And a review of the book 'Climbing Games' by Paul Smith (Pesda Press 2009)
No more top-roping the same old routes - the rapidly rising popularity of climbing walls, both for learning and training purposes, has highlighted the question “What is taught in climbing lessons?” and sparked some major changes. Last year MLTUK introduced the Climbing Wall Award to improve, standardize and assess climbing wall instruction. The CWA co-exists happily with a separate new scheme introduced by the British Association of Climbing Walls - the National Indoor Climbing Achievement Scheme (NICAS) - designed to accredit a learner climber's development through five stages of progression, from foundation to indoor leading. These developments are just the beginning, and have been a long time coming.
Climbing instruction is undergoing a renaissance
Jack Geldard recently summed up NICAS as 'like swimming badges for climbing' and his apt comparison draws attention to an important point: why haven't we had swimming badges for climbing before? Guy Jarvis, NICAS Chair, says: “Climbing instruction is undergoing a renaissance. After decades of concentrating on roped safety and glossing over the fundamental skills of climbing movement we are starting to move towards a coaching approach that many other sports developed years ago.”
Some climbers are excellent at monitoring their own development, and some climbing instructors possess a natural talent for retaining the interest and progressing the skills of their students. However, the benefits of a standardized coaching system and resources are clear. According to Steve Long, Chief Officer of MLTUK, some MIAs or MICs have been down climbing the mountain instruction ladder to take the CWA, specifically to benefit from the course's movement coaching techniques modules. No previous MLTUK award has offered these modules.
Rob Adie, Climbing Wall Officer of the BMC says: “CWA holders have the advantage of having movement coaching knowledge, and these skills and techniques will become more and more desirable as coaching and talent development becomes more prevalent.” Hopefully this prevalence of effective talent development will encourage plenty of bright new British rock stars for the future, of the likes of Leah Crane and Ned Feehally.
Great! So now we have loads of CWA qualified instructors, NICAS course providers and happy, progressing climbers eager to learn more. But what new resources are available for instructors to effectively coach educational and fun sessions in fundamental climbing skills, such as movement techniques?
Well, there's Paul Smith's new book, 'Climbing Games', for a start. Paul came up with the idea for the book following an MLTE new providers' induction workshop. As part of the workshop, there was a coaching of movement skills session, in which everyone was asked to introduce a few games and activities that they frequently used while presenting fundamental climbing skills to their clients. As a kayak and canoe coach, Paul knew there was a book of games and activities that supported the learning of a wide range of paddle sport skills and principles and wondered why there wasn't a climbing version.
Using games to coach climbing isn't a new concept, of course. Climbing games have been passed from one generation to the next for decades. As Guy Jarvis explains: “The very essence of coaching lies in understanding that we all learn in different ways and that experimenting and problem solving is necessary to achieve results. Using games is a way of introducing this approach to learning, and can be more effective than the limited 'do as I show you' method.”
However, no-one has thought of the incredibly useful idea of compiling climbing games in a book before. Paul wrote down all the games and activities that he had used successfully with groups in the past and, following discussions with other climbing instructor friends, the list just kept growing.
“Activities that were new to me were trialed with groups that were attending my Single Pitch Award and Climbing Wall Award training courses and improved upon and then I wrote this book,” says Paul.
“The reaction to the book was great even before it was published. Feedback from students on last year's BMC student safety seminar, where I ran 'using climbing walls with groups sessions' was great with everyone (the students, as well as the other staff working on that session!) wanting to know when it was going to be published.
One email I received sums my book up for me perfectly:
'.... on a quick reading it looks excellent. The layout is really clear and the explanations crisp and free of bullshit.' Tim Jepson, Senior Lecturer in Education, Director of Master's Programme at Bangor Uni and a Mountain Guide.
I set out to produce something that you could just pick up and use, and that is what I think I have done.”
Guy Jarvis reviews Paul Smith's book, 'Climbing Games':
“Climbing Games differs from 99% of all other instructional books in that it is not a manual but a tool kit. Its layout suggests not 'read me' but 'use me' and that's precisely what you should do with it.
The book starts with some sound advice on equipment and safety issues then provides a model for fundamental climbing skills, based on the three concepts of balance, body awareness and connection points. It is crucial for effective coaching that the coach has a consistent model for fundamental climbing skills in their head otherwise their sessions will lack focus and purpose. There are several different models of this concept, but the one Paul provides is logical and clear.
The rest of the book contains 127 games laid out very clearly with the minimum of description and lots of useful photos to aid understanding. I particularly like the simple and brief language used to describe the games, as it is easy to understand how they work very quickly. The games are divided into categories to denote their coaching use: balance games, body awareness games, footwork games, bouldering games, roped games and fun activities. Symbols allow coaches to see in more detail what skills the games develop. This is the only book I know of that you can coach with while holding it in your hand, as it is so easy to refer to.
Some of the games are not really games at all, but coaching tips. Some of the games are more appropriate for young children or the more physically able (like slack-lining). However they all work and have a point – unlike some of the rambling descriptions you can get from the internet.
The effective coach will select 20 or 30 favorite games to mix and match, or will get ideas and adapt their own to suit the situation – that's how most of the games were created in the first place. A sound knowledge of coaching processes will enhance the use of these games so that they are not just used in a random fashion. A good session only needs a couple of games delivered and reviewed properly for all to gain the maximum benefit.
I adapt quite a few of the games for young climbers to make them 'friendly and competitive'. Creating team competitions is a great way to get motivation up in a supportive environment. This often spurs them on to observe, practice and repeat more – the cornerstones of training motor skills. Just introducing some hoops or soft balls for example, can immediately enliven a simple bouldering traverse for both adults and children alike. With creativity and knowledge a coach can keep a group going for hours while learning all the time.
Paul is to be applauded for creating this book. Like many of us he was frustrated at seeing new climbers flounder and get bored by just top roping the same old climbs endlessly. He then trawled his own experience and the experience of many other instructors to build this compendium of ideas. The National Indoor Climbing Achievement Scheme (NICAS) is designed to coach individuals in just this way and the book is just the sort of resource we need. I hope that every climbing wall instructor has a copy of it one day - along with a yet to be written book on coaching processes for climbers...”
If you are new to climbing, you will find games which introduce some essential skills (such as 'crimping' a hold – Chapter 10). If you are an old hand, you will find some great games to help add variety to your weekly club sessions (have you tried 'The Octopus'? – Chapter 6). Playing some of these games can become addictive as your friends and rivals find new ways to play. The overview of skills used in each game will help you turn play into progress.
Each chapter deals with a fundamental climbing technique. Some chapters focus on a particular aspect of a climbing session, e.g. the use of foot or handholds, traversing or roped climbing. You can pick and choose activities from each chapter to suit your session and goals. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction, followed by a list of all the activities within that section along with their learning goals. The games are listed in a random order. Many of the games develop more than one aspect of climbing. To help you make the most of them, icons appear beside each title to give you information about the possible ways they can be used at a glance.
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