The secret is out! Climbing is now kinda a thing, and your kid has a real shot at becoming a pro, or at least a serious lifer in the sport. That may mean the 2024 Olympics, sponsorship deals, traveling, or simply years of adventure.
But beware, hockey-dad-turned-belayer: Your kid’s passion can be squashed if not carefully cultivated. Here are nine tips to not f*ck it up.
1) Your kid is not special.
Even if she’s the best of the best, she’s still a kid and will need freedom and structure to develop into a decent human being. That may mean giving her opportunities to play around at the crag or gym, exploring in her own ways. It also means teaching her ethics, like respecting other people’s space, waiting her turn to climb, and in general being considerate of others. Think about your kid’s long-term growth and remember that climbing is just one component of her life. Ultimately, accomplishments will not feed maturity.
2) Don’t force anything. Seriously.
If you’ve been in the climbing world long enough, you’ve seen it: the parent belaying on one end, and the child 20-feet up bawling his eyes out saying he wants to come down. If he wants down, let him. If he’s tired and asks to leave, then leave the crag. And if he wants to keep going, then keep going. The point is that kids need to be self-driven when it comes to sports, especially when they’re young.
3) Show up.
Be there. Kids want to know that you’re proud of them. The best way to show them that is to actually stick around during practice. Watch them send their projects. Belay them, video them, take pictures, whatever. Just be there.
4) Don’t make comparisons.
Do you like comparing yourself to others? Do you think your kid likes it when you compare her to others? Enough said. Kids develop in their own time, so it’s not productive to wonder aloud why Mary can do the climb and Sam could not. Instead, try asking your child what she thinks she could have done differently. Or ask her what she learned from the experience.
5) Keep your child’s focus on controllable things.
That includes the basics—getting enough sleep, eating right, warming-up properly, and, importantly, focusing on his own routine (think back to #4). As kids progress through competitions, they may get nervous or distracted. Giving them a mental checklist for the day which focuses on their own personal processes encourages them to stay present and may even boost their self-confidence.
6) Don’t focus on results.
Competition results are fleeting, relatively meaningless moments compared to the training and dedication it took to get to that moment. Instead, encourage children to focus on how they might develop as climbers and people from competitions. What kind of memories do they want to walk away with? Ask them to choose goals that aren’t related to results, such as “I want to look back and remember how hard I tried,” or “I want to have made a bunch of friends.”
7) Be open with them about your own experiences.
Based on what you learned in chasing your own passions, teach them healthy ways to do the things that they’re motivated to do. You were into soccer as a kid? How did you train to get better at it? What were some healthy takeaways? And how do you apply those lessons in your life today? Remember: monkey see monkey do.
8) Let them try other things.
If they don’t just want to focus on climbing, then sign them up for that football practice or piano lesson. They’re at a crucial developmental phase, so don’t cramp their style with your own possessive goals. Plus, diversifying their activities will actually help them in climbing, especially while they’re young, because it will help them develop new muscle groups, coordination, and body awareness.
9) It is supposed to be fun.
Climbing can be done from age 2 to 90. It’s a sport for life, so let kids be kids. Projecting and even competing are not worth doing unless they are actually fun. Otherwise, games like add-on might be a better alternative. Or just take them to the crag and set up a rope swing.
By the way, as a former World Cup competitor and youth climbing coach, I’ve seen it all. My own parents didn’t have these written out fool-proof tips to mold my young career, but their daily advice stuck with me: “Just do your best.”