I'm starting to write a bit more about some of my experiences from coaching a youth climbing team. I’ve been coaching the local USA climbing youth climbing team for the last two years and I want to share some of my thoughts on this. I have a lot to learn regarding coaching, but I feel like I also have a few nuggets of wisdom to offer.
Our team has had some competition outcome success, but great success in building an awesome team dynamic. The kids work hard, have a positive attitude and push their boundaries.
So how have we established a great team rapport? We have great kids first of all, then we help keep them on a good path by asking them to follow these team rules. It’s really tempting to get fancy with these rules, but in doing so, they lose some potency. I keep them simple.
Climbing on this team is a privilege, to participate on the team, you need to do the following:
- Work hard
- Be coachable
- Include everyone
- Encourage everyone
- At least three times per practice, step into the learning zone:
A bit about the learning zone concept—the word “terror” sounds fear based, but I think of it a bit more broadly. It may be fear, like fear of falling, but it might also be physical, meaning a climber is working on a route way over their head and therefore unable to make progress. Learning zone means you’re pushing your boundary, but not so far beyond your boundary that you’re over your head.
I ask kids to work hard. We don’t sit around during practice. We don’t get on cell phones. Whatever the goal for that practice is, I ask that they stay focused on it. Of all the rules, I have to remind the kids of this one the most.
It’s critical that the kids are open to being coachable. All climbers should be open to coaching. We always have something to learn. (The same is true for all other aspects of life too).
We include everyone because I’ve witnessed some teams where cliques get established and kids feel shut out. I don’t want that on my team, and I watch the dynamic carefully. I also mix up the partners sometimes if we’re rope climbing to allow shared experiences across all team members.
Youth climbers are really good at encouraging each other. We encourage anyone that’s pushing a boundary, regardless of where that boundary is in the big picture. It’s awesome to see when they break through to the next level.
If a climber follows these rules for a practice they will certainly have a successful one. To help reinforce this sense of accomplishment, at the end of practice I will sometimes ask one or more kids what they did during the session that they are proud of. I like doing this because it gets them thinking about what they did well, it helps them have a positive self-perception, and it holds them accountable to the standards of the practice.