Youth Indoor Climbing Programming And Positive Youth Development

The sport of indoor rock climbing has increased in popularity since the 1990s as evidenced by the increase in the number of climbing gyms in schools, health clubs, colleges, and universities (Garst et al, 2016; Larew & Haibach-Beach, 2017). About 5 million youth aged 18 years or younger climb at rock gyms in the United States (Siegel & Fryer, 2017). Any increased popularity of a sport yields increased youth involvement in that sport. Millions of youth will be participating in rock climbing programs during school and after-school programs.

The focus of this literature review is to look at how youth climbing programming can have a positive impact on youth development with the intent of informing coaches and teachers on best practices when developing youth climbing programs.

Introduction to Positive Youth Development

A Positive Youth Development (PYD) program discussed by Roth’s (2004) Youth Development Programs aligns its program goals, atmosphere, and activities to build skills and competencies necessary to optimize youth development (Roth, 2004; Bowers et al, 2010).

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Programs with goals that promote PYD include building youth Competence, Confidence, Connectedness, Character, and Compassion (Lerner, 2000).

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These five categories are described as the “Five Cs”. Program atmospheres that are supportive, empowering, expecting, rewarding, and stabilizing also have a positive impact on youth development. Program activities that build skills, provide authentic activities, and broaden the horizons of participating youth help better prepare them for adulthood (Roth, 2004; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003).

Program Goals

The first characteristic of the PYD philosophy is program goals. Aligning program goals to the “Five Cs” develops personal and social responsibility in youth and prepares them for adulthood (Hansen & Parker, 2009; Bowers et al, 2010).. Youth learn how to care for their own well-being and also the well-being of others.


Building competence in youth climbers includes enhancing their cognitive and physical competencies (Roth, 2004; Garst et al, 2016). Youth gain cognitive competencies such as increased communication skills, increased focus, and problem-solving (Cook et al, 2007). There is an inherent need to communicate when climbers climb with ropes. This discipline of climbing includes one climber who is attached to one end of the rope while the other participant, called the belayer, is attached on the other end. The belayer uses a belay device that increases the friction of the system to better manipulate the rope. Before, during, and after climbing, climber and belayer are communicating. Youth climbing programs can support this communication by focusing heavily on students using climbing commands. Climbing commands are short, simple signals that are used before climbers start climbing. These commands are vital to safety as some indoor gyms are noisy or have wall features that disallow climber and belayer line of sight. Building communication between belayer and climber builds trust and rapport, which support PYD. Beyond learning communication skills, youth’s focus and concentration can be developed by coaches. Hurni (2003) writes that ninety-five percent of climbing is mental. Mental competencies or deficiencies help or hinder a climb. One way to develop a greater focus is by teaching the climber to visualize how they might climb the route before they start climbing. This game plan helps youth maintain focus when the climber reaches the more difficult part of the climb. This also increases problem-solving capabilities. According to Sanchez et al (2012), youth learn and practice problem-solving skills during pre-route visualization (as cited in Garst et al, 2016). They must look at the route before climbing and think about how the holds determine the moves. There are myriad of hold types, textures, and sizes and there are several different climbing moves. Both make the pre-climbing visualization ritual a problem-solving event. Coaches can help develop this skill by asking students to draw a route from memory or by asking them to state aloud the moves they will use, hold by hold. Climbing programs and coaches can help develop these cognitive competencies in their youth climbers to meet the PYD framework requirements.

