead of feeling nostalgic about that old ‘normal,’ we can re-build the climbing industry as anti-racist and decolonized.

 

The recent push for “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” (JEDI) within the climbing industry took a lot of labor on the part of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. And yet, these words have been absorbed into the social media buzz without long-term structural changes within organizations.

 

Right now, climbing gyms have the opportunity to take action and be accountable for how their spaces have been exclusive. Brands can work to dismantle their white hierarchies. Each individual within the industry, as well as each corporate entity, can practice being introspective, accountable, and active in establishing a new status quo: one that is anti-racist and adaptive in accordance with the Black Lives Matter mandates.

 

If you have chosen to make your career in the climbing industry, then you are operating under a system that was built by white people for white people. If you’re looking for a place to start helping to dismantle that system, and rebuild something better, then the following is a great resource to help you along your path.

 

 

The latest episode of “Stronger Together,” from the Flash Foxy Instagram page offers an insightful conversation between Flash Foxy founder Shelma Jun and Abby Dione, the owner of Coral Cliffs Climbing Gym in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

 

These two phenomenal women share in their love of climbing and discuss complex and nuanced topics. They describe what makes a space welcoming and truly diverse, how to get started in addressing structural racism, and how to take meaningful action.

 

The content of this video is essential learning if you are a gym owner or work at a brand that is just getting started in adopting anti-racist policies and practices. However, anyone in the industry will benefit from tuning in. The conversation felt replenishing for me as someone who writes primarily about these themes and loves climbing.

 

I have summarized five key points just to get the ball rolling:

 

1. Learn. Take the initiative yourself and learn about the ways institutional racism has operated. Then, apply it to the climbing industry. Do not go straight to non-white folks and have them take on the challenge of enlightening you. There are plenty of resources online and countless books written on the subject.

 

2. This needs to be a long-term commitment and the work needs to be done consistently. Both women aptly state throughout the video: this is work. The ‘low hanging fruit’ of social media posts or ads featuring non-white people does nothing to change the structure of racist organizations. Begin by asking, “who are the players in your organization?” If you look around at who is present, and who holds decision-making power, is there a severe lack of representation? Acknowledging and unpacking the problem is the first step before the real work begins.

 

3. This is too much work for one person. Do not dump all of this labor onto one individual at your organization, it’s too much. Ultimately, the company’s vision needs to shift and become anti-racist so that everyone is able to operate under a shared vision.

 

4. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from trying. Mistakes are to be expected if we can agree that learning how to be anti-racist is a long-term practice instead of a simple shifting of gears. Your BIPOC community understands that there will be blunders along the way, what matters is remaining accountable and working together to get back on track!

 

5. Ultimately, this work is going to benefit everyone. This point gets repeated in the video and I am so glad because it often goes unacknowledged, which is: a company that is anti-racist is an environment for everybody. With enough perspective and persistence, dismantling racism is going to uplift everyone. From there, our shared love of this amazing sport can really shine--and we can be proud to be a part of the industry that connects more people to climbing.

 

If you found this post useful, stay tuned for Part II of Projecting Anti-Racism!

 

Anaheed Saatchi Head ShotAbout the Author

Anaheed Saatchi is a queer and non-binary writer and community organizer. They cover themes of social justice, diaspora, the outdoors industry and identity politics. In 2018, they co-founded the rock climbing initiative BelayALL, based on the unceded territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) nations. Examples of their work can be found in Alpinist Magazine and online at Melanin Base Camp.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  leadership  workplace diversity 

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8 Ways to Keep Your Climbing Gym Community Engaged During COVID-19

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, April 3, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Member Engagement Strategies

What is value and how do we maximize it? In the world of climbing gyms, value is created fundamentally by building a community that continues to evolve over time. It is about creating your own company culture and vibe - creating a place that people want to come back to time and time again.

 

So what happens when a global pandemic forces your community to scatter literally overnight? Does the community vanish into thin air?

 

Predominately a bricks and mortar business, climbing gyms are scrambling to figure out how they can keep their membership engaged and hopefully, as a result, continue a stream of membership revenue (albeit not as much as before) to get them through this period of closure.

 

In fact, keeping your community engaged during this time could be the difference between riding this crisis out and being forced to close your doors forever. The challenge in front us: How do we keep our communities engaged, provide valuable content, and create not just a short-term fix, but long-term value for our organizations?

 

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to engage folx during this time. Consider it a chance to think outside of the box.

 

After spending a lot of time talking to gym owners, managers, and marketers, I’ve developed a brief overview of eight ways to keep your community engaged while stuck at home. Over the coming weeks we’ll add in-depth articles on the advantages, implementation considerations, and challenges in each of these categories.

 

1. Educational Content

Most gyms offer an array of educational programs for kids and adults. While it is virtually impossible to practice climbing physically without a climbing wall, there are plenty of online activities that can help you expand your curriculum. Opportunities include:

  • Yoga and fitness classes
  • Kids programs (e.g. Abbreviated online team practices)
  • Adult programs (e.g. Gym-to-Crag classes)

Suggested Platforms for Streaming Content: IGTV, Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo

 

Read More →

 

2. Selling Product

Online retail is not a new concept. In fact, according to the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, when asked where people shop for climbing gear and clothing, respondents most frequently answered online. While setting up a full-blown online retail presence may be too large of a task to take on, there are low hanging fruit options available.

3. Blog

Blogs are an excellent way to drive community involvement and traffic to your website if the content is high quality and relevant. If you don’t have a blog on your website, now is a great time to start one. Here’s a guide from HubSpot to get you started.

