Indoor Climbing Programs Assessments: A How to Guide, Part 2

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In our last blog post on assessment, we outlined the stages of program assessment necessary to align what is happening in programming with the mission, vision, and goals of our climbing programs. By incorporating the formative, ongoing, and cumulative assessments outlined in that post, we provided a starting point for programs to get a clear and comprehensive picture of where they are succeeding and where they need to improve.

READ NOW: Programs Assessments Part 1

Reasons to Have Caution with Staff Assessments
  1. Bias
    If we “trust our guts” in assessing staff, we risk allowing our personal biases to creep into our assessments. Having a systematic and thoughtful staff assessment system can reduce bias in staff assessments, and consequently important decisions like promotions, raises, and leadership positions.
  2. Program Consistency
    By developing a clear and communicated staff assessment system, we inform staff what we expect from them and create consistent expectations across all program areas and staff
  3. Staff Development
    Without clear expectations, it is unfair to expect staff to know where they need to improve or ask for resources to professionally develop. A consistent assessment process allows staff the opportunity to develop.
  4. Organizational Accountability
    When assessing staff performance, we learn a lot about organizational support and development. The staff assessment process can expose blind spots, organizationally, and allow your gym to address underdeveloped staff and managerial support.

What Does A Staff Assessment System Look Like?

At Headwall Group, we highly recommend beginning by identifying four-to-five Technical Competencies and four-to-five behavioral competencies that are “must haves” within your program. 

Examples of technical competencies: 

  • Youth Group Management skills
  • Safe Belay Technique
  • Lesson Planning
  • Clear Instruction 
  • Mastery of Climbing Technique 

Examples of behavioral competencies: 

  • Communication
  • Inclusion
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Good Judgment

For each of the competencies you identified, consider what they look like in your program and develop a rubric.

The rubric should identify behaviors at three levels of competency:

  • Exceeding Expectations
  • Meeting Expectations
  • Not Meeting Expectations

Download The Free Example Rubric Here Here


Youth Group Management 
Lesson Planning 
Delivers Clear Instructions to Participants
Mastery of Basic Climbing Technique

Always uses a robust repertoire of group management techniques to maintain organization and safety and to engage participants during lessons 

Creates robust lesson plans for each lesson and organizes them in a lesson plan archive. Lesson plans allow for flexibility and consider multiple variables

Always provides clear instructions using more than one modality, repeats expectations, checks for understanding 

Demonstrates Mastery of climbing technique and provides examples for participants 
Uses some group management techniques some of the time during lessons and keeps participants engaged 

Creates a basic lesson plan outline for each lesson that allows for flexibility

Provides clear instructions but does not always check for understanding or teach using multiple modalities   Describes but does not demonstrate basic climbing techniques for participants 
Not Meeting Expectations
Does not use group management techniques and does not maintain organization during lessons  Does not prepare a lesson plan for each lesson  Does not provide clear instructions  Unable to describe or demonstrate basic climbing technique for participants 


Problem Solving 
Sound Judgement 

Always follows communication protocols for participants, families and managers 

Includes all participants and modifies activities to make them accessible to all participants 

Solves all problems that arise swiftly and independently and involves only relevant people 

Assess situations, makes the best decisions with the information available to maximize the possibility of a safe, positive outcome 
Communicates clearly but does not follow proper communication protocols  

Always ensures all participants and co-instructors feel included in all aspects of the program 

Attempts to solve problems independently and occasionally needs support from managers  Assesses situations and attempts to make the best decision possible
Not Meeting Expectations
Does not communicate clearly or follow communication protocols  Does not take action to ensure all participants are included in every aspect of the program  Does not attempt to solve problems, always needs support from managers  Does not consider information available before making decisions 

These rubrics can be useful in multiple ways:

  • You can share this with all staff to initiate an evaluation cycle.
  • These can be used as meaningful observational assessment by managers
  • These can create a great self-assessment tool to facilitate dialogue
  • They allow for constructive feedback during an assessment cycle
How Do I Implement This?

Once we have developed a clear rubric, based on technical and behavioral competencies, we need to enact staff assessments. This requires several phases:

  1. Inform staff
    Let your staff know the expectations, how they were developed, and how the assessment will look
  2. Create an open culture
    et staff know that their management will be assessed on the same terms, and provide a space for staff to assess upward
  3. Provide an opportunity for self-assessment Before providing any feedback to staff, provide them with the rubric and allow them to assess themselves, this creates buy-in and will allow employees to improve and focus prior to their assessment
  4. Provide managerial feedback
    Management can observe staff and fill out a rubric or sit down in person to review self-assessments and provide clarity
  5. Create action steps
    It is important that assessment leads to action. Make sure that you take assessment data and help individuals or groups professionally develop, provide peer support, or work to develop performance plans
  6. Reassess
    After taking the time to assess, be certain to follow up and continue a cycle of learning

In our next two blog posts, we are going to dive deeper into the idea of technical and behavioral competencies, and we can hire, train, and assess using a competencies model to build a culture of safety in our organizations

If you are interested in learning more about program assessment, reach out to discuss!

Don't Forget to Download the Free Rubric!

The Headwall Group has made their rubric open to use for climbing professionals like you

Give It A Try Here

About the Headwall Group

Pat Brehm and Bix FirerThe Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is an Associate Professor of Outdoor Studies at Alaska Pacific University and has worked as a wilderness educator, trainer, facilitator, and experiential educator for over a decade.

Pat Brehm works as a professional organizational trainer and has spent his career as a climbing coach, facilitator, and outdoor educator.