Youth climbing programs contribute to an overall increase in fitness levels of their youth by improving strength, endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness (Siegel & Fryer 2017; Cook et al, 2007; Garst et al, 2016). Climbers build shoulder, arm, back, and finger strength. Coaches can accelerate the strengthening of these muscles by having youth: climb overhung walls, repeat hard moves of routes, do pull-ups, and use hangboards (Hörst, 2012). Hangboards are mounted pieces plastic or wood with holds attached to them. Climbers use these boards to strengthen fingers. Williams et al (2003) discuss that hangboards are effective in developing forearm and finger strength (as cited in Larew and Haibach-Beach, 2017). Youth climbing programming can also develop muscular endurance. Building muscular endurance includes climbing a lot of easy, long routes. Over time, students will notice they can climb longer without fatiguing. Youth develop greater flexibility through stretching in climbing programs. Hurni (2003) discusses that stretching is meant to prevent injury of muscles and is to be done after warming up. The secondary and tertiary benefits of this activity are increased flexibility and smooth, efficient movement of muscles, respectively (Hörst, 2012). Enhanced muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness can be achieved by having youth: climb laps of a route (Siegel & Fryer, 2017), climb up and then climb down a route for a sustained period of time, or speed climb. Youth climbing games that increase amount of time on the wall and include running from wall to wall can also increase muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Siegel and Fryer (2017) note that rock climbing studies have historically measured fitness using traditional health-related fitness tests and that different tests need to be considered to adequately test performance changes in youth. Youth climbing programming can develop muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in its athletes. With these increased competencies, youth develop a sense of competence essential to navigating the complexities of adulthood.


Building confidence in youth means to improve their “self-esteem, self-concept, self-efficacy, identity, and belief in the future” (Roth, 2004, p. 5). Youth build confidence while participating in climbing programs by recognizing their capabilities, developing greater levels of physical fitness, and building trust with other climbers (Garst et al, 2016). The sport of rock climbing requires its athletes to have a variety of skills such as having flexibility, being strong, or having strong proprioceptive capabilities. Thus, many beginners, including youth, find they are innately good at at least one skill. Over time, many climbers strengthen the innate skills and develop skills they lacked in the beginning. This is most evident when climbers reach a level of physical fitness that allows them to perform moves or use climbing holds they once had not mastered or been able to use. Recognizing this leads to greater confidence and self-concept. This is especially true for female climbers who noted that the sport helped them be strong and confident in and outside of the gym (Garst et al, 2016). Roped climbing and bouldering both create an environment of trust among climbers. In roped climbing, climbers over time learn they can trust their belayers. This happens: when climbers fall and belayers catch them, when belayers insist on safety checks before climbing, and when belayers correct unsafe actions on the wall. Coaches can foster this trust building by training belayers. In bouldering, climbing without ropes, climbers spot each other during tall problems or while the climber performs a move with potential negative consequences while falling. Over time, spotters are trusted when they are present during spotting. Being “present” means spotters are safe distances from the climbers, they have their hands up, their feet are in the athletic stance (one foot in front of the other and bent), and they communicate with their climber through words of encouragement and solidarity. Being trusted to keep a fellow climber safe develops confidence in a climber. This confidence transfers to other areas outside the gym.


Climbing programs strengthen youth relationships with their peers and adults (Roth, 2004). Relationship-building happens during practice and in competition. During practice, youth build camaraderie with peers through shared experiences. Adults, such as coaches and gym patrons, encourage youth, which builds trust and rapport. Youth programs can continue to foster relationships by creating opportunities for adults to support youth by finding mentors to mentor the youth outside of practice. This is particularly important when going outside to climb because there are ethical considerations not taught in conventional indoor youth climbing programs. In competition, the sport of rock climbing is uniquely supportive. Garst et al (2016) discuss that the climbers encourage their direct competitors and want their friends to get the routes just as much as they want to get it themselves. This environment models how youth might develop similar relationships outside of the climbing context.


Youth climbing programs develop character. According to Roth (2004), increasing self-control and developing respect for cultural rules and standards build character. Participants gain more self-control when they reap the benefits of their patience and perseverance (Cook et al, 2007). Climbing also pushes youth beyond their comfort zones. Beyond gaining greater self-control, youth are exposed to the culture of rock climbing with a unique set of rules and codes of conduct. This provides them with opportunities for greater self-accountability and integrity.

