NEW ARTICLE: NICAS - National Indoor Climbing Achievement

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 UKC Articles 19 May 2009
[Claudia Hesleden earning her NICAS, 2 kb] has a new series covering climbing/instructing qualifications.

Do you know your MIA from your SPA?

The first article is about NICAS:

NICAS is a series of certificates achieved through indoor climbing. It is mainly aimed at young people. It is a bit like earning your swimming badges, but for climbing.

Guy Jarvis, who designed the scheme, explains how and why it works...

 3leggeddog 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

I knew this was going to happen; climbing being sucked in by a similar culture to canoeing and kayaking - all certificate centered rather than climbing for the joy of it.

I sadly predict a future where walls, insurance and maybe even crags are only available to the "suitably qualified"
 Chris the Tall 19 May 2009
In reply to 3leggeddog:
How many swimming pools are limited to those with swimming badges ?
How many cycle routes are banned to those who don't have a cycling profeciency test ?
How many internet forums are banned to those who can't spell profeciency ?

These qualifications are aimed at kids, so it would be financial suicide for any wall to turn away adults who are not "suitably qualified". They are also entirely based around indoor climbing, so will never apply outdoors
 UKB Shark 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: It is a bit like earning your swimming badges, but for climbing.

Why not give them badges ? Kids love badges - you could design some really covetable funky ones - that would up the participation rate.

 Morgan Woods 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:

i had thought that NICAS was just for people who want to teach climbing indoors so thought the article was quite useful. If it's aimed at young improvers then i think it's a good thing, it should give them some structure and something to aim for. So long as they know it's just preparation for the main event.
In reply to Morgan Woods: Hi Morgan, glad you found it useful.

I myself didn't know much about NICAS, so also found it interesting. Looking forward to having Guy Jarvis on the forums on Thursday to answer a few questions.

3leggeddog - I'm sure many people share your concerns - but overall I think the scheme looks like a great idea.

 Chris the Tall 19 May 2009
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:
Is the wall in the pic Ratho ?

Never been there, but my eyes are drawn to that wall/slab in the background which looks like natural rock
 wushu 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: I think the scheme is a great idea, it's used for the young people at my local wall where i help out and they seem to really enjoy it, since it gives them a sense of achievement and something to work towards.

I was wondering though will it be eventually used to bypass inductions at climbing walls around the country, so that eventually you can tell a persons climbing ability from the level they are at?
 fimm 19 May 2009
In reply to Chris the Tall:

I think it is Ratho - which was built inside a quarry. There are some bits of rock still showing, but the last time I was there (I don't go very often) you couldn't climb on the rock(!); so I'm intrigued by the line of clips in the photo.
In reply to Chris the Tall: Yep, thats the Sardinian Pillar at Ratho. The stuff in the background is quarried and is I think now covered by one of the new walls
In reply to 3leggeddog: The walls aren't using it as a qualification. Climbing has changed. Young people find it harder to access climbing through the club system as they used to and climbers are more concerned about teaching friends and friends youngsters to climb/the demand outstrips the willing (yes, that's a pity). So rather than let it lie as it was (lots of random taster sessions that may or may not have led to anything) NICAS was created to help give beginners a little structure. Its note the be all and end all of their climbing. Youngsters/other beginners can still progress as they want but they cans set themselves some goals and discover climbing as they go.
Is it the same way I learnt to climb? No.
Do I think its automatically a bad thing because it involves badges and certificates? Also no - because it was written by committed climbers and had a lot of feedback at early stages from the BMC and MCofS.
 Chris McDaid 19 May 2009
In reply to AlH:

From the article.... "The reason NICAS came about is that, unlike most other sports, rock climbing didn't have a national structure of development and accreditation for climbers to work towards"

Why do climbers have to have "a national structure of development and accreditation to work towards"??? Absolute nonsense. Some people obviously have way too much time on their hands.

 steveej 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles: sounds like a good way for walls and instructors to make more money, at the detriment to the spirit of climbing. climbing is different to kayaking / scuba diving et al due to the lack of these proficiency based achievment awards. The people who are keen to find a way into climbing, will find a way without proficiency training. I wonder what happens when they passed all their tests? i am sure they still face the same barriers to climbing outdoors as mentioned in the post above. i hope these awards stay low key and are prediminantly aimed at kids, not splurging over as they have done for a lot of other pursuits.
 steveej 19 May 2009
In reply to AlH: there are more young people climbing than ever before. Why do you think it is now harder for young people to access clinbing though the club system?
 petestack 19 May 2009
In reply to steveej:

