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Natural Awakenings Space & Treasure Coast Florida

Confidence On The Rocks: Rock Climbing strengthens more than your muscles.

Apr 07, 2011 07:01PM ● By Melissa Steinman

The sport of rock climbing started gaining popularity in the 1920s. It was a sport for the extremely adventurous and slightly off base personalities. “Climbing gear” as we know it was non-existent. Most climbers used hemp ropes, and home made gear made from nuts and bolts. The goal: the summit of the mountain. The sport quickly became refined and an industry was born with the sole purpose of making rock climbing safe. It wasn’t until the mid 70s that rock climbing gyms came about. Avid climbers driven inside by harsh weather, bolted plywood to the walls of warehouses and screwed on rocks. Today the rock climbing gym is an industry all itself.

Although the sport has changed, the goal remains the same: The summit. No longer the literal highest point on a mountain, the summit is different for each person. It is each climber’s own success and achievement. Indoor rock climbing allows you to summit every day. While there are many sports that offer gratification and achievement, none carry such a wide variety of benefits as rock climbing.

Working at a rock climbing gym gives the opportunity to work with hundreds of kids each month. Each brings their own excitement and fear to the sport, others bring inspiration to the staff. Peter is one of those that brought inspiration. He was 15 when he first came in to climb. His parents brought him in and watched with skepticism. Peter walked with his head down, avoided eye contact and quickly expressed his concern for his ability to complete the first climb. Sighting the fact that he couldn’t bench press with the other kids at school, he was nearly convinced that he couldn’t rock climb. He hadn’t even touched the wall. We came to an agreement that he would try the first climb, and if he couldn’t do it, we would reevaluate. To his surprise Peter scampered with ease to the top of the wall. For the next hour he took on harder and harder walls. Peter came back to climb the next week. For Christmas he got a harness, shoes and a membership to the gym. His parents learned to do the rope work they had previously paid me to do. They still come to watch, but now the skepticism is no longer in their eyes. After climbing only six months he completed his first 5.10, an intermediate level climb. Peter climbs on our competition team, and no longer takes on climbing with his head down.

Organizations such as Boy Scouts and Outward Bound have been using rock climbing as a tool for many years. Rock climbing encourages confidence in kids by showing them that their goals are reachable. Fears and inadequacies are challenged as the individual pushes themself up the rock face. As kids learn to control their body, natural strength builds. Strength and technique push their summits higher.

In a smaller part of the indoor rock climbing community you find therapy. Because climbing offers a personal victory, a personal success everyday, it is great for children with autism, attention deficit disorder, and more. On the wall of choice, one child can focus. Focusing on the physical chess game at hand, each move, each step, brings them closer to the summit. The accomplishment is theirs and the view from the top is their reward.

Many companies have already found the benefits of facilitated team building. Taking co-workers out of a work environment and introducing them to the challenge of rock climbing brings out strengths and weaknesses. The new environment often breaks previous patterns of communication as the team works to encourage and assist their teammates. While team building allows each individual their personal achievement, it is the teamwork that benefits most. Increased productivity, job satisfaction, and communication are all results of team building events.

It is not just corporations who use facilitated team building, but sports teams as well. Performance on the field is dependent on the skill of each player and how they play together. Skill building is done in practice, but teamwork can be practiced in a climbing gym. Our last team to come in was a soccer team. We were told that talent was abundant on the team, but that they had no leadership. With this in mind we designed a program that would force someone to step up. The morning of the event, 18 well-trained individuals walked into the gym. After a quick stretch and an introduction to the gym we started the games. Team building programs use “games” to bring out different elements in a team. One game might encourage trust building while another increases communication. Each helps bring the group through a process together as a team. As each activity progressed, the leaders came out. They had been there all along, separately.

During debriefing the team was able to identify the changes that they needed to make to play better together. They walked out as one team. A week later the coach came back and said “I can’t believe it only took a day at the gym to make them a team”.

Climbing encourages the development of a fundamental building block for relationships–trust. In many cases the climber is required to trust their partner with their life in a literal sense. While training and proper equipment increase safety, it is the job of the partner to ensure the safety of the climber.

While there are climbing teams, each climb is the work of an individual. Body movements, strength, technique, endurance, concentration and attitude come together enabling the climber to achieve summits, previously thought out of reach. It doesn't favor men or women, but offers an equal challenge to anyone who will accept it.

Melissa Steinman is the assistant manager at On the Edge Rock Climbing Gym at 200 West Drive in Melbourne. In addition to their indoor gym, On the Edge has portable walls available for schools, birthday parties, team building, and special events. Hours of operations are Monday-Friday 11am – 9pm, Saturday 10am – 10pm and Sunday 1pm - 6pm. Climb Time is available for first time climbers where experienced staff guide you in your experience. For information call 321-724-8775 or visit