Caring and Compassion

Youth climbing programs can develop caring and compassionate youth. According to Hansen and Parker (2009) and Roth (2004), programs committed to this component of PYD improve adolescents’ empathy and responsiveness to others. The development of these traits can be facilitated during the belayer-climber interaction during roped climbing sessions. Belayers can support their climbers with route selection, double-checking knots and harnesses before ascension, and giving advice to their climbers during difficult moves (Hansen & Parker, 2009). These traits can also be learned during bouldering sessions, but must be emphasized by coaches.

Curriculum aligned to the “Five Cs” meet the program goals of the PYD philosophy. This curriculum builds cognitive and physical competencies in youth; improves their self-esteem; strengthens youth’s relationships with peers and adults; increases self-control and respect for societal norms; and develops attentive and thoughtful human beings. These assets will help youth become contributing members of society (Hansen & Parker, 2009).

Program Atmosphere

The second characteristic of the PYD philosophy is program atmosphere. Program atmospheres that “create physically and psychologically safe places with a strong sense of membership, commitment, explicit rules and responsibilities, and expectations for adolescents' success' (Roth & Brooks-Gunn 2003, p. 97) positively develop youth. These atmospheres are operationalized as being: supportive, empowering, expecting, rewarding, and stabilizing. Roth (2004), says, “put in another way, you need safe places, challenging experiences, and caring people on a daily basis” (p. 4). Coaching staff are primarily responsible for creating programs with these qualities.


Supportive youth programs are structured and relational. According to Hurni (2003), young and inexperienced climbers need structured programs so they have focus in the gym. Having focus in the gym helps keep youth from “getting bored and giving up the sport” (p. 2). To create focused programs, coaches determine the type of program they are facilitating based on the goals of the students. Students’ goals vary, from competing in competitions, to learning basic climbing skills, to learning technical skills to wanting to climb outside (Hurni, 2003). Coaches should survey their students and evaluate their students’ physical and technical skills to establish programs goals. Once program goals are established, coaches create lesson plans that meet the program goals. Lesson plans are to be created for each practice and have progressions that are predictable with two or less focused activities (Hurni, 2003). Lessons should be timed appropriately so that there is not much downtime (Hurni, 2003). This will keep youth climbers motivated and engaged.

Coaches create supportive atmospheres by building supportive relationships with their youth, among their youth, and among youth and community members. Hansen and Parker (2009) share that “supportive coach and youth interactions were characterized by the use of first names, informal conversations about what happened during the week, light-hearted jokes, serious goal setting, and sincere answers to questions” (p. 20). This individual attention shows coaches’ care for the youth. This can also be done by being punctual to practice, staying the duration of practice, and staying the duration of the season (Hurni, 2003). Sticking to commitments shows youth their coaches are dedicated and provides coaches the necessary time and contact to develop relationships with youth (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003).

Coaches create supportive climates by facilitating supportive relationships among youth. At the start of the season, and throughout, successful coaches utilize team building activities to help build and maintain relationships among its climbers. Coaches encourage climbers to support others’ climbing by giving words of encouragement during difficult times or by giving “beta”, which is a colloquialism in the sport of climbing for giving advice on how to climb the route. Furthermore, youth can also support each other by helping with equipment, with the belay, or by teaching climbing skills to others (Hansen & Parker, 2009).

Coaches create supportive atmospheres by rallying the community around supporting youth climbing. Coaches can bring in special instructors such as other coaches, personal trainers, yoga instructors, etc. to keep practice exciting (Hurni, 2003). This is especially helpful when the coaches are lacking a technique or skill. They can enlist the help of a professional to show youth what the technique or skill should look like (Hurni, 2003). Coaches can connect with parents of youth to help with carpooling to competitions, getting help with setting routes for youth to climb, with belaying, or with chaperoning. Finally, coaches that are successful at creating supportive relationships for their program involved the local climbing gym staff and its resources. Many gyms are willing to contribute to youth climbing by offering discounts on equipment, free routesetting, or access to physical spaces other than the climbing walls.


