Midwest Training Mecca

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Coach Hoffart and team. Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy
Coach Hoffart and team.  Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy
Coach Hoffart and team. Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy

Coach Tyler Hoffart loved coaching but was tired of crowding his youth climbing team into the local gym, Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, Minnesota, fighting members for space and ropes in order to train his athletes.

Like most climbing team coaches, Hoffart had to balance the needs of his team with the demands of the gym’s members.

“[Vertical Endeavors] is very popular and many, many people climb there,” Hoffart told CBJ. “This is a good thing in many ways and the energy is high, but trying to teach/mentor/coach kids in this situation is far from easy or effective.”

After years of coaching, Hoffart got a little nudge from the coach of Team Texas, Kyle Clinkscales, one of the most successful youth climbing coaches in America. At a competition the two were attending Clinkscales posed an important question to Hoffart about the future of his role as a coach.  Hoffart recalls that Coach Kyle asked him, “Do you have a plan Tyler? You know, of how you could make this a career? You seem like a great coach, you are really good with kids. But I see lots of coaches come and go, coaches better than me.”

That inquiry was all it took for Hoffart to start thinking of ways to get out of the gym and into his own training center. Thus was born the Midwest Climbing Academy. The Academy is one of only two dedicated climbing training centers in the US. The other is Team ABC in Boulder, Colorado which opened the doors of its own facility in 2012.

The Academy features 3,100 square feet of roped terrain which includes a 40′ tall by 36′ wide lead wall and an official 10 meter speed wall. There is also 3,100 square feet of bouldering with a moveable boulder dubbed “Andon the Sandcrawler”which can be moved outside on those fleeting midwestern summer days. “We are small, but what we have really packs a fun punch,” said Hoffart.

Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy
Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy

Team Training

Modeled after Team ABC and other European training centers, Hoffart and his two other coaches hope to achieve the same success that Team ABC has achieved.

The Academy has five levels of training teams (both competitive and pre-competitive) for youths ages 6 – 19. Each Academy team member goes through a tryout that the coaches use to determine which team the young athlete should join. The Academy will take all kids regardless of experience, even those who have climbed only once before.

But for Hoffart the Academy is more than just a place for kids to get strong. “Comp climbing is not everything to us. More importantly, we want to build strong youth, whether they are competing or not, so that they can take on the rest of life with confidence,” Hoffart said.

Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy
Photo: Midwest Climbing Academy

Not Your Average Gym Membership

Both the Midwest Climbing Academy and Team ABC’s climbing training centers are less like traditional climbing gyms and more like private gymnastic training centers. They are not open to the public (or have limited public time). They also are not open to groups or birthday parties.

Without these other revenues, training facilities have to rely solely on team member dues to cover their expenses. For most gym owners this seems like a risky strategy, but Hoffert is not worried. “Just like a gymnastics center, we believe we can be successful on team fees,” said Hoffart.

The annual fee for the Academy’s lowest team level is $1,020 and fees go up to $3,825 per year for their elite team. This upper tier is higher than most climbing team’s annual membership dues, but it’s hard to compare the experience of training in a dedicated space with professional coaches and routes set specifically for each age group. For parents looking for the ideal place to take their children’s climbing to the next level, it may offer the perfect investment.

Why Training Facilities May Be The Future

Since Team ABC opened their training facility their team has come to dominate the youth competition scene, and coaches across the nation have taken note. Some may attribute their success to the unique style of the ABC coaches, but one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having a dedicated training facility.

Team ABC has yet to spawn a slew of copycats, but it has made just about every coach who trains in a crowded climbing gym think about how nice it would be to have their own team facility. Meanwhile, more gym owners are challenged with how best to serve their regular customers and growing youth team within a limited space.

In the coming years, coaches and managers at traditional gyms will need to take a good look at the feasibility of opening a dedicated training center. They need to ask: Are their enough youth climbers in our area to support a training center?  Will a training gym reduce the conflict between our team and regular customers, and can our gym support more members to offset the loss of team dues? How much additional revenue would a training center produce?

They should also weigh the possibility of other coaches following the lead of Coach Hoffart and creating their own training center nearby.

If Hoffart and his team do inspire other entrepreneurs they would be happy with the result. “If we can be a part of a trend which sees young people all over the country becoming very strong young people through climbing AND people who know how to properly mitigate and manage risk; well then, we’d be a lucky bunch indeed,” said Hoffart.