Read More →

 

4. Online Events

People love going to events, and gyms provide the perfect venue for bringing groups of people together. It may seem unlikely that an online event would be received as well as your in-person events, but Zoom Happy Hours with friends and family have taken on a new meaning. Here are some suggestions of how you can modify this concept for your gym community to get together socially while keeping physical distance.

  • Fireside chats/meetups/happy hours - including members as experts
  • DJ silent discos
  • Auctions

5. Competitions

OK. So we can’t have traditional climbing competitions at our facilities right now, but there are plenty of opportunities to tap into people’s competitive and creative instincts. In fact, when asked about their motivations to climb in the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, “having fun” was ranked the highest, followed by improving or maintaining physical and mental health. Online competitions can serve both of these needs and can act as a catalyst to increase community involvement.

  • Post photos and tag your gym
  • Exercise contests (e.g. Pull-ups, push-ups, daily challenge, etc.)
  • Trivia

6. Community Partnerships

We are all in this together and climbing gyms have the advantage of being as much community centers as fitness centers. Surely there are other businesses in your area that have been affected by COVID-19, so why not come up with creative ways to mobilize your community channels to support them?

  • Meal of the day - support local restaurants
  • Collaborate with local CSA’s/farmers
  • Partner with local businesses on promotions

7. Inspirational Content

There are an infinite number of possibilities here. Lots of brands, organizations, and individuals are creating awesome content, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Think of a theme you want to focus on, do some research, and share the content that resonates with you. You can even put a call out to your social following to ask what content is keeping them psyched while they’re at home. Remember, the idea is to keep people engaged, and sharing this type of content helps with that.

 

NOTE: If you decide to quote someone from an article or another blog, make sure you credit them. If you are unsure about it, reach out to them and let them know that you would like to share it. Chances are they will be happy to have their work shared.

  • Films
  • Photos
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Articles

Read More →

 

8. Survey

Tried all of the above but still need more ideas? Now is a great time to hear from your members about what they would like. Surveys send a positive message that you genuinely care about them and give them the opportunity to engage in a more meaningful way. Who knows? You may get a higher response rate than normal because people are spending more time online.

 

What some tips on writing good survey questions? SurveyMonkey has an excellent article on that!

 

More to Come!

There’s a lot to dig into in some of these categories, so be sure to read the follow-up articles linked above. Also, check out our Community Call on member engagement strategies from Tuesday, April 7. We had an awesome panel discussion with gyms who have quickly implemented creative strategies to keep their members engaged.

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  company culture  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member acquisition  member communications  member retention  programming 

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Self-Care for Routesetters (and Anyone Experiencing Burnout)

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Thursday, January 2, 2020
Routesetters Need Self Care Too

Routesetters can work in many different scenarios – part or full time in a gym, setting for comps, freelancing for private clients, they can travel or stay in the same location or a combination of all those scenarios. The dynamic nature of the work can have routesetters juggling a lot – changing schedules, administrative duties, meetings, sorting out crew problems, and looking for work in addition to the physical labor of putting up new routes and stripping old ones.

 

Balancing the unique physical, creative, and administrative workload of routesetting creates prime conditions for burnout, which is on the rise generally. For more in-depth information on burnout culture, check out our previous post, Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms.

 

According to the The World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is chronic workplace stress and has been attributed to ‘Workism’ by Psychology Today. Workism is the belief that “work is not only necessary to economic production but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”

 

In other words, when work takes priority over other aspects of life such as family, friendships, health, and fitness, not only do those aspects of life suffer, so does your work, creativity, and productivity. It can be a self-defeating and unending cycle.

 

Why Addressing Burnout Is Important

What happens when you experience fatigue and burnout? When you are fatigued, it is harder to perform your job and can increase your risk of injury. When you experience burnout, any creativity and enjoyment you experience in your work can be elusive. Fatigue and burnout also affect all aspects of your life, not just your work.

 

Often it takes a wake-up call either in the form of injury or an event in our personal lives to make us realize the toll that a demanding schedule and intense physical labor can take on our bodies and lives, but you don’t have to wait until everything falls apart. You can implement self-care strategies easily into your everyday life and work schedule.

 

How do you know when you are burnt out? You might experience lethargy and lack of motivation or interest in your work. Making time to accomplish your job responsibilities can seem impossible.

 

While there will be times when work takes over, burnout is a chronic experience, meaning that it's ongoing and can worsen over time. You don’t have to guess if you are experiencing burnout, you can assess yourself.

 

What Is Self-Care?

The antidote to burnout is self-care. Self-care is often misused to justify indulging in pleasure activities and might make you cringe at the thought of trying it.

 

However, make no mistake, self-care is not indulgence or engaging in frivolous activities. It is essential for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Self-care is a set of skills that reduce anxiety and stress and promote relaxation.

 

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it is a simple concept in theory, it can be hard to implement, especially if you already feel overwhelmed and stressed.

 

But good self-care is key to overall well-being and professional fulfillment. Thinking of self-care as skills that you can learn provides a pathway to being able to more effectively cope with or even reverse the symptoms of burnout.

 

Essential Self-Care Skills

1. Time Management

 

Time management establishes boundaries between your work and personal life, while also improving how you spend your time at work. Time management can be as simple as implementing a calendar for your shift and how you will use your time in the gym, or you can schedule work, personal life, sleep, and other activities.

 

The hardest part of time management is adhering to the schedule that you create. Effective time management doesn’t schedule every minute of the day with activity, you will need to learn to block time that you can use to recharge.

 

Make sure you set realistic and attainable goals, and be willing to review and adjust how you are using your time to get the results you want.

 

2. Exercise

 

The physical work of routesetting can leave you exhausted when you experience burnout, but making time for exercise is essential to combatting the effects of burnout. Exercise reduces stress and improves sleep.

