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Our Members: How Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou Makes Kids into Elite Climbers

Posted on: July 16th, 2012 by Abbey Smith

Robyn Raboutou introducing children to climbing

Robyn Raboutou introducing children to climbing.

Like tiny bees swarming a honeycomb, Boulder’s Team ABC has been attacking local and national competitions and world class climbing areas with frightening strength, intuitive movement and absolute enjoyment. Their queen bee, the renowned climber Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou has fine-tuned her methods over two decades and developed a complex curriculum that’s shaping the youth generation into elite all-arounders. And now this colony of kids just got their own plastic kingdom in Boulder, Colorado. ABC Kids Climbing is a 7,200 square foot custom-built climbing gym designated for 2-19 year olds. Robyn’s husband and successful wall builder Didier Raboutou utilized every inch of space, climber/coach/craftsman Mike Auldridge did the woodwork and Ben Cook tackled most of the welding. There’s a giant boulder surrounded by 16-24 foot walls on all sides, an adventure course hanging above, and a 500 square foot room designed for kids ages 2-7 years old and additional training. [Check out photos of the Grand Opening of the space.]

“We are excited to create a space that is designated to this new generation of youth. We are offering something that is new and innovative. We will also have family climb times so that kids can share their passion with their friends and family.”

ABC is also licensing their authenticated methodology that can stand alone or integrate into an existing climbing gym. “We’ve already made all the mistakes and we are ready to share our success with others,” says Robyn, who is still climbing as hard as ever. Planet Rock in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Momentum Climbing in Sandy, Utah are now offering the ABC Kids Climbing program.

During the final days of construction, Robyn shared her vision with AAC friend Abbey Smith:

Abbey: How did you get introduced to the sport?

Robyn: My high school boyfriend got me into the sport of climbing. The boyfriend didn’t last long but my love for climbing did!

Abbey: How has climbing changed for you over the years?

Robyn: Didier, my husband, and I were professional competition climbers. We climbed all over the world before before we got married. When our two kids Shawn and Brooke were born, we decided to create ABC Kids Climbing. Now they are climbing competitively and having a lot of fun with it!

Abbey: Why did you shift your focus to training the youth?

Robyn: I love kids. I love working with them and training them. I love watching them benefit from the camaraderie of the team. I love their focus on health and being physically fit. It’s amazing to watch kids pick a goal, focus on the goal and then learn from the experience whether they reach that goal or not. Kids are amazing. Coaches who are new to working with kids tell me all the time how energizing it is to work with youth. They are super positive. I think it is great that I can go to work and be with my kids Shawn and Brooke. The “new generation” of climbers is the future of climbing and I think it is a privilege to be there to see it form and to take a part in it.  

ABC Kids Climbing. Mike Auldridge Collection

ABC Kids Climbing. Mike Auldridge Collection

We are building this facility with kids and training in mind. Our new space will prepare this new generation and the others how to climb outside responsibly and how to compete responsibly. We are also proud to present our “Monkey Pavilion,” which is dedicated to the development of the very young child, ages 2-7.

Everything at ABC is kid-specific. The routes are set for kids by route-setters specifically trained for route setting for kids. This is an important and separate skill from route-setting in general or route setting for adults. You have to understand not only how kids climb and kids bodies at their different ages and stages but also how they think. You’ll hear a lot more about kid-specific route setting in the future.

We are also the only climbing facility we know of that offers a separate program for kids with special needs. We don’t turn any kids away. We work with kids on the autism spectrum, with blind kids, kids with brain damage, hearing loss, motor development issues—you name it. We have a specific program that we are developing further. We have the world’s first Developmental Climbing Specialist on staff as well as an occupational therapist to work with whoever needs it or wants it. One of our main camp instructors has a degree in therapeutic recreation. The entire facility will offer climbing and adventure courses for kids of all ages and abilities!

Abbey: How have climbing gyms and training techniques advanced the sport?

Robyn: Kids start training earlier, there are more gyms to train in, and coaches have more education. Climbers are more aware of the impact of nutrition and the role of mental training these days. Everything has a level of sophistication that is relatively new. However, I think in the end a lot of climbing, really good climbing, depends on how badly you want to get to the next level. What are you willing to commit to make that happen? It’s about deciding what is in your heart and going for it. That part will never change. 

Abbey: Team ABC members are crushing double-digit boulder problems and 5.14 routes outside and placing in the top three at national competitions. What’s the secret to becoming a strong all-around climber?

Robyn: I feel like their ABC training prepares them for anything. Our program focuses on Agility, Balance and Coordination (ABC). It’s the cornerstone of all athletics. Our ABC teams also work on mental preparedness. It’s not enough to be physically fit. You have to be able to mentally be able to focus while you climb, to be able to handle both victory and defeat. A great athlete has more than a well-trained body they must have a trained mind as well.

ABC has a philosophy of togetherness. We need to raise each other up if we are to raise this sport up. My team kids compete with other teams, not against them. We are all in this together. All of these kids are the future of climbing. Plus, Team ABC has a lot of fun. We are all about fun. These are kids and they need to have fun—and climbing is definitely fun!

Abbey: From your experience competing and climbing outside, what are you trying to pass on to the next generation?

Robyn: They need to understand and respect the outdoors. They need to be good stewards of their environment both indoors and out. It is important for them as athletes to perform in the competition format amongst other kids of their same age. I teach them not only how to be good climbers but how to work with sponsors, how to handle frustration, how to support each other. We also discuss nutrition and the responsibility they have to treat their bodies well. What you put in your mind, your body and out in the world makes a difference to your quality of life and to the quality of life of others. It is important to be mindful. It’s also important to laugh a lot, to enjoy the moment and cherish the friendships and opportunities that climbing brings.

Abbey: What do you think climbing will be like in 10 years?

Robyn: Climbing as a sport and a profession has seen a lot of growth recently and it is poised to see more growth. With that comes some growing pains. Many sports have gone through this. For example snowboarding used to be a fringe sport and now it is big business. Climbing will become more professional and the business of climbing, which many people don’t think about, will also become more professional. Climbing is becoming more mainstream and we shouldn’t keep the benefits of climbing to ourselves. Also, it used to be people only climbed inside when the weather was awful. Now, I know a lot of people who only climb inside and they are proud of it. I will always climb outside but everyone is different and that is okay.

Abbey: How do you balance being a mother, wife, climber, trainer and now gym owner?

Robyn: Our entire family—my kids and my husband spend a lot of time together. We all pitch in. Shawn and Brooke have been painting in the facility. My mom comes by to help and even the staff volunteer when they aren’t working. I get up early to work on the computer at 5 a.m. and I get my kids off to school and work all day, then coach and then come home for family time, more work and then sleep. My husband Didier works all day building the gym and often into the night. We are all very busy, but it isn’t difficult to do when you love what you do. My family always comes first and they know it.

I have a lot of help. I have a partner that will be responsible for the majority of the Recreation part of ABC (non-competitive programs, school groups, etc.) and we have an incredible crew of people that have been working for ABC for over eight years. We have specialists and teachers on staff that are as passionate as I am. The kids, all the kids, infect everyone with energy. 

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