Ten Years a Climbing Comp Volunteer

Article by ClimbScotland Director and veteran competition volunteer

How it happened

I attended my first Scotland South Youth Climbing Series (YCS) round in 2008. I’d like to say as a spectator but the competition took place at the Wall in Callander which, if you’ve ever visited, you will know is really just a big cupboard, so we didn’t’ get to see much climbing. What I did get to witness though, as I sat with other parents in the corridor, was a sport that was very inclusive and supportive and that my daughter loved. It also relied totally on volunteers.

Back then there were 3 age categories: 8-10, 11-13 and 14-16. We averaged 36 competitors a round in the South, and competitions were set by the Area Youth Co-ordinators (AYC) who pulled in favours from their friends to get things done, and sometimes we would still be at the wall at 7pm.

A big thank you to all the AYCs over the years, who include
  • Ruairidh Mackenzie (North) from the start!
  • Steve Hammond (North) 2010
  • Anna Wells (North)
  • John Donaldson (North) 2012 - current
  • Neil McGeachy (South) from the start!
  • Dave Berry (South) 2008
  • Simon Tait (South) 2009
  • Scott Forsyth (South) 2012 - current
  • Avril Gall (South) 2012 – 2019

In 2009 I witnessed the AYCs struggling to work out series winners because the scoring system didn’t work out countback, so in 2010 I helped create the Scotland South YCS Scoring Spreadsheet and took on the role of scorer and administrator for YCS and SYCC. Then competition entries were paper based so there was a lot of faxing of forms from the staff at Mountaineering Council of Scotland (now Mountaineering Scotland) and interpretation of handwriting. Today’s online booking makes this process easier and quicker, except when parents mistakenly enter themselves into the competitions.

In 2012 I took on the AYC Scotland South role as a job-share with Scott Forsyth. Fellow climbing parent John Donaldson took on the North role, most recently ably supported by his wife and son, further proof that climbing is a great family sport.

Over the past 8 years Scott, John and I have done the bulk of the administration and on-the-day management for the YCS rounds and Scottish Championships (Bouldering, Routes and Speed) leaving Mountaineering Scotland Sports Development Officer Kevin Howett to manage the hiring of walls and setters and organising sponsorship and prizes.

YCS Changes over the years

In 2012 the YCS moved to IFSC categories which meant an increase in groups from 3 to 5 and Finals teams from 18 to 30 members. There were 11 teams in the UK so potentially 330 finalists. The only wall that could cope with that number of competitors and spectators was Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA:Ratho) and so began a string of finals based in Scotland.

In 2016 team numbers were increased to 12 to accommodate the growing number of participants in London & South East, giving them 2 teams, but 360 competitors was too much, so for 2017 teams were re-organised on participation levels, meaning Scotland could only have one team in the UK and Ireland Final. As the majority of Scottish competitors wanted to retain North and South Region qualifier rounds we had to introduce a Scottish Finals Team Selection event to the calendar. There was also a move to Mountaineering Scotland directly employing setters to create the problems and routes for competitions. This permitted more setting and shorter competition times but also increased the cost of the events.

2018 saw the rest of the UK change their YCS structure to single discipline rounds. Feeling we didn’t have the necessary facilities to accommodate this change, Scotland stuck with its two regions and old YCS structure. We did adopt the single discipline format for our Scottish Finals Team Selection, extending it to two days of competition to give the competitors a feel of what to expect at the UK and Ireland Finals.  

The Rise of the North

In 2012 Round entries were averaging 50 in the South and 35 in the North. Over the years participation in the North has rocketed to an average of 67 in 2019, while South has hovered around 60.

The Coxey Effect?

The big change has been the gender profile of our participants, with an increase in girls, particularly in the Youth D and Youth C categories.

Wall Squads

In 2009, my last year as a parent at the YCS as my daughter qualified for the GB team in 2010 and was prevented from participating, the majority of participants attended with their families. There was a handful of family driven clubs, but few wall squads dedicated to competition climbing. Nowadays our competitions are awash with squad hoodies which can be a bit intimidating for new participants. While it is great to see an increasingly professional approach to climbing coaching, these ‘drop and go’ session mean the parents attending our competitions don’t always have the skills required to help run an event and so the recruitment of volunteers is an ongoing challenge.

Increasing Costs

People often ask why entry costs to our competitions are more than those run by BMC. The answer is simple: our competitions have to be self-supporting. Unlike BMC competitions that receive support from the membership fees, it was decided at a Mountaineering Scotland AGM several years ago that our competitions needed to break even over the year.

As we pay our setters fees and expenses, walls an entry fee for each competitor, have to buy trophies/medals and cover administrative overheads, we have to set charges to cover this.

Mountaineering Scotland's change to using paid setting teams came initially as a request from the host walls, but this move made a huge benefit to our competitions. Before this the routes were set by the host walls, and were set, often taping or chalking existing holds, and by setters who didn't know the ages and sizes of the kids attending.

We now have quality control over all the routes set, knowing that each is being set by very experienced setters. We now rarely have superfinals and the routes are designed better for children of different ages and sizes who have to share. It has also helped professionalise the competition setting scene in Scotland.

Generally sponsorship comes in the form of prizes, which is welcome but does not offset the various competition overheads.

Future Challenges

Climbing walls are commercial businesses. The rise in the popularity of our sport means that their losses are increasing if they have to shut to the general public to host one of our events and not run their kids’ clubs and birthday parties. We need to achieve a balance that benefits everyone.

With the rest of the UK committed to the single discipline (Bouldering and Routes) YCS structure it will be interesting to see how the Scotland team gets on at this year’s UK Finals. As a combined Scotland we have good depth of field and strong climbers in most categories. The question will be whether lack of familiarity with the new structure will put our climbers at a disadvantage and whether the two days of competition is too much for everyone involved.

Check out the results from the YCS Finals here:


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