Because 'climbers are more concerned about teaching friends and friends youngsters to climb/the demand outstrips the willing'?
In reply to Chris McDaid: They don't 'have to', but neither is there any reason there shouldn't be? The award is aimed predominantly at young people but there was no reason to exclude adults. Working at walls and outdoor centres I've seen many people come along, have a quick taster and then have little or no way of accessing further opportunities to learn more and go further. The club system rarely offers an avenue for under 18s these days and most adults learn through walls who started to develop their own in house progressions for both groups.
NICAS is a way of allowing people a way to develop, a map to follow as they start climbing. Level 5 is about stepping outside of their experience up to then. From there they can go on and follow their own route in climbing with a good grounding in basic skills (albeit indoor specific but many of the skills are transferable).
So 'absolute nonsense'? I know 1000s of kids participating would disagree. Many teachers and youth workers now perceive climbing as an activity that they can introduce young people to which they can develop in rather than just experience as a one off.
We often hear criticism of 'wall bred' climbers and youngsters who are into comps and bolt clipping from climbers with an appreciation of our rich climbing history and culture. Take a look at the Guidance notes for Trainers of Level 5:
'Knowledge of outdoor climbing
Candidates are expected to have an appreciation of rock climbing on real rock and to understand how it differs from wall climbing. Trainers should place indoor climbing and its development into the wider context of the UK climbing scene. This could take the form of a discussion, sharing experiences, a slide presentation, the use of film or a practical session outdoors if appropriate. Candidates do not need to be taught how to rock climb on natural crags as this is beyond the remit of the scheme. Advice could be given as to suitable courses/ ways of gaining experience for motivated candidates who wish to progress beyond the scheme. Trainers should explain the difference between sport and traditional climbing.

Background knowledge
Candidates at this level need to know more about the background and context of UK climbing. Trainers should explain the styles, ethics and history of the rich variety of climbing to be had in the UK and abroad. Slide shows and videos could help with this. The UK grading system should be explained. Candidates should also be introduced to the role of the relevant home nation Mountaineering Council.

The way ahead
Finally candidates should be advised about the options for the way ahead. Further training courses, the competition scene, National Governing Body instructor awards, careers in climbing related industries, the UK club system and information sources should all be discussed.'

So whilst this is an indoor award the walls are trying to connect climbers who are introduced through walls to the rest of the climbing world too. Don't forget the people overseeing the award are climbers too and care about the future of climbing in the UK. IMHO NICAS will only contribute to that positively.

Anyway Guy can answer your questions more effectively than I can - ask him


In reply to steveej:From personal experience I've seen many, many young people experience climbing as a one off. I know that many of them would lke to do more. I know that the existing club systems/parents mates are insufficient to cope with the numbers who might be interested (the debate on whether we should encourage many people into climbing is a seperate issue - IMHO we should). I've spent years trying to point parents and young people towards routes into climbing and NICAS is the most effective I've seen for coping with large numbers of keen people.

Also the issue of 'badges' being used as a barrier or a 'qualification' for personal climbing is one which a lot of thought went into when the scheme was being designed. Everyone involved has said that this is undesirable the whole way through and would be a misuse of the awards.

Those who think that it is 'just a way for walls and instructors to make money' are falling into the classic trap of forgetting that Instructors are climbers too. From the word go this WAS a way of increasing participation. But it WAS equally a response to a frustration at a lack of a route to climbing for many people too.

Note I'm not on the NICAS board, I'm not even delivering it personally at the moment - though I recommend it to walls I advise. These are just my opinions and recollections of things as the award has developed.
 steveej 19 May 2009
In reply to AlH: i fail to see how an indoor award scheme offers a route into climbing. what happens when they finish the award scheme?
 Michael Ryan 19 May 2009
In reply to steveej:
> (In reply to AlH) i fail to see how an indoor award scheme offers a route into climbing. what happens when they finish the award scheme?

Or during it? Perhaps they go climbing outside, god forbid. Or maybe some decide just to stay inside.

It's their call, not yours.

Seems to me that the scheme offers a great way to learn about climbing. I'm sure many thousands will take it and go on to have great climbing adventures all around the world.