Empowering youth programs give youth responsibility and give a sense of hope (Hansen & Parker, 2009). Coaches involve youth in the decision making for planning and program operations (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Coaches can do this by giving youth choices during practice. For example, coaches prepare three games for open climbing at the end of practice and students choose one of the three they want to play. Coaches can also give surveys to their climbers allowing youth to offer suggestions and give feedback on the program. Additionally, youth feel empowered when they are given useful roles with responsibility. These roles are inherent in the climber-belayer relationship and can be expanded to other situations such as having older or more senior youth take on leadership roles during warming up or stretching activities. Finally, give youth the opportunity to give back to their communities through community service (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003).

Roth (2004) discusses that “an empowering atmosphere exists when program staff and activities encourage youth to” … “develop or clarify their goals for the future” (p. 5). To do this, the climbing program should include active goal setting and reflection through individual journaling. At the start of practice, goals should be transparent and understandable to youth. Youth should write one or two individual goals they have for the day. Goals can center around any physical, technical, or mental aspect of climbing. At the end of practice, youth reflect on whether they met their goals. Journal entries should also discuss what worked and what didn’t work during practice. (Hurni, 2003). “Goal-setting instills a climate with a belief that youth are resources to be developed' (Hansen & Parker, 2009, p. 18).


Program atmospheres promote PYD by “conveying belief in adolescents as capable individuals when they communicate expectations for positive behavior by defining clear rules for behavior and consequences for infractions, fostering prosocial norms, and encouraging youth to practice healthy behaviors” (Roth, 2004, p. 5).

Optimal conditions for development exist when coaches set clear rules and expectations and impose consequences for infractions (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). Rules and expectations protect the physical and psychological safety of youth and govern youth behavior. Larson et al (2004) discuss that physical safety involves an atmosphere “free of violence and unsafe conditions” (p. 8). Violence can be eliminated by enforcing rules and designing programs that limit violent interactions and unnecessary stress among youth, coaches, parents, and the community. For example, the rule such as ‘Respect your peers and the physical space’ implies youth will speak kindly of each other, listen to each other, etc. On a side note, coaches must explicitly teach what is looks and sounds like to follow, and not follow each rule; expecting youth to implicity know the rules and expectations will set the youth up for failure. In addition to reducing violent interactions, coaches can also create physically safe environments by teaching and holding youth accountable to the safety rules. This can be done by creating and teaching a safety contract of non-negotiable rules and then having the climbers and their parents sign the contract. The sport of rock climbing is inherently dangerous and it is impossible to eliminate unsafe conditions, but the number of risky situations decrease through educating youth, and providing clear expectations. Rules such as ‘Walk around climbers, not under them’, ‘Use climbing commands’, ‘Double check your partner’, and ‘Inspect your equipment’ all help minimize risk to youth climbers and create physically safer environments for everybody in the climbing gym. Safety is also a psychological phenomenon. The climbing atmosphere should be free of threats and free of harassment (Larson et al, 2004). The rules above, in addition to others, govern the type of behavior that is expected of youth. Rules and expectations regarding behavior among climbers and with respect to climbing (Hansen & Parker, 2009) will need to be enforced through consequences due to infractions to ensure the environment is safe. The coach should clearly lay down the discipline cycle from the beginning so there are no surprises to youth. They should also address problems immediately (Hurni, 2003). Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003) discuss that the most common consequence in youth programming is the loss of privilege of some kind. In the climbing context, coaches can take away open climbing or the opportunity to play a fun game with the team at the end of practice. Somes coaches have students reread the safety contract and make posters of the rule they broke. In addition to imposing sanctions, coaches should have honest and heartfelt conversations with youth who are not following rules. Guardian contact home is a great idea so adults can reinforce climbing rules at home. Sadly, some students who have proven over time that they can not reinforce a safe environment should either be suspended or expelled from the program (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). To summarize, when coaches explicitly teach and enforce rules in the climbing gym, then that environment most positively develops youth.

