A Case Study for Coaches to Read by a young climber

I saw this on facebook, I took the time to read it all the way through. Whilst on the one hand you might think what a silly girl. On the other hand in any other sport an injury probably does only last a week. In this post Ailsa catalogues all her injuries, which my word is a lot.

I hope she recovers soon and manages to find a happy medium to her climbing, she seems to have so much enthusiasm which is not uncommon in young people who become struck down with the climbing bug.

I guess for climbing coaches it is linked in a way to my last post of moral responsibilities of coaches. At what point do we turn round and say to a young climber, STOP. It is very hard, they come with bucket loads of psyche, climb loads, they often listen to and respect you and then all of a sudden you the coach has to turn into a version of Dr Evil and say sorry you can’t climb. Emotionally it is draining for both coach and student as nobody wants to take something that means so much to someone away from them, but arguably it is in the long-term interest of everyone.

I guess at times tough love is needed, given that there is so little information on injuries to young climbers. As such it is hard for coaches to know what is best. I have written on this subject before, in that we need to use a precautionary principle. In that it is better to underestimate what training a young climber is capable of then over estimate it and lead to injuries.

Another way to look at it, is it better to have a climber who you make wait until their fingers and bodies a physiologically ready to push hard on routes and boulder problems who never ever wins a competition. Or is it better to have one who maybe wins a few comps but as a result has lasting injuries? Given the level of climbing young climbers are achieveing I am unsure as to whether both winning and staying injury free are possible.

It is very easy for me to cast opinions from the comfort of my own home, but last year I turned down an oppotunity to coach with the North Wales Academy. I turned it down for several reasons however one of which was I felt uncomfortable having anyone under the age of 12 in a club whose premise is elite performance (I thought climbing was a late specialisation sport afterall!). That decision was based on one of the only papers that have studied long term damage by elite coaching. Which highlighted the risk to permanently damaging the growth plates in fingers in young climbers. That paper associated the damage with campus boarding, however as a climber I have never injured myself on a campus board. Instead I have injured myself bouldering or pulling very hard on challenging routes, as such I wonder what damage either will cuase, particularly hard boulder.

Anyway, I hope we can all learn that what might be obvious to us as climbers and coaches is not obvious to our young students. As that is the key to Ailsa story, she needed someone to tell her to stop who knew something about injuries. Hopefully that is what the new coaching awards will offer.

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