 

Exercising when you feel burnt out doesn’t have to be intense – in fact it shouldn’t be. Start with 30 minutes and build up. Try going for a walk outside or restorative yoga. Pay attention to how your body feels and do forms of exercise that lessen stress.

 

3. Sleep

 

The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep as, “an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” During times of stress, it can be notoriously hard to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, however adopting sleep solutions can help set you up for sweet dreams instead of restless nights.

 

Sleep solutions teach you how to create a supportive sleep environment. For example, consider creating a sleep schedule, using soft light to prepare your body for sleep, and establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual.

 

4. Nutrition

 

When your body is experiencing stress, nutrition can support your physical health. Harvard Health promotes eating a whole food, plant-based diet and recommends staying away from processed carbohydrates that are inflammatory, sugar-spiking, and insulin releasing.

 

Instead, they advocate to “aim for things that grow on plants or trees. The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they have and the healthier they are. Vitamin pills and other supplements just don’t work as well. We don’t have to be perfect, but the more plant-based our diets are, the better.”

 

Self-care looks and feels different for everyone; develop your self-awareness as you apply these skills to your life and learn what works for you.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

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

 

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

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Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Burnout Culture in Climbing Gyms

Burnout as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) is a syndrome that occurs as the result of chronic workplace stress. Burnout isn’t a temporary experience – in fact, it has become a societal epidemic that can have negative impacts on your business.

 

With 1 in 5 employees reporting they experience burnout, your gym might already be experiencing the effects of burnout. We’re going to look at what burnout is and what you can do if your staff experiences it.

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

When you’re concerned your staff is underperforming and lacks motivation, it’s important to determine their stage of burnout in order to implement a strategy to reduce the negative impact on your business.

 

Burnout has been added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and has three characteristics, as defined by the WHO:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  3. and reduced professional efficacy.

While staff can experience different symptoms, there are five common stages of burnout:

  1. Honeymoon: The experience of commitment, energy, and creativity.
  2. Onset of Stress: The occasional experience of tough and challenging days here and there.
  3. Chronic Stress: The consistent experience of every day being tough and challenging, depleted energy, anxiety, and lack of focus.
  4. Burnout: The occasional experience of lack of motivation & creativity, low energy, pessimistic outlook, irritability, self-doubt, and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: Consistent and chronic mental and physical fatigue, depression, neglect of personal needs, and loss of motivation and creativity.

The Causes of Burnout Culture

According to Harvard Business Review, a workplace that doesn’t promote a healthy work/life balance is at the highest risk of experiencing burnout culture. While individuals experience the consequences of burnout, the underlying cause of burnout is due to the organization’s overall workplace culture and being trapped in the busyness paradox.

 

The busyness paradox conflates the state of being busy (for example, getting sidetracked with low value tasks or running around putting out fires all day) with producing high quality work based on intentional strategic purpose.

 

Given that busyness is often looked at as a badge of honor, what steps can you take to shift how your organization approaches productivity and ultimately improve your workplace culture?

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

Research shows that known costs of turnover can be as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, in addition to hidden costs such as reduced productivity, dissatisfied gym members, lowered staff morale, and compromised workplace safety. Managing staff burnout not only reduces negative impacts on the bottom line, but also supports a dynamic and positive gym culture.

 

The good news is that burnout is preventable when you focus on the key elements that you can control in your gym:

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

Labor, performance, and morale are measurable metrics that need to be tracked from an employee’s start date and throughout their employment. Effective and consistent HR management can reduce and eliminate burnout. It is not enough to guess if your staff is struggling, you need data that includes:

  1. How many hours they are working: Easily tracked through payroll and corrected through effective scheduling.
  2. What their performance is: Determined through reviews and underperforming staff can improve through training and mentoring.
  3. The state of their morale: Established through an employee survey that addresses how the staff feels about working, the working conditions at your gym, and what the staff wants to see improved.

It is important to know which factor(s) are contributing to burnout. For instance, a staff member not working excessive hours with good morale and low performance may need additional training or mentoring. Likewise, a staff member with great performance and low morale may be working too much.

 

Once you determine how much each potential factor is contributing to burnout, work with your staff to implement a remedy. Most likely, each factor will have some play in burnout and working to remedy even one factor can help lessen the overall impact of burnout.

 

While you can use metrics to gauge what needs improvement, do not forget basics like communication and interacting with staff, especially when you host comps or events in your gym.

 

Planning is crucial to getting back to the day-to-day after a special event. “Having a plan to make the workload manageable before, during, and after an event is mandatory if you want to ensure that events have minimal impact on a commercial facility and its routesetters,“ says Brad Weaver from Thread Climbing. “Having a plan in place and communicating that plan to the setting team and the gym staff helps set everyone’s expectations and helps reduce the stress on everyone involved.”

 

The bottom line is that though burnout is an individual experience, it’s generally a problem with the company, not the person. Depending on the size of your gym and how widespread your burnout problem is, it may be necessary to implement proactive cultural changes to how your business operates so that you are not constantly reacting to chronic cases of burnout in your staff.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

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

 

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

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Creating a Positive Workplace Culture for Safety in the Climbing Gym

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Safety Culture

In this article we will take a look at how we can take a positive approach to creating a culture for safety in the climbing gym environment. At the end of the article, be sure to download our one-page quick reference guide to developing a safety program.

 

The term “Safety Culture” was coined by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In their summary report, ‘safety culture’ was pointed to as an underlying cause for the catastrophe. It was used as an explanation for the attitudes, actions, and systemic failures that led to the cascading effect of failures.

 

Over the years, ideas about ‘safety culture’ have evolved with research but the concepts, application, and understanding of what creates a broader “culture for safety” remain vital.