Optimal conditions for development exist when coaches create environments that foster positive social norms (Roth, 2004). “The group ‘culture’ includes not only the formal organizational culture but also the informal habits and expectations that arise from daily interactions” (Larson et al, 2004, p. 10). These norms are tacitly understood by its members. Programs can teach youth responsibility to support these norms by encouraging youth to embody these norms and to take ownership of them. Coaches can do this by integrating the learning of social and emotional skills in their curriculum. Regardless, fostering positive social norms within a group of adolescents enforces normative behavior through peer influence. (Larson et al, 2004)

Program atmospheres that encourage youth to practice healthy behaviors are most favorable. Healthy behaviors emphasize injury prevention and diet. As discussed earlier, youth are expected to consider physical and psychological safety, but they should also be encouraged to ponder their own physiological safety. Youth can be categorized as being prepubescent, adolescent, and late adolescent and each stage encompasses a series of physiological processes happening in the body. These stages need to be taken into consideration to prevent acute and chronic injuries when youth train and climb. “It is up to the coaches and parents to guide and educate young climbers in their training, climbing, and competing” (Greshman and Leonfellner-Tappin 2017:4). Coaches can: teach different types of grips that prevent fractures or legions in the growth plates of fingers of growing youth; limit high-intensity, repetitive exercises to prevent arthritis in the future; and plan activities that condition youth and work antagonist muscle groups to prevent injury. Coaches can also include parents by having them record the weight and height of their climber monthly. A change in height helps target growth spurts when the risk of injury is high. (Greshman & Leonfellner-Tappin, 2017) A change in weight helps identify if the youth is getting sufficient nourishment.

Program atmospheres promote PYD when coaches set clear rules and limits, foster prosocial behavior, and encourage youth to consider their own physiological health.


Program atmospheres that are rewarding promote PYD. Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003) and Hurni (2003) suggest that coaches should offer incentives and rewards when youth meet team and individual goals, follow rules and expectations consistently, work hard, or simply participate. The most simplest and least expensive of rewards can be to give youth: access to novel activities, open climbing at the end of practice, or items donated from climbing companies. When youth consistently regard rules and expectations with consistency and maturity, coaches can give youth access to new skills and responsibilities which in turn will empower youth. Larson et al (2004) state that “empowerment involves gradually increasing freedoms and responsibilities as young people mature. Through a technical lens, youth may be allowed to start learning the skills of an advanced type of climbing, that requires greater focus and greater technical aptitude. Youth may also be allowed to help design activities for practice or gain access to lead younger groups of climbers. There are a variety of activities that can reward and further empower the young climber. Some rewards are more complex and expensive such as hosting parties, organizing outside climbing days, or giving away awards at a banquet. Include youth to help organize these larger commitments. Regardless of the type of incentive or reward, Hurni (2003) reminds us not to “forget to reward your students for working hard” (p. 22).


Roth (2004) shares that programs that “provide services that are stable and relatively long-lasting” are most efficacious in preparing youth for adulthood (p. 5). A stable atmosphere is consistent and predictable and is majorly influenced by the coaching staff. Coaching staff that are punctual to practice, stay the duration of the season, and rarely miss practices create consistent atmospheres for their youth (Hurni, 2003). When staff miss practice, then they should tell their team ahead of time and find a substitute that can follow through on program goals. Coaches also create consistency by carrying out predictable progressions and training techniques with fidelity (Hurni, 2003). Each practice should have predictable beginning, middle, and end activities. One example progression includes communicating the goal or goals of the start of practice, followed by stretching, then warming up, then completing the focus lesson or lessons, journaling, and finally open climbing the last fifteen minutes. There should always be back-up plans, should something change (Hurni, 2003). When routines and systems are consistent, program goals can better be met because both youth and staff understand what to expect and are efficient in their implementation. Youth also feel comfort in knowing what is coming next. Finally, coaches can create stability by limiting the number of students they coach. An optimal number is six to eight climbers to one adult (Hurni, 2003). Having more than this proves to reduce efficacy and thus reduces the chances of meeting program goals. If more students want to add, then add a coach for every six to eight students, but do not exceed eighteen students total. Any more than eighteen youth climbers total will reduce wall and route availability for the youth and also for other climbers in the gym.

