Hörst kids progress


28 March 2013

Team Hörst (Cameron, Lisa, Jonathan, and Eric) at Miguel's Pizza, Red River Gorge, KY.
Jonathan powering up the relentlessly steep 40 Ounces of Justice (7c+), Red River Gorge.
Mom belays 9-year-old Jon on a 7b at Maple Canyon, UT, summer 2012.
Cameron (2) throwing a pass as Quarterback of his championship football team in Pennsylvania.
Cameron climbing his 3rd 8b+ at age 11, Private Halfenheimer, Ten Sleep Canyon, WY.
Eric (age 49) training in the family home gym. Team Horst trains here 3 to 4 days per week.

Eric on the 1987 FA of Diamond Life, the first 7c+ at the world famous New River Gorge. Between 1986 and 2002, Eric established more than 200 routes here.

Cameron climbing the uber-steep The Madness (8a+), RRG. This 38m route overhangs nearly 20m.

Eric Hörst, author of training for climbing books with worldwide sales over 300,000 and father of two sons 10 & 12 who both have done a 8b (+) gives us some insight on kids progress. 

8a: Your sons, Cameron (12) and Jonathan (10), are world-class climbers for their age—what advice can you give parents on how to start climbing with children?
Climbing with children demands a completely different mindset than going climbing sans kids. The only way a child will have fun--and fall in love with climbing--is if they physically engage in a lot of climbing (as opposed to standing around and watching mom & dad climb all day). This means parents must make their own projects secondary, and spend much of the day setting up routes that the kids can enjoy, experience, and learn from. This means mom and dad will spent much more time belaying than climbing. I feel sad when I see parents bring their children to the crag only to let them sit and play in the dirt while the parents climb all day—this approach will likely teach a child to hate climbing. My wife and I, of course, aspire to climb a few routes each day—and on a good day send a project too!—but we put the kids ahead of ourselves. Rule #1: Kids get pumped first! (Adults climb while kids rest.)

8a: What about travels with children?
Climbing is a family activity for us, so we travel extensively with the boys. It takes extra effort and it can be stressful at times, but it’s also very rewarding for both the kids and parents to travel to new crags and experience many different kinds of climbing. In terms of learning climbing skills, these travels are one of the keys to “hard climbing kids” (good coaching is critical, too). Climbing indoors and at just one or two outdoor crags is very limiting in terms of imparting new skills and developing good technique. Although weather, time, and finances limit us, we strive to take our boys to new climbing areas every season—we make it a point to do some trad climbing each summer as well (the boys have already climbed at places like Yosemite, Devil’s Tower,  and the Gunks). There’s emerging research that there’s a “skill window” between the age of 8 and 12 during which kids can best develop motor skills, wire the brain, and—perhaps most important—influence genetic traits, such as muscle fiber type, enzyme and hormone production for speed and strength, etc. Doing the right things during this brief window, in terms of training and experience, appears to be a huge factor in shaping the future adult athlete. (Once the window closes you may never catch up.) It’s a rich subject that I can’t really expand on in a short answer…but the concept helps us understand the importance of youth climbing experience and why becoming an “Adam Ondra or Alex Megos kind of climber” is only possible given very early exposure to the sport.  Rule #2: Expose your child to different types of climbing and travel as often as possible—these trips are rich experiences that will yield many wonderful lifelong memories for child and parent alike!

8a: What age did your boys begin climbing?
We have a large home training room, so it was natural for the boys to start playing around on the wall soon after they mastered walking. At age four, they begin doing some easy outdoor toprope climbs a few days per month, in additional to playing around on the home wall a few days per week. Both boys did their first outdoor sport leads before their seventh birthday. Per the “skill window” concept above, I made a point to bring them on more travels and expose them to many different types of climbing movement beginning at age 8. This is also the right age to begin on a somewhat targeted—though not over-the-top—training program to nurture their natural climbing talent. I must stress that we also exposed the boys to many other sporting activities so as to make them as “physically literate” as possible before the closing of the skill window. Both Cam and Jon ski in the winter and play American football during the Fall season, so they have a few months break from high-frequency climbing. I feel that a climbing off-season and some involvement in another sport is important—age 10 is much too young to train year-round like a pro climber!  Rule #3: At age 8 to 12, begin to broaden your child’s climbing skill set and get them good coaching; but also expose them to several other sporting activities—who knows your child might be the next David Beckham!

8a: So then, what do your 8b+ climbing sons do in terms of training? 
If I told you…then I’d have to kill you! Seriously, since my boys are so young it’s been my training goal to build  “sound, well-rounded athletes”, not world-class climbers. Again, it’s my opinion that single-sport specialization is best delayed until the teenage years. That said, developing climbing skill (mental, technical, and physical) demands a significant amount of time spent climbing. Toward this end, we train on the home wall for about two hours, three or four days per week; when weather and time allows, we climb outsides a couple weekends per month.  Since Cam and Jon both play football, we also do two football training workouts per week. These one-hour sessions involve lots of push-oriented exercises, jumping, and sprinting, and fortuitously, these workouts serve them well as “antagonist training” for  climbing. The result, I hope, will be a very balanced musculature and reduced risk of the climbing injuries common to the adolescent growth spurt and hard-climbing adult years ahead of them. Most important: we keep the training fun with various climbing games and training metric challenges (sadly, most now involve the boys kicking their coaching dad’s arse!).
You can read more about youth training in an article I wrote for DPM last year.  Rule #4: Youth training and climbing must always be fun—there should be no crying when the child fails on a route! Parents should mandate a “break from climbing” if the child begins to take things too seriously or begins to feel like training is a job.

8a: How much more progress can we see for the future kids?
As for the future for 10 year olds...perhaps some tall youngster will eventually do 8c at age 10, but reach is certainly a limiting constraint. The Red River Gorge is made for kid climbers, since there are often small holds and intermediates (that an adult struggles with or might even skip) and the routes tend to be endurance oriented rather than powerful, although there are certainly exceptions. But when the current generation of kids crushers (and there are many, both in the US and abroad) hit their growth spurt (age 13 - 16) anything is possible...and I imagine one of these kids will someday soon beat Adam Ondra's record for youngest 9a+.

8a: What is your next plan and what do you hope for your sons?
This summer we'll climb throughout the western US...and next summer hopefully climb in Europe. Ultimately, I hope we can continue to explore and experience the vertical world as a family, meeting many people along the way and sharing in the spirit of climbing. Long-term, I hope that Cameron and Jonathan will remain passionate about climbing and become "climbers for life" (as I am). Of course, I hope they will also come to excel in other aspects of life. Climbing equips us with powerful mental skills that can be leveraged to excel in other aspects of life...and so I hope my boys will learn to wield the power of climbing, both on and off the rock!

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