 

The Case for Workplace Safety

First, it is important to distinguish between those risk management issues that we deal with at a customer/patron level versus those at an occupational level. A customer chooses to accept a certain level of risk, most often via a liability waiver, in order to participate in climbing activities.

 

Juxtapose this with an employer who has a duty, to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards “likely to cause serious physical harm or death” and “comply with occupational safety and health standards.”[1] Likewise, each employee must also comply with health and safety rules, regulations, and standards, in addition to gym policies and procedures.

 

Besides the legal obligation that workplace safety is a requirement, there are other worthwhile reasons to move towards a pro-safety workplace.

 

Morally, it’s the right thing to do! Climbing gym employees and employers are often a collective of fellow climbers and friends. In such a community, we look out for each other.

 

Another reason is that there’s a business case for safety. A recent study found that workplace safety influences customer satisfaction, “suggesting that there are likely spillover effects between the safety environment and the service environment.”[2] This study showed that customer satisfaction and a company’s safety climate and injury rates were “significantly correlated.”[3]

 

Although the research was conducted in the electrical utility industry, and no specific research has been conducted correlating climbing gym customers and worker safety, it’s worth considering the parallels within service industries as a whole. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when employers take the safety of their employees seriously, they benefit through customer loyalty. In other words, a safe gym environment translates to a safer environment not only for your employees but to the customer as well.

 

Finally, a good safety program reflects a level of professionalism. Climbing walls/gyms in the modern age are legitimate operations that offer lifelong careers and provide health and fitness opportunities for generations of climbers. Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and desire to have lasting employment in a professional environment. Having written programs and systems in place is a key component for demonstrating that employee safety, health, and wellbeing are core values.

 

Safety Culture Characteristics

Looking to lessons from the nuclear power industry again, they identified five basic characteristics of a culture for safety that we can adapt to the climbing gym environment:[4]

  1. Safety is a clearly recognized value
  2. Accountability for safety is clear
  3. Safety is learning driven
  4. Safety is integrated into all activities
  5. Leadership for safety is clear
Safety Culture Characteristics

Each of these characteristics has specific attributes that contribute to sustaining safety culture.[5] For example, in order for safety to be a clearly recognized value (item 1), safety conscious behavior must be socially acceptable and supported by the employer and employees alike.

 

Item 3, “Safety is learning driven,” means that a questioning attitude prevails, that learning is encouraged, and assessments are used and tracked.

 

And for item 5, “Leadership for safety is clear,” the commitment to safety should be evident at all levels, and management should build trust to ensure continual openness and communication with individuals.

 

Positive Safety Leadership

Management reacting solely when there is an incident is short-sighted and ineffective. In a reactive safety environment, employees hide or do not want to report an injury for fear of retaliation or punishment. Consequently, blaming an employee rarely results in a positive outcome or a safer workplace.

 

Instead, management should take a proactive approach to make accountability a positive not a negative. Rather than focusing on blaming someone for a mistake, focus on what it takes to remedy the situation and enabling workers to practice safe work habits.

 

Accepting that hazards are inevitable and there is always the possibility of an accident, involve employees and work towards solutions that are meaningful to them. Positive reinforcement does not mean incentivizing employees for safe work but instead rewarding them through recognition and praise when someone does something well.

 

Measuring Safety Progress

Data have shown that there can be prolonged periods of time between incidents, but an unsafe working environment can still exist. The traditional approach, simply measuring accident rates is not a good means of determining if you have a sustainable safety program.[6]

 

In order for us to confirm that we are on the right track with our safety program, we have to be able to measure key components of the program.

 

Good data begins with selecting the right things to measure. Focus on measuring positive performance aspects of your program like:[7]

  • Safety Activities
  • Participation Rate
  • Perceptions
  • Behaviors
  • Conditions

Track the behaviors of workers on things like accident prevention, reporting unsafe situations, taking corrective action, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and participating in training. For example, track the use of protective eyewear rather than the number of eye injuries.

 

Gym Program Areas

Below are some of the program areas that may be relevant to your climbing wall or gym. This is not a comprehensive list as activities vary among facilities, so it is important to consider all the potential hazards and program areas.

 

Within each of these areas there are specifics that need to be tailored to the facility while keeping in mind OSHA regulations, state and local laws, insurance requirements, and industry standards.

  • Fall Protection – Comprehensive for routesetters and awareness level for other employees. Include training on dropped object prevention.
  • Portable Ladder Safety
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Emergency Action/Response Plan
  • First Aid/CPR
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Spill Response
  • Slips/Trips/Falls
  • Access/Egress

Example Scenario

Take a look at the following situation and consider the questions that follow:

 

A loose hold on a top rope climbing wall is reported to the front desk staff person by a member. Unfortunately, no routesetter is available but the staff person, who has some experience tightening holds, is eager to help, and takes it upon themself to address the issue. In an effort to tighten the hold quickly the staff person avoids getting a stepladder, extension ladder, or using a harness/rope system and instead climbs about eight feet high. In the course of tightening the hold with an impact wrench, the staff person slips from another loose hold, lands awkwardly, and seriously injures their back.

  • What contributing factors might have resulted in this accident?
  • What areas for improvements are there?
  • If you were in a management role how would you communicate with the employee? How would you communicate with other staff?
  • What can be learned from and improved upon from this incident and how is that communicated?
  • What other proactive measures might be considered going forward?

Clearly, the intentions of the staff person were good, as they were attempting to demonstrate good customer service and be proactive in remedying the situation on their own. But unfortunately, the choices the staff person made resulted in their injury.

 

For this situation a number of other variables would exist based on the facility itself. We might want to explore if there was a system or rule in place for who is authorized to address climbing wall maintenance. From there we could determine if the person was authorized to tighten holds and if they had the appropriate training. Other things we would want to look at would be the standard work practice for climbing wall work, do we allow someone to climb and set or should they be working off a ladder, lift, or via a harness and rope system?