Mazza 19 May 2009
In reply to UKC Articles:
I think its quite a good idea as it gives younger climbers a bit more guidance which is sometimes lacking when you start climbing. This is different for everyone obviously. If you live in the Peak and your mum and dad go climbing all the time, obviously you won't have to potter around the wall paying ridiculous prices for inductions and what not, but not everyone is in the same boat. For example no one I knew climbed or even knew anything about climbing when I started at 13. My local wall used to run their own scheme which was similiar: basic, intermediate and advanced awards. We used to learn rope skills, safety tips, gear advice and have to climb certain routes or grades to pass the award. For us it was great fun and really motivating having something to work towards, had I not had the awards I may not have been so keen to always climb.
As long as it doesn't affect the general ethos of climbing as the article says, it seems like a good thing.It isn't necessarilly about grading and assessing everyting either, just maybe having an aim to work towards and having a better idea of where you're at when you start off.
 steveej 20 May 2009
In reply to Mick Ryan - but they can do that without an award scheme Mick! Am I making decisions for other people by expressing an opinion - I don't think so. People who want to climb outside will climb outside no matter what.
 Mark Stevenson 20 May 2009
In reply to various:There are a lot of people here who fail to fully appreciate that indoor climbing is a superb SPORT that that people can and do pursue without ANY interaction with outdoor climbing.

Finally those involve have decided that it is time to treat it as a serious independent sport and produce a STRUCTURED and FORMALISED way for youngsters to be introduced, develop and excel in it.

If we take the swimmming analogy, we would think it madness if formal instruction for young people stopped routinely as soon as someone could swim 10metres with arm bands on, and they were just told, "you can now swim, go swimming by yourself". That has basically been what has been happening with climbing, kids have been taught to belay and that for many has unfortunately been about the sum total of formal training they have received.

The idea of a structured progression with the aim of encouraging and enabling kids to lead climb at the highest levels that they can aspire to, must in my opinion be good for climbing. NICAS has taken tried and tested concepts that other sports use and tailored them to climbing. As much as I hate 15 year olds burning me off at the wall, as a patriotic climber I WANT to read about British teenagers, not just foreign ones onsighting f8b or harder.

However, hand in hand with this, there is also the question of qualifications for staff and instructors. Going back to the swimming analogy, we would probably be rather unhappy to find that kids where having swimming lessons in a pool where none of the staff or lifeguards had any qualifications related to swimming. However this is common place in climbing walls on the basis that it's all ok because the manager paid someone who has never been assessed on their knowledge or competence with regards to indoor climbing, to come in perhaps once a year and and sign to say all the staff are competent. I am playing Devil's advocate but the situation was/is absurd when you look objectively.

I am confident that in the longer term NICAS along with the CWA, a teaching of leading module and the development of coaching qualifications for climbing will put the development of the sport on a much more sustainable path. I'm not sure about everyone else on here, but it'd be great to see more kids getting into climbing and I'd rather like it if the best competition climber in the world was British once again.
In reply to steveej:
'i fail to see how an indoor award scheme offers a route into climbing. what happens when they finish the award scheme?'
Did you read the section from the handbook? It s the instructor's role to make them aware of climbing, its history, traditions and ethics AND routes to take their climbing further. Many will be able to take advantages of other courses, be pointed at local clubs that do exist, make friends who can take them out or even go and learn themselves with a little advice and a good book.

'(In reply to Mick Ryan - but they can do that without an award scheme Mick!'

Yes they can, but many aren't.

'Am I making decisions for other people by expressing an opinion - I don't think so. People who want to climb outside will climb outside no matter what.'

I think you are perfectly entitled to our opinion. I just happen to disagree with it. 'People' often don't get the chance to climb outdoors or know how to go about doing it (this is based on working at 3 large commercial climbing walls and numerous outdoor centres). NICAS gives them an excellent grounding in climbing and points them at where to go next.
As Mark says, those that want to perform to a high level are now beginning to get the support to do so - but I know lots of people who just want to go climbing and this is one way of helping them do that.

 Morgan Woods 20 May 2009
In reply to Mark Stevenson:
> As much as I hate 15 year olds burning me off at the wall, as a patriotic climber I WANT to read about British teenagers, not just foreign ones onsighting f8b or harder.

Me too Mark but they won't be doing this if they only climb indoors. I think one of the dangers of an award like this is that it might foster an indoor only culture in this country. Fortunately, as AIH pointed out above regarding the Level 5 guidance notes, this doesn't seem to be the case.
 frost 21 May 2009
In reply to AlH:
so maybe a follow on award for multi pitch trad, then Scottish winter, and finally an alpinism award.
for those that need encouragement surely its the obvious step,after all something similar worked in eastern Europe producing great climbers.
 Michael Ryan 21 May 2009
In reply to frost:

All questions on this thread:

Q&A - Guy Jarvis of NICAS - ....... NOW LIVE ... Ask Away

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