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Archives > August 2014 > Climbing Walls Build Community

Climbing Walls Build Community

A university recreation center is built with the desire to offer something for multiple user groups. Ultimately, its function is to create a community on campus-a location where everybody feels welcome to work out, play, train, learn, and hang out with other community members.

By: Kimberly Prager

To create a facility like this, a university strives to encompass the needs of every student with a complete variety of skill sets regardless of their fitness goals, strength, endurance, etc. So, why add a rock climbing wall?

DOES MY UNIVERSITY NEED A CLIMBING WALL?
As new recreation centers are built and old ones are remodeled or expanded, climbing walls are commonly becoming centerpieces. Not only does a climbing wall provide a university with a focal point or a marketing piece to attract new students, but it also allows universities to offer additional courses, recreational experiences, and programming to its students. As the popularity of rock climbing increases, so too does the ability for the average person to experience this activity in a non-threatening, controlled environment.

For a person who is not into mainstream sports, group fitness classes, or individual training, they might not normally come into a fitness or wellness facility. Rock climbing offers a unique form of fitness that attracts additional user groups to the facility. This creates an off-shoot based on this user group identifying with other outdoor recreation interests-backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, and winter sports.

The climbing wall, and the community surrounding the climbing wall, can act as a catalyst for an entire outdoor recreation program to start on campus. Along with an outdoor program such as this comes leadership development skills. At many universities, students have the opportunity to team-teach recreation classes, lead outdoor trips, and train future leaders.

Many other classes and organizations on campus can benefit from having a climbing wall on campus. The act of belaying (holding a climber with a rope using a specific technique) causes the climber to literally put his or her life in the hands of another. Should they slip while climbing, the belayer is the one who catches them. No amount of teambuilding activities can substitute for the natural trust relationship that is present within rock climbing. 

WHAT BENEFITS DOES ROCK CLIMBING OFFER?
If a university recreation center is only available for use by its students, this limits the amount of facility programming but allows the facility to focus specifically on the needs of its students. In a facility that is available to students as well as to members of the community, the programming options are infinite and need to be constantly evaluated, adjusted, and planned.

Climbing challenges both body and mind and helps to develop muscles-even the hands and forearms. There are not many other activities that could truly be considered a full-body workout. A climber must engage his core muscles while coordinating his footwork and hand position. Meanwhile, he is focusing on his breathing, concentrating on his balance, while at the same time mentally planning his next move and clearing his head of negative or distracting thoughts that might impede his ability to get his next move. Climbing attracts active people both old and young, experienced and new, students and community members.

NOW THAT I HAVE ONE, WHAT DO I DO WITH IT?
In addition to being a great marketing asset and showpiece, a climbing wall allows an array of money-generating program options. The sky really is the limit regarding what a recreation center staff can do with a climbing program. For a university that offers a few evenings of "open-wall" hours and expects students to come use the facility, that is not enough to create a vibrant user group. In the same way that a recreation center strives to build a sense of community with its offerings, a climbing wall programmer and operator needs to build a sense of community.

Naturally, as an incoming class comes to the school, the rock climbing wall generates new interest, and students are excited to be a part of the climbing community. If no programming is offered to attract and entice this group and keep them interested throughout the school year, climbers will often drop off and the wall could sit empty- like a giant pinnacle of unused space.

On the contrary, there are many universities who successfully operate their climbing wall and have an entire thriving climbing community. Things like competitions, route-setting, and special evening events like black-light climbs are all examples of events that get students motivated to be a part of what is going on at the climbing wall. Rock climbers have the mental challenge of trying to figure out the puzzle and piece together the moves to make it bottom to top on a route. Once they have figured out the route and have done it a few times, the route is old news and they are looking for that next new route, the next thrill, and more excitement. To create this dynamic environment, a facility needs to have a staff not only to operate the climbing wall during open hours and ensure that people are doing things correctly, but also to set routes. By changing routes often and creating new routes, you provide a limited amount of time by which people must figure out the problem, or it will be gone off the wall and something new will be up in its place. You also offer that ongoing next project for climbers to figure out, which creates buzz.

If you are going to open your wall up to community usage, you can offer climbing sessions for things like birthday parties or scout groups during specific non-student hours. By staffing these sessions, the wall can generate income that can be used toward new handholds and route-setting labor to keep it new at the wall without increasing student fees to pay for it. It also allows students to practice teaching and instructing, work with local youth, and interact with the community overall.

Events such as competitions or special evening functions are programs that can be advertised around campus for students to sign up for. Climbers from other local gyms, universities, and the overall community can be invited, and-with a cost involved- these events can generate revenue as well which again is outside your student fees. The programming ideas are endless and can be dreamed up by the students of the climbing community making them THEIR events, allowing them to create buzz and excitement.

The ultimate goal of any university climbing wall is to create a community within a community. A vibrant climbing community helps with retention of students and further builds the recreation and wellness center community as a whole.


Photography provided by Nicros 

 

 

About The Author
Kimberly Prager

began climbing outdoors in Southern California at age nine. She has worked at Nicros Climbing Wall Systems since 1999 and is currently in sales of handholds and climbing wall panels. She has designed and taught a variety of different rock climbing program offerings. Learn more by visiting www.nicros.com.

 

 

 

 

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