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know there is a weakness in our program until something goes wrong. Part of moving towards a culture for safety includes anticipating various types of incidents and proactively addressing them, but that’s not always possible. We have to accept that even the best programs can have gaps and take a productive approach.

 

In this case, the focus would be on improving the systems, communication, and training that can prevent future incidents from occurring and then tracking those changes going forward.

 

In Conclusion

Maintaining a positive safety culture is a process. There will always be pitfalls and areas for improvement.

 

The National Safety Council sums it up best by stating, “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

 

Download our cheat sheet for a quick-reference resource containing guidelines for developing a safety program!

 

References

  1. OSHA General Duty Clause
  2. Does employee safety influence customer satisfaction? Evidence from the electric utility industry, P. Geoffrey Willis, Karen A. Brown, Gregory E. Prussia, 2012, Journal of Safety Research
  3. Can Worker Safety Impact Customer Satisfaction?, Laura Walter, EHS Today
  4. Chernobyl: 30 Years On - Lessons in Safety Culture, Aerossurance
  5. Culture for Safety, International Atomi Energy Agency
  6. Building the Foundation for a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew, EHS Today
  7. 5 New Metrics to Transform Safety, Terry L. Mathis, ProAct Safety

Resources

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer service  human resources  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  staff training 

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Gender, Variety, and Growth in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, December 2, 2019
Jackie Hueftle Routesetting

As I’ve interviewed routesetters about their industry, topics that have come up over and over are diversity, variety, and professionalism.

 

A major piece of the puzzle is a setting crew that can set for diverse climbers—and that means a diverse crew. Many gyms lack setters outside the typical archetype of the tall male climber, especially female routesetters.

 

To get some perspective, I got in touch with one of the most experienced setters in the business. Jackie Hueftle has been setting for more than two decades as a competition setter, head setter, and everything in between. She currently works predominantly in her own climbing hold company, Kilter Grips.

 

WK: What role do you think diversity and variety play in routesetting?

JH: Diversity and variety are very important because climbing is about learning different moves, and the more moves you learn, the better you get at climbing (and the more fun it is!).

 

Diversity in size, strengths, and style of setters leads to the greatest diversity in movement which serves the entire gym population better by giving them stuff they are good at and stuff to work on in a variety of styles.

 

WK: Do you think homogeneity among setting staff is an issue?

JH: It can be; it depends on the gym and community. Even 5 5'10" tall 22 year old males can set totally different styles, and some of the reachiest setting I've seen has been from some of the shortest setters on my crews.

 

So basically diversity is good, but part of it is up to the setters and part of it is up to the owners/managers to give their setting crew the time and tools to experiment with different styles and create a diverse offering for their gym. Certainly having different sizes of humans is helpful to create more variety automatically.

 

WK: How much of a role does gender play in routesetting variety?

JH: It can play a big role, but it can also not matter either way. Traditionally certain genders were thought to have different strengths, but as more and more people break those molds it's becoming more about the setters' educations and efforts than their gender.

 

That said, like I said above about sizes of people, having people with different natural strengths and climbing styles is important, regardless of their gender. Perhaps it's better to consider adding newer climbers of both genders into the setting program, as with some training in setting and movement, they may be better able to empathize with the experiences of new climbers and therefore set stuff more appropriate to helping those people learn.

 

WK: What were some of the challenges of setting (or managing a setting team) as a female routesetter?

JH: Working events with an assortment of setters (with me as just another crew setter) was sometimes fine, but it also often I felt like I had to try extra hard for my opinion to be valued. A few times I stood behind my opinion and was later punished for it. I saw men in similar positions to me whose opinions were automatically more respected than mine. So that was frustrating.

 

Also, it seems like in the climbing hierarchy, being the strongest is always overvalued, and I was never the strongest. The strongest climbers don't always set the best routes or take the time to consider all the aspects of a route or a comp. On a crew you need many types of setters to create the best product.

 

Despite that logic, strength automatically wins socially in climbing/setting and so I have seen setters defer over and over again to someone stronger than them even though that person might not be as conscientious. Some gyms have this problem and it becomes endemic, so unless someone steps in and actively changes the culture, these strongest setters can ruin the experience of the rest of the crew and also the customers.

 

Strong climbers can also be amazing, conscientious setters. It's worth recognizing that they may need to work extra hard to empathize with newer and weaker climbers and the overall needs of a customer base.

 

Personally, as I got older and ran my own crew I didn't feel I had many challenges that were based on my gender. The Head Setter's main jobs are to be organized, to make sure tools and supplies are available, to educate, to give direction, and to integrate the setting department with the rest of the gym. We run 4+ big events a year at The Spot, so when I was Head Setter there we had a lot of room to do fun things during comps and then have a good regular rotation to meet our customer base's needs. I was doing most of these things before I even took over as Head Setter, and a while after that pretty much my whole crew was people I'd hired, so they worked for me as they'd work for any manager.

 

WK: Were there any advantages to setting (or managing) as a female routesetter?

JH: To some degree being a different gender than most of the crew made it easier to step out of the social hierarchy I mention above. I was also about 10 years older and way more experienced than most of them. Also, we focused on the customer base's needs, and those needs were pretty easy to identify and meet through organizing the program. So I guess advantages might be a penchant for administration, though you'll find plenty of men with those skills as well.

 

WK: Do you think there are any factors discouraging women (and other underrepresented groups) from becoming routesetters?

JH: Sure! The work is physical and doesn't pay super well and in some areas the culture isn't good as far as conversation topics. Many gyms are in stages of transition as far as professionalism and safety go.