According to Bronfenbrenner (1999), long-lasting programs through the PYD lens must have activities that: meet on a regular basis over an extended period of time and strengthen social bonds among young and between youth and coaches (as cited in Fraser-Thomas et al, 2005; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). To meet PYD framework, youth climbing programs must meet at minimum nine months out of the year and once per week (Roth, 2004; Hurni, 2003; Garst et al, 2016). There is a positive relationship between competencies gained and the number of practices youth attend per week. Hurni (2003) discusses that youth who climb once per week generally focus on relearning techniques during practice. Climbing twice per week maintains climbing skills and climbing three times per week yields the development of new skills. Youth who climb four days per week learn and become proficient in new skills at the greatest rate. It is this same population, however, that are at a higher risk of sports-related injuries and athletic burnout due to training volume (Fraser-Thomas, 2005). If gains want to be met in fewer practices, then coaches will need to increase the length of practice or assign homework outside of those sessions (Hurni, 2003). To meet program goals, climbers should be in the gym longer than two hours, but no more than four hours per session (Hurni, 2003). Thus, coaches will need to consider the duration in months and the intensity in minutes per week when implementing a youth climbing program to best meet program goals and to main stability.

Adolescents need stabilizing environments to “engage in physical, cognitive, emotional, or social growth” (Larson et al, 2004, p. 9). These environments are defined as being consistent and predictable. Coaches are the major players in creating these atmospheres. Furthermore, programs that meet over nine months and meet regularly during the week create consistency in routine and foster relationship building among young and between youth and coaches, which in turn creates atmospheres to support youth development.

Program atmosphere impacts the development of youth. Climates that are structured and relational provide youth necessary supports to grow. Environments that include youth in decision making and reflective activities empower youth. Communicating rules and expectations, supporting positive social norms, and encouraging youth to act healthfully provide expecting atmospheres. Providing rewards and incentives for hard work and regard for the rules and norms of the team create rewarding environments. Meeting for at least nine months and weekly provide stable environments for youth to engage. Program atmospheres are a major factor in determining whether a youth program prepares participants for adulthood.

Program Activities

The third characteristic of the PYD philosophy is program activities. Program activities that build skill, are authentic, and broaden the horizons of youth optimize youth development. Regardless of the type of activity, Roth (2004) reminds us that activities can be educational, but they must be presented differently than in schools.

