This article explores the increasing divide between today’s youth and adventure activity participation. In particular, how we can all play a part in using our local climbing walls to develop not only physical but also a range of environmental, social, psychological, and physical benefits.
Being climbers, we’re likely to be more in tune with the splendors of where climbing can take you. The likelihood is that if you’ve not progressed to outdoor climbing and the associated adventures you may be starting to think about these next steps. However others, particularly in the younger generation have limited exposure to these experiences and as a result adventure activities are increasingly becoming something young people watch rather than experience. Not only is this disappointing, but the impact of this can be far reaching, not just for individuals, but also to society as a whole.
I’m sure you’ve seen a recent four wheel drive advert depicting a family traveling across breathtaking mountain scenery with the two children sitting in the back seats watching a movie on the video screens set in the head rests, oblivious to the natural beauty surrounding them. You may have read that the majority of families that visit Snowdonia travel no further than a few hundred meters away from their car. The spirit of adventure is being suppressed, and young people are missing out on experiences and a range of development opportunities previous generations took for granted.
Awareness of the core issues associated with young people not being involved with activities of all kinds is well documented and often focuses on the increase in obesity. However, there is now increasing research that attributes a whole range of developmental issues, including mental acuity and concentration, as a result of young people being excluded from adventure activities.
Adventure activities inspire imagination and creativity in young people by demanding visualization and full use of the senses. These are skills required throughout adult life. Unfortunately the development and convenience of technology, and the impact of current social changes is stifling these vital experiences for young people. We can now experience not only climbing but mountain biking, fishing, and canoeing from the comfort of our home, we can even order a pizza in for that much needed break. This growing trend encourages isolation and reduces interaction with others, thereby affecting individual development and ultimately contributing to wider societal problems.
What is stopping young people from experiencing adventure activities? Ease of access is a particular issue within inner cities. Development and marketing of alternative inactive leisure activities, as well as the current recession all have their part to play. Fear is also a potent force that prevents today’s youth from experiencing the freedom earlier generations enjoyed. Fear is the emotion that separates a developing child from the full, essential benefits of adventure activities. Fear of traffic, of crime, of strangers and of nature itself.
When discussing a career within climbing, there are usually three reactions that are provoked. Firstly, how anybody is able to have a career in climbing. The second involves telling me about the amazing French human fly that free climbs buildings. The last involves the individual describing a very detailed, moment-by-moment description of the time they went abseiling. It’s important for us to remember and understand how amazing it felt the first time we put on a harness, some funny shoes and insisted on dipping our hands in the white powder bag despite having absolutely no idea what the white powder was and what it actually did.
Wider reach is a term used by the government to attract typically non-participating young people into physical activity. These wider reach activities are increasingly becoming part of the school curriculum and for a very good reason. Traditional mainstream activities including team and ballsports can often exclude individuals, preventing many youths from engaging in exercise and interaction with others.
Not only does indoor climbing provide that all-important exercise, but also social interaction, and team working skills. Climbing can also lead to exposure of longer-term benefits as participants progress to the great outdoors. It manages to achieve this in a variety of unique ways, these include:
The focus of climbing involves reaching a goal; this can be reaching the end of a traverse, boulder problem, or a toproped climb. The problem-solving and technique required to achieve this goal becomes a distraction from the effort and physical exertion that is also required from the participant. Many mainstream sports, for example athletics, have a strong focus on pushing the participant physically, which can discourage others from participating.
Traditional activities can involve being competitive with others, which can be quite threatening. For example,the objective of football and tennis is to ‘Win’ against an opponent. Climbing avoids this, as the challenge is personal to the individual.
Interaction with others comes in the form of supporting each other and is not pressured. Particularly with the young, less-able team participants can often feel isolated and even bullied when other members feel they are not contributing to a certain standard.
Progression can be easily tracked, which improves motivation.
Involvement is not dependent on ability; climbing walls cater for all abilities so there are endless routes to provide a feeling of contribution and achievement. Belaying is also essential which enables individuals of all abilities to work together.
The impact climbing can have on young people can be quite remarkable. Ask any regular climbing supervisor and they will be able to recount individuals that enjoyed their introduction so much, it’s now a regular part of their life. In fact, most of the instructors I work with have built careers from being introduced to climbing by a friend or even going abseiling on a school trip.
We’ve explored current trends preventing young people from accessing the great outdoors and the impact this can have on their development. We’ve also briefly examined the benefits indoor climbing can have in attracting potentially excluded individuals into both climbing and associated activities.
Why is it important for all of us to encourage more young people into climbing? The benefits related to improving young people’s progression into physical activity and particularly climbing, impacts us all. These can include:
Reduction of the increasing dependence on the health service by improving health within this demographic.
Developing a focus for young people resulting in a reduction of involvement in antisocial behavior.
Developing a progression from indoor climbing to the great outdoors, which can create stronger awareness and support of environmental issues.
Increased footprint into our industry to help improve access, improve local climbing facilities and generally improve our beloved sport not only for us, but also future generations.
So what next? This is the simple bit; just introduce a young person to climbing. Indoor walls such as XC in Hemel Hempstead have great clubs aimed at young people and often run ‘taster sessions’ so they can dip their toes in the water. Climbing may become a short-term fad, but equally, it may not. Even if short-lived, it can still help encourage the individual to embrace their fears and explore alternative physical activities. You could have a direct positive impact on a young person’s long-term development, and who knows, they could even become the next human fly!
Damon Clark - BMC London and South East Area Wall Representative / MD Rock Frog Climbing - www.rockfrog.co.uk
This article appears in the August edition of Climber magazine.
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