 

It can be intimidating to start setting or hard to get a chance to start, and when you start setting you need to spend a lot of time learning, and of course being strong enough to carry big ladders and forerun a good portion of the climbs is useful, so there is a bit of a barrier there — though as I mentioned, I think that different people can still make very valuable contributions to a team even if they are not the strongest member.

 

WK: What can gyms, management, or other setters do to counteract those factors?

JH: Foster talent in your own program and have programs to attract and improve new talents. Have public clinics, allow non-setters who are interested in setting to forerun with the group, wash holds, and learn other setting related tasks to see if they're willing to work hard and would be a good fit.

 

For your own team, have clinics (self-taught or with outside talent) to help them improve, and then build in learning time in your program so it's not just about how many problems/routes you can set and how quickly, but how you are using the skills you're learning at the clinics and how good the end product is.

 

Give your setters plenty of feedback and reviews, let them explore new ideas, give them time to practice new skills, and support them in professional development.

 

Work with your team and it will be a better team that is more receptive to new team members and creates a better end product for your customers.

 

WK: As routesetting becomes increasingly professionalized, do you think the demands on routesetters will increase?

JH: Definitely. Setters have huge responsibility to help craft the customer experience at gyms, and gym management has a responsibility to support the setting program with resources and information — with holds, tools, time to organize and focus on employee health and wellness, and access to continuing education.

 

WK: Climbing’s popularity continues to rise — do you see any major changes for routesetting (or the sport as a whole) on the horizon?

JH: Setting will continue to get more professional, both in safety practices and in organizational practices and product output. There is a ton of room to improve still and many people are motivated to push our industry and trade to the next level.

 

WK: The conversation around inclusivity in climbing can be polarizing. What do you think is most important for gyms, setters, and climbers moving forward?

JH: We need to throw out the old narrative that climbing should be super sandbagged and is always a man contest and only outdoor climbers are real climbers. Indoor climbing is a great sport for fitness and social interaction. Many new climbers may only ever climb inside, and that's ok. The more we can support this side of climbing, the more positive this growth will be for climbing as a whole.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  women  workplace diversity 

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5 Ideas for Making Your Gym More Eco-Friendly

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 15, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Foundations are being laid for new gyms across the country and more folks are roping up to maneuver monocolor routes than ever before. Private capital, blockbuster movies, and the inclusion of rock climbing in the 2020 Olympics are creating a boom in the industry.

 

At the same time, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released reports about the state of our environment that are pretty grim. If we’re unable to shift away from carbon and curb emissions in the next decade, we’ll face consequences that will affect our crags, our public lands, and the cities we call home.

 

The synchronicity of these events leaves the climbing wall industry with an opportunity to innovate. As the industry grows, so does the opportunity to create sustainable business models that ensure a healthy future for our climbing communities, crags, and our overall environment.

 

Wall builders, gym owners, and marketing managers across the country agree that the climbing industry isn’t quite there yet in terms of sustainability–though we have made progress from the days of toxic handholds and standard fiberglass walls. And while it’s difficult for current gym owners to transition to sustainable wall-building or architecture standards, there are many low-hanging fruit opportunities to make your gym more eco-friendly and sustainable.

 

Offer Composting at Your Gym

In the United States, 30-40% of food gets wasted, and when that food ends up in landfills, it creates the greenhouse gas methane, which is about 28x more potent than carbon dioxide. None of that is good news.

 

But climbing gyms can be part of the solution. “One way gyms can be more sustainable is by offering composting services,” says Anne-Worley Moelter, co-owner of Movement Climbing and Fitness in Boulder.

 

Start by contacting your local municipality about bringing a compost bin to your gym. Then let members know to bring their compost next time they swing by for a session.

 

Use Efficient Hand Dryers

Not only are hand dryers a more economical choice than paper towels (paper towels cost roughly 1 cent per hand dry, while hand dryers cost between .02 and .18 cents), but they’re also better for the environment in terms of waste and deforestation.

 

When selecting hand dryers for your facility, it’s important to consider factors like energy consumption and efficiency. Older hand dryers can take a minute or longer to properly use and aren’t always more sustainable than paper towels due to their higher carbon footprint. But the new quick-drying airblade machines have one-third the carbon emissions of their older counterparts, and while the price might be slightly higher upfront, the lifetime cost can save you thousands.

 

Have Monthly Raffles for Folks Who Use Alternative Transportation

As a way to incentivize your members to create fewer carbon emissions on their way to the gym, hold a monthly raffle for folks who use alternative modes of transportation. Anyone who uses public transportation, bikes, or carpools can be entered into a raffle to win gear from your sponsors–like a new pair of climbing shoes, a rope, draws, or a chalk bucket.

 

“We hold an alternative transportation raffle each month and it’s always a success,” says Anne-Worley Moelter. It’s a great way for members to feel like they’re doing good for the planet while also having the chance to win something for themselves.

 

Update Your HVAC System

Air conditioning can be expensive and extractive in a space as large as a climbing gym. The area is too wide to properly cool and you’ll likely end up wasting electricity in the process while dealing with climbers who don’t have ideal sending temps.

 

Tommy Chandler, from The Front Climbing Club, says, “We use a swamp-cooler HVAC system which is way cheaper while also using far less electricity. It’s a great, sustainable option for large spaces like climbing gyms.”

 

Install Solar Panels on Your Roof

Thirty years ago, when gyms opened their doors in the US, solar power was outrageously expensive and a non-starter for owners. Now, solar panels are less cost-prohibitive and more accessible. While the price tag can still seem pretty steep, many municipalities and solar panel companies offer leasing options so you can either rent- or lease-to-own.

 

Unfortunately, this still isn’t an option in some cities across America, but in terms of sustainability, it’s one of the best ways to reduce your gym’s overall carbon footprint, while also saving money on your electric bill.