Skill Building

Many youth programs focus on building skills in specific domains such as rock climbing or violin playing. In order for these same programs to be considered youth development programs, they need to “encourage learning in other areas” (Larson et al, 2004, p. 11). These programs need to use curricula that teaches the focus competency, like rock climbing, and also habits and life skills to be utilized in adulthood. According to NRCIM (2002), programs need to explicitly design and teach these developmental skills (as cited in Fraser-Thomas et al, 2005, p. 21). Firer and Brehm (2019) agree and suggest that teaching five social and emotional competencies to youth will not only impact their lives, but also their success in competitive, high-level climbing situations. The first competency centers around self-awareness. Young climbers build self-awareness when they can take inventory of their strengths, and areas of improvement, and positively reflect to improve (Firer & Brehm, 2019; CASEL 2019). This skill is critical when learning technical rock climbing skills. Areas of improvements can be liabilities, and without proper understanding of one’s weaknesses, they can put climbers at great risk. The second skill is self-management. youth build this skill when they “effectively manage stress, control impulses, and motivate themselves to set and achieve goals” (CASEL, 2019, par. 5). Firer and Brehm (2019) discuss teaching young climbers breathing techniques for use during the most difficult part of the climb, also called the crux. Social awareness and relationship skills are the third and fourth social competencies. Youth with these skills have empathy for different perspectives and have the ability to communicate their ideas harmoniously (CASEL, 2019). “There is no better place for teamwork, communication, and empathy than practicing falls” (Firer & Brehm, 2019, par. 10). When climbers fall intentionally (and unintentionally), they enter into a implicit contract with their belayers and those contracts state, ‘You are going to catch me.’ After falling, and successful catching, climbers and belayers build trust and support for one another. Reflecting on and debriefing this activity with youth allow for the surfacing of emotions which provides opportunities for youth to build empathy with one another. The fifth and final skill explained by Firer and Brehm (2019) and CASEL (2019) is that of responsible decision-making. This competency encourages youth to make choices based on ethics, safety, and social norms (CASEL, 2019). Responsible decision-making is the essence of reducing risk in the sport of rock climbing.

Providing Authentic Activities

Climbing programs that focus on developing youth provide authentic activities where “youth engage in real and challenging activities” (Roth, 2004, p. 6). Authentic activities such as community service and youth leadership positions (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003) allow youth to rehearse transferable life skills and “make climbing relevant in their everyday lives” (Firer & Brehm, 2019, par. 13). Community service opportunities, such as volunteering at open house events, allow youth to build relationships with the broader community and gain social capital (Larson et al, 2004). Volunteering at local climbing crags to clean graffiti, remove invasive species, or restore trails gives youth the knowledge of land ethic and thus cultural capital. Furthermore, volunteering affords youth the chance to contribute and give back to the climbing community. Besides engaging in acts of service, adolescents can further develop their skills while assuming leadership roles. Coaches can elect to have team captains or have more experienced youth teach less experienced youth. Captains can help identify needs and set goals for the team, influence daily progressions, and help reinforce prosocial norms (Larson et al, 2004). Programming that provides youth with authentic activities allows youth to apply the life skills learned during the program.

Broadening Horizons

Youth programs that broaden the horizons of its participants positively develop youth. Activities that broaden the horizons of participants give youth opportunities they might not otherwise have and provide safe environments to practice learned skills (Roth, 2004). They also challenge students to go beyond their personal comfort zones (Cook et al, 2007). The best way to provide youth with a novel climbing experience that broadens their horizons is by taking them outside to climb. Youth can apply the physical, metal, and technical skills learned in the program to a new, similar, yet different situation outside. Climbing outside expands on these competencies and also introduces them to news skills utilized outdoors. Youth experience a different form of climbing and the nuances the new form brings, which is an experience that will prepare them for adulthood. Finally, the outdoor climbing, and its community, impart knowledge to youth regarding expectations related to land ethic and the “leave no trace” principle which will transfer to environments outside of climbing.

The PYD philosophy can only be realized when coaches consider the program activities employed. These activities should build competencies in social and emotional learning, be authentic and challenging, and broaden the horizons of youth.


Youth climbing programs can fulfil the requirements of the PYD philosophy if the program goals, atmosphere, and activities are in agreement with the philosophy. Youth climbing programming can have a beneficial impact on youth development, should the above content be considered when implementing or designing curriculum. Greshman and Leonfellner-Tappin (2017) discuss how “the field is young and research is still minimal, so we should strive for sound knowledge and share ideas and experiences, both good and bad” (p. 4). According to The Outdoor Foundation (2013), around 1.2 million youth aged six to seventeen participate in climbing (as cited in Garst et al, 2016). With indoor rock climbing making its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics, the sport and youth programs of its kind are likely to increase in popularity at unprecedented rates.


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