Risk Free Belay Instruction

IMPORTANT NOTE TO BEGIN: This video is intended for climbing instructors and coaches in order to implement with their clients. IT IS NOT INTENDED AS A SELF TEACH METHOD OF LEARNING TO CLIMB. Proper and appropriate instruction is ESSENTIAL before participating in rock climbing. For a beginner course, please contact your local climbing wall or the BMC. Failure to undertake correct instruction may result in serious injury or death.

In recent months, i have developed a system that helps instructors and coaches teaching belaying to absolute beginners. It eliminates the need to have a climber in the system and still maintains a level of realism for the belayer by creating friction on the live rope using an Italian Hitch. As such, it has become known as Risk Free Belay Instruction.

A demonstration of the system is shown in the video below. This article then deals with some of the key questions relating to the system and how you can put it to good use.

So will this make them proficient belayers now?

In a word, no. This system isn’t intended to replace any part of teaching belaying, it is there to supplement the process that typically takes place and to add to it.

You must still teach belayers the correct method to keep the climber safe. This is an extra step in the process.

  • The old method of teaching belaying for the first time: watch me while i explain, now try it with me tailing.
  • The new method: watch me while i explain, now try the Risk Free System, now try it with me tailing.
Does it replace tailing the rope when teaching belaying?

Absolutely not, you MUST still tail the rope with beginner belayers while a climber is in the system. However when employing this system alone, there is no climber and thus no need to tail. As a simple question to ask yourself: is there a climber tied onto the rope? If yes, tail the belayer. If no, no need to tail.

Why is it so useful?

There are lots of things going on with your first timer when you clip that belay plate onto them: mainly trying to deal with the technical aspects of belaying while dealing with the mental pressure of having someone’s life in their hands.

This system eliminates any worries about potentially dropping someone and allowing them to concentrate on learning the physical skills of taking in slack, locking off the belay plate and moving hands while still holding the dead rope.

It also allows the instructor/coach to be free to move around, demonstrate movement and make adjustments to the belayers technique without the worry of tailing the dead rope.

What’s more, with this system in place, the instructor can set up multiple lines, teaching multiple belayers at the same time, thus saving time during a session and giving greater value for money.

Finally, it removes the timing issues that come with the climber having to move at their own pace and the belayer reacting to that. The belayer can now take in when they want and not when the climber moves. They can pause, wait, think and then continue when they are ready.

Does it work?

Slightly daft question to include here, as i wouldn’t have made the video and written it up if it didn’t but yes, it really does work. I’ve had feedback from other instructors telling me how useful it has been for them. Every time i have run this, the belayer is significantly more proficient when i tie a climber in for the first time than if i hadn’t used this.

This system can also be employed for more advanced belayers who have a flaw in their technique. Removing the speed of the climber affords more time to perfect techinque without outside factors influencing their movements. The coach can now tweak technique as they see fit before putting them back into a real situation.

One Final Important Note

This system does have some drawbacks: it does not create adaptive learners, it doesn’t teach climbers to react to the situation and it doesn’t help with lowering. This is learning skills out of context and these skills then need to be put back into context later. Where this system is so effective is in isolating the physical and technical aspects of belaying to perfect them before adding context later.

You will still need to add a climber into the system at some point and will still need to teach adaptive skills and process behind the action in order to make people solid, skilful belayers. This is another stepping stone along the way to that point and when employed correctly at the right time, can have great benefits in terms of time and learning.

It is recommended to try this system without clients first before employing it in action. Remember that no climber should be in the system during this process. No belayers were harmed in the making of this film. 

For more information, please leave a comment or contact me here.