 

The Triple Bottom Line

When it comes to sustainability, it’s important to look at the triple-bottom-line: people, planet, profits. What’s good for one might not be good for the other, but the balance is essential. Building a gym in a specific area of a city might have greater social implications–even if sustainability choices are left out altogether.

 

Climbing gyms can make sustainable choices that in turn will make their members feel better about choosing your climbing gym as their third space.

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  company culture  management  sustainability 

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How to Advocate and Bring Mental Health Awareness to Your Gym

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 1, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Physical activity has been linked to mental health benefits for decades. In a 1985 study published in Public Health Reports, three researchers found that physical activity not only helps alleviate moderate to severe depression but can also help with self-esteem issues, social skills, and stress response. Numerous internet articles and peer-reviewed studies continue to suggest that physical activity can dramatically reduce the effects of depression and anxiety while also improving an individual’s self-image and their ability to improve intentional decision making.

 

More recently, a group in Austria called Institut für Therapeutisches Klettern (Institute for Therapeutic Climbing) began integrating bouldering with therapy. Their study showed that the group of patients who participated in a 3-hour weekly bouldering session improved their BDI-II score, used to measure the severity of depression, by one severity grade–up 6.27 points compared to the control group who only improved by 1.4 points.

 

We know that physical activity, and now bouldering, have beneficial implications on mental health–and the topic of mental health has become far less taboo in recent years. So how can you integrate mental health awareness into your gym?

 

1. Schedule a Mental Health Focused Workshop or Event

Chances are you already have mental health professionals as members. Send out an email asking members if they’re interested in hosting (or attending) a workshop. At Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City, one popular workshop addresses anxiety while climbing, while another focuses on balancing a difficult training schedule with a busy life. Whether you offer individual events or workshops that are part of a larger series, an emphasis on mental health in your events program can have a significant impact on your members.

 

2. Start a Bouldering League

Community is key in advocating for mental health. Members want to feel connected to the climbing community and hosting a bouldering league is a great way to facilitate that connection. A league strengthens the connection friend groups have with each other while also creating a space to challenge and encourage each other on a weekly basis. It also offers a structured opportunity to meet and interact with other climbers from different teams and build relationships through trying-hard and friendly competition.

 

3. Create a Specific Space for Community Development

At Wooden Mountain Bouldering Gym in Loveland, CO, all three owners are committed to developing a community and “third space” for their members. Adam Lum, co-owner of Wooden Mountain says, “People have work and they have home, but ever-increasingly there’s not a third space–they don’t have a church or a way to connect with the community.” At Wooden Mountain, community development space looks like an old kitchen table, a few comfy chairs, and board games.

 

No matter what your hangout space looks like, its mere existence provides an anchor of community life within your facility. The best “third places” share a few characteristics that set them up to be a community hub. For example, consider how you can make your space playful, accessible, welcoming, accommodating, and accepting. For more guidance, check out the Project for Public Spaces.

 

4. Advertise Courses That Promote Mental Health

Whether it’s Veterans dealing with PTSD or individuals experiencing disadvantages or disabilities, there are non-profits across the country that help individuals manage their mental health. The Phoenix, a free sober-active community, uses climbing programs as a way of promoting sober-living, while Adaptive Adventures offers climbing clubs and outdoor climbing experiences for climbers with disabilities.

 

Promoting local non-profits that integrate climbing and outdoor experiences with mental health helps strengthen ties within your community and offers members a way to connect with climbers of similar backgrounds and experiences. Even a simple social media shout-out for these non-profits or organizations says to members, “We’re a mental health ally.”

 

5. Offer Yoga and Meditation Classes

According to a Harvard Health study, practicing yoga reduces stress by “modulat[ing] stress response systems,” and can also reduce muscle tension. These are added benefits for climbers who also require flexibility for reaching difficult holds and being able to breathe in the midst of a challenging sequence. Yoga allows practitioners to bring awareness to the body–a critical need for climbers of all abilities.

 

Pick a Strategy and Get Started!

If you haven’t implemented opportunities for members to focus on mental health, any of these suggestions are a great place to start. Whether you offer a 6-week yoga session, invite a local professional to give a talk, or share local organizations on your social media channels, you’ll strengthen your gym’s identity as a space for mental health growth and conversations. If you have taken steps to facilitate mental health conversations and practices, let us know in the comments!

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer service  leadership  operations  programming  youth team 

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The Routesetter as Professional: In Conversation with Ward Byrum

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Routesetter as Professional

As the sport of climbing grows, its infrastructure must grow along with it. Climbing gyms continue to multiply, and the demand for high-quality routesetting has increased in tandem.

 

As a result, routesetting is changing as a profession. To get a handle on what that means for the job and the sport, I spoke with Ward Byrum, Director of Routesetting for Earth Treks.

 

Ward oversees all routesetting operations for the seven gyms under Earth Treks branding. That includes hands-on setting work as well as team management for locations from Virginia to Colorado.

 

WK: Do you feel like routesetting is changing at all? How does routesetting fit in with what’s happening in climbing and climbing gyms?

 

WB: That’s a big question. I think in general, routesetting is changing — the rate of change is really accelerated right now. Gyms are more aware of the value that high-quality routesetting brings to a facility.

 

Also, because there’s this heightened awareness of its value, there’s a movement to compensate people better for routesetting. And routesetters who are good have elevated their value.

 

The trick is that there’s maybe not enough supply to meet that demand now.

 

WK: You mean there aren’t enough good routesetters to go around?

 

WB: Correct. And we’re playing a game where everyone’s kind of poaching everyone. I think a lot of people haven’t really sorted out how to grow and create routesetters from scratch in these local communities.

