The hidden benefits of climbing – I watch as a brother and sister come towards the climbing wall, the younger sister walking just half a step behind her brother, her eyes glancing up, looking for reassurance. He stares straight ahead, excited and nervous by the challenge of the wall.
Stood by the barrier ready to put their harnesses on the girl chats nervously to Annie, the instructor, the boy silent, contemplating, maybe more nervous than he is letting on is still staring at the wall. Annie chats to the brother and sister and the two older girls that were joining them for climbing. The older girls were giving strict instructions to their Dad to make sure he got a photo when they were at the top. Annie’s ability to make conversation with everyone creates a familiarity and helps the climbers to relax. It also gives her the chance to learn more about the climbers to be able to coach them individually once they are on the wall.
Annie’s safety talk is detailed, but, muddled with funny anecdotes, keeps all their attention. The brother looks at his sister and suddenly a huge smile appears on his face. The nerves have subsided to excitement and now he is ready to climb, to conquer his fears and try his best. His sister jumps up and down excited and also ready to face her personal challenges. After final safety checks Annie lets them climb. Each child tries to race as fast as they can suddenly finding it more difficult than they anticipated. With a few careful coaching points Annie slows them down and gives them some tips, all before they have got to a meter of the floor.
Annie responds to each child differently, with carefully chosen words of encouragement, coaching tips and challenges. I watch as the younger sister contorts her body to reach around to a different hold pulling herself up further than she had been last time. She shouts out to her brother exclaiming that she was higher than him. He laughs and challenges her to get to the top. She does just that with her new confidence she pushes herself the last few climbs and squeals when she reaches the top.
The brother looks up at his sister and sibling rivalry sets in. He can’t be beaten by his younger sister, even if she is on the ‘baby side’ as he puts it. He looks at the climb again and asks Annie which foothold he should start on. Already seeing the climb differently than the initial scramble that wasn’t very successful.
For both of the children they have had fun climbing. However they are probably unaware of all the other benefits and developments that have happened. The sister learnt to be independent, to overcome obstacles, to set herself challenges. She learnt how to use her arms, legs, body and hands in a different way than before. Her older brother also learnt about overcoming fear, listening skills, problem solving and encouragement of others when someone else has done well. All of these skills are vital life skills. Climbing is amazing fun but is also a tool for personal, physical and emotional development.