“Mr. Luke, do you play Fortnite?,” one summer camp kiddo asked me.
Questions about obscure (to me) video games, surprisingly in-depth answers to What’s your favorite mythical creature? and references to the Internet’s greatest meme hits — there are many kids in EVO’s Youth Programs that, once you get them on a given subject, it’s almost impossible to get them to stop. After hearing these conversations it’s easy to stereotype these kids as classic nerds and geeks, and to assume that they run on the social fringes at school. This often isn’t wrong.
But what draws these kids to the sport in the first place, even before they get to pull on that first piece of plastic in the gym?
Humans are made to climb things, even the most cursory web search of ‘babies doing cool things’ will back up that claim. But there’s more to it than that — Rock climbing is just plain cool. For many kids it evokes the type of action reminiscent of the video game heroes and heroines that they spend so much time avataring at home. Climbing even the shorter walls of the gym’s family friendly area can make one feel like they are the star in their own video game, with all the adrenaline and intellectual stimulation of gaming plus the added bonus of physicality — a key component missing from a day of sitting around playing whatever platform is popular these days.
Climbing attracts intellectuals who eschew team sports and could be, by school-grade stereotypes, labeled as geeks and nerds. We enjoy the mental/physical puzzle solving stimulation that rock climbing provides.
Once kids become hooked on indoor climbing, there are some amazing benefits to sticking with it. For one, climbing pushes limits. Even the most seemingly fearless child is forced out of their comfort zone when making a difficult move high off the ground. Secondly, beginner climbers see a steep trajectory of progression. I’ve watched kids make personal bests every time the enter the gym for their first three months in Youth Programs. That positive feedback, stemming from their own personal triumphs, combined with encouragement from instructors and parents, builds self-confidence, a willingness to fail and try again, and, ultimately, grit and passion. I am privileged to see kids, often the ones who are not typically classified as “athletic,” grow into confident athletes who reap the physical and mental benefits that come with the pursuit of mastery in this sport.
Rock climbing is certainly not the only engaging, individualistic sport out there, and I wholeheartedly suggest parents facilitate trying out as many sports as possible, but its benefits and action-emulating nature make it a great fit for kids who aren’t into the typical team-sport scene.
I used to be that kid with his head buried in a Michael Crichton book, a Game Boy or one of my dad’s stash of comic books. If I’m being honest, I’m still a pretty voracious reader and would totally still play Game Boy if I had one. I tried out a few team sports when I was younger, and, for one reason or another, none of them stuck. It wasn’t until I began climbing that I found direction in my life. I fell in love with all the aspects mentioned above, plus it was –and still is– a great excuse to get outside and communicate on a very real level with the nature around me.
My point: Climbing is cool.
If you haven’t yet, take your kid to a local climbing gym and let them try it out. Better yet, enroll them in an after school session or summer camp and let them try climbing with other kids their age, facilitated by instructors who love the sport and work to pass down their passion and knowledge to the next generation of climbers.
“Mr. Luke” McTighe is EVO’s Programs Director, Head Kiddo-Wrangler, and Master of Eating Moxie bialy bagels “with salmon and all the fixins.”