 

We spend a lot of time talking about our company’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts. That’s one of the biggest successes we’ve had recently as a setting program. We acknowledged that if we continue to look for amazing experienced routesetters, then our setting teams will be largely white men, because they represent the people that currently have the experience.

 

By tuning into that, we were able to create a wealth of entry-level positions and then actively open the doors to underrepresented groups to come in and interview for the base positions. Then we can grow them into full-time roles. It’s something that’s paid off in our ability to have more female setters represented, for example.

 

WK: What do you think it takes for a climber to become a good routesetter?

 

WB: I look at routesetting as essentially a form of product design. A lot of how we interpret routesetting is around that theme.

 

I think being a successful routesetter is being aware of who you’re setting for. The more variety we have represented within the setting team, the more empathy and awareness and perspectives we have represented when we go to produce that product.

 

WK: Are there certain things you look for in team members?

 

WB: It doesn’t come down to being the strongest climber. They don’t have to have the most routesetting experience. We’re looking for people who are creative, who thrive in a group-oriented environment where we critique each other’s work constantly…

 

It’s difficult. It’s more aligned with product design, as opposed to the older terms, which were about replicating outdoor climbing, or a personal pursuit to create whatever the routesetter wanted to make.

 

WK: Obviously routesetting is very physical work. Do you have any best practices for keeping a team running smoothly under the demands placed on commercial routesetters?

 

WB: It’s important just to know the physical abilities of everyone on the team. We try to have very team-oriented goals so that everyone is able to plug into that system and work at the highest level. We’re able to change who is setting on what sections or what grades based on who’s going to be most successful at that task.

 

Having a realistic projection of output is important. There are plenty of routesetters who can come in and set four or five routes in a day, but that might not be sustainable, or it might not be the level of detail we want invested into the product. It may not allow us to forerun and sample and test that product enough before it becomes open to the public.

 

It’s about finding that balance between the level of product you want and the capability or energy you have to apply. Plus how much the company is willing to invest. It’s balancing those three categories.

 

WK: Do you see any misconceptions about routesetting staff among members and climbers?

 

WB: A lot of our efforts lately in some of the member clinics we host or in our social media content are about removing the mystique behind routesetting. We want to allow people to peek behind the curtain and understand the process of setting.

 

We want people to understand that the setters aren’t coming in and trying to set a sandbagged V4. They’re legitimately coming in and trying to set something that serves the members.

 

One of our catchphrases is: “Every route and every boulder could be someone’s project.”

 

So we try to think about the person who is investing a lot of time trying to accomplish this goal.

 

WK: Are there any sticking points between routesetting staff and gym management?

 

WB: I don’t think there’s a friction point, but I think something that’s important is the transition of routesetters from climber to worker.

 

One thing that’s helped us is interpreting routesetters not as climbers but as work-at-height professionals.

 

Once we begin to interpret them as work-at-height professionals, it enables the routesetters to take their job a little more seriously… they’re in a work mode. It creates a feeling that things are different and they need to conduct themselves differently.

 

The other component is that gym owners, gym managers, people at the front desk, and members all see us operating differently. They see us utilizing these professional tools. So we’re seen as more professional and further distinguish ourselves from just climbers who are putting holds on a wall.

 

That theme of professionalization has helped us gain respect industry-wide. It’s enabled us to gain things like better pay and better benefits because of this specialization. I think that trend will continue, and I think it will further define what professional routesetting looks like. It’s always a moving target.

 

WK: How does routesetting fit into the growth or stability of the sport in the future?

 

WB: Early on — I’m talking 20 years ago — maybe we kept a loose eye on bell curves and what grades are represented in a facility.

 

Now I’m going to keep a much closer eye on the amount of time each routesetter in a team is spending doing certain tasks associated with their job. I’m going to look at the product in pretty detailed ways. Eventually we will build that out much further.

 

I think stuff like Vertical Life and other programs that have back-end routesetting management tools but front-end capability to interact with members will be increasingly common. They’ll be an important part of the process as the conduit for the information members want to give a setting team.

 

I think we’ll see those systems perfected. Right now we’re still trying to see what data points are needed.

 

WK: Now and moving forward, what do you think gyms can do to make sure routesetting is a strong point for their facility?

 

WB: Ultimately, we need to find better ways of allowing the consumer to tell us what they want. It’s tricky, because the person might not have a ton of climbing experience. A lot of user responses might be just: if I was successful, I like it, and if I wasn’t, I don’t.

 

It’s really dissecting what a diverse climbing experience might be like. Some of our efforts now are around producing lifelong climbers. How do we keep members of the community engaged over long periods of time?

 

That includes social and community events, but there’s a routesetting component too. How are we engaging with the community and keeping them excited so that it doesn’t become a fad?

 

WK: Is there anything else you think is important for the routesetting profession in the future?

 

WB: While we’re in this time of flux where routesetting is becoming a better compensated role within a gym and better respected, it is of equal importance that the routesetters themselves realize that they need to rise to that standard as well.

 

You also have to be professional. It’s little things like wearing safety glasses, and it’s big things like when members complain about a route that you’re able to receive that information graciously and mediate to the best of your abilities. Make sure members feel heard.

 

Ultimately, we have to represent our companies and routesetting in a positive way so that we can break some of the stigma of, you know, the double-digit boulderer dirtbag climber who’s doing this as a way of climbing for a living.

 

If you want to work full-time and you want to pay a mortgage and raise a kid and routeset for a living, you have to bring something else to the table.

 

I think that a lot of focus in past years was on how gyms need to pay routesetters more. And that has started to happen. The follow up is: routesetters need to rise to the occasion as well and do their part to elevate the industry.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  women  work-at-height  workplace diversity 

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