Reflect on it! Why Processing Training Will Improve Performance
A phenomenon that we often see when working with climbing programs is a lack of time for reflection. Coaches and facilitators have limited time with their with young climbers, and practices are so jam packed with activity that by the end, there's no time to reflect on what each climber accomplished. Climbers will often trickle out as practice ends or go straight to being told by a coach how they performed and then closing out practice.
At Headwall Group, we have found that building reflection into a young person’s experiences is essential to their social and skill development. This is especially true in rock climbing.
Reflection is key for a few reasons:
- Reflection allows climbers to make meaning out of their own journey through climbing, evaluate their own progress, and make plans for their own improvement. This level of autonomy increases buy-in.
- Reflection allows young climbers to link together all their climbing experiences into one progressive experience, as opposed to isolated practices, competitions, or events.
- Reflection allows young climbers to self-monitor. As a coach, you can only see so much. By building in reflection, young climbers begin to apply a critical eye to their own experience and by using thoughtful prompts, you can give climbers the tools to chart their own plan towards progress.
There are two types of reflection that will help enrich your climbing program: ongoing reflection and debriefing. Ongoing reflections are quick and easy ways to help young climbers think about what they are doing during the experience. Debriefing is a way to wrap up a practice or climbing activity that will prompt climbers to evaluate their progress and carry that into future experiences.
Ongoing reflection is easy to build into your practice. After a few sessions where it is consciously planned, the process will become natural to climbers and become part of their expectation for each practice or experience. Here are a couple creative and quick examples of ongoing reflection during a practice.
A very easy way to build reflection into practice is to formalize coach check-ins. Require that climbers come to you after each route, boulder problem, set of reps on the campus board, etc. and answer a very quick prompt. An easy example is: What was one thing you were doing well? What needed the most improvement? What is one technique we’ve covered that would help you improve on that?
Pick A Card:
Another quick check-in uses playing cards, an easy prop that a coach can keep with them. As you are moving around monitoring your climbers’ progress, find the time for each climber to choose one card out of a deck of cards. That card will indicate what they need to respond to you with. A Heart card is something they are succeeding at. A Diamond is something valuable they have learned from this practice. A Spade is something they are digging deep to improve upon. A Club is a frustration or area they are struggling with. The number gives an indication of how much the coach will follow up on the answer - a general guideline is the number of follow up questions you will ask to the climber, after they identify their answer. For example, a three of clubs means the climber will identify an area they feel frustrated with and the coach will follow up with 3 more leading questions to help the climber reflect on that one-on-one.
While ongoing check-ins allow climbers to think about their experience relatively quickly and in the moment, the goal of debriefing activities is to create space for climbers to come together and process their experience as a group retrospectively. You don’t have to sacrifice climbing time to do this if you get creative. Here is an example of a great debriefing activity that uses climbing.
Activity Name: HORSE in the Mirror
Objective: In this version of the popular game HORSE, climbers try to recreate difficult moves. In a twist, climbers will be answering questions related to the practice.
Equipment Needed: Traverse Wall
- Coach will introduce the game by naming the activity to support the theme of practice. For example, POWER - if the team was largely training power moves or FOCUS - if the team was working on mental training.
- Climbers will line up at the designated Start Hold.
- When the coach says “GO!” the first climber will begin by making a challenging move.
- When the first climber completes that move, the second climber immediately attempts to recreate it. If they fail, they receive a letter: in our example a P would be the first letter.
- If a climber receives a letter the coach will ask them a directed question related to the theme of practice. Ex. In our practice, was there a time when you lost focus? What helped you regain it?
- If a climber makes the move, they get to make up a new move of their own.
- The game may be modified to allow a climber who falls more than once to choose another climber to answer questions.
How to Instruct: Most climbers will be familiar with Horse and will understand the basics of this game. Make sure to emphasize control and pre-teach that this is a reflection activity. Emphasize that they should still be focusing on using proper technique while making challenging moves, and make sure all climbers are listening to responses.
- Safety is paramount. Pre-teach safety precautions before starting.
- Come up with a themed name before you start to ensure it’s topical.
- Prior to starting practice, be sure to have a list of questions that you want to ask to ensure they will support your goals.
Headwall Group at CWA Meetings
Want more tips, tricks, and strategies to implement in your youth climbing program? Don't miss the Headwall Group at the upcoming CWA Meetings!
About The Author
The Headwall Group distills the lessons learned as educators and leaders working in dynamic and high risk environments and brings them to youth-serving organizations. The Headwall group provides trainings, consultation, and curriculum development services that are rooted in our experience as outdoor experiential educators for climbing gyms, summer camps, and schools.
The Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is currently the Director of Outdoor Programs at College of Idaho 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.