Last weekend I went climbing with my young niece. She took to it immediately. With little fear, a lot determination, and weighing next to nothing, she did wonderfully. There were times at the beginning when she got nervous – when five feet off the ground she asked me to lower her down. But as the morning wore on, she got higher and higher, and more and more confident. She kept at it, she got better and I think I had more fun watching her scamper up the holds than I do when I am climbing myself.
Being in the gym with a child brought home that climbing is, at base, pure play. Like all play, it can teach us things about ourselves without our even knowing it. Sure we adults focus on ratings, hand strength, and how long we can hold a dead hang on the finger board. But all of that is just an extension of the play. We work the finger board, or watch what we eat, to make the act of climbing more fun. To solve harder problems, to increase stamina, all so we can play more.
By working at the play, we learn things about ourselves. My niece may not have realized it, but she was learning that to get good, you need to put in the time. That because you failed on the previous attempt does not mean you will fail again. That while the wall is high, you make it to the top one hold at a time.
These are the lessons that play and sport teach us. Are they corny? Perhaps. But I often need to be reminded of them and the lessons go down easy when they are learned messing around in a climbing gym.
Speaking of working at play, here’s a video of some kids killing it at a bouldering competition.