Want to find a climbing wall? Visit our interactive map of registered centres.

As a parent or carer you might be a climber yourself, or you might have no climbing experience. Either way you'll wish to make sure your young person is happy, safe and inspired: that's exactly what we do!

Smiling climbing girlWe have four schemes: NICAS Wild Climbers, NICAS Climbing, NICAS Bouldering and NICAS Clip. NICAS Climbing is for those with a head for heights and an eye for knots. It's a "climbing" award which involves climbing with ropes and harnesses. This is usually done with two people, one climbing, and one holding the rope and lowering the climber (the belayer). Belaying techniques are a key part of NICAS Climbing.

NICAS Bouldering is a "bouldering" award. Bouldering is a form of climbing usually practised on small rock boulders, or at indoor walls. Bouldering is carried out at lower heights than roped climbing. The "boulderer" is able to climb down or jump down from the wall (so ropes and harnesses are not required).

In addition, we have NICAS Wild Climbers for younger children aged 3-6. Some key Q&As for parents and carers are below with more general FAQs here. Have a look at some of our climber success stories too.
Where can my child climb? We have a handy postcode searcher which will find the climbing centre nearest you which offers one of our schemes. It might be an option for your child to climb with their school, scout group, youth groups or as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award. Speak to these groups directly to see if they have existing links to climbing - we can also help you if you contact us.

What equipment will they need? To start with - nothing - this can all be hired to you by the climbing centre for a few pounds. Over time you may want to invest in some of the basic kit for example rock climbing shoes and a chalk bag, with a harness for NICAS. Have a look at this article from the British Mountaineering Council which tells you more. Clothing wise, it is a good idea to ensure your child wears comfortable clothing such as tracksuit trousers or shorts and a t-shirt. Clothing should allow them to move freely but not be so baggy that it could get caught on anything. Ensure that any jewellery is removed and long hair is tied back; again this is to avoid it being caught during a climb. Short fingernails are advised for climbing.

Climbing shoes (c) Iain McKenzie
How much will it cost? Climbing is competitively priced compared with many other sports. To start with, you don't need to buy any special kit though you may wish to over time.

Happy bouldering girl reduced size (c) Andy DayIt’s a requirement of NICAS Wild Climbers, NICAS Climbing and NICAS Bouldering that each participant has their own logbook, and these are provided by the centre which registers the climber. Logbooks are not subject to VAT and the price includes the cost of certificates as each level is passed. We offer English, English/Welsh Bilingual, and Accessible Large print formats for Level 1-3 logbooks: ask your centre for details.

Some centres ask for the climber to buy the logbook as a separate cost, and some include it within a course of lessons or instruction. The cost of sessions will be set by your own centre, not by us, and may cover your entry fees, coaching costs, and use of equipment like climbing shoes or harnesses. Costs for courses vary around the country so ask your centre for details.

Your centre might give you the opportunity to buy badges as you pass each level – ask your centre if they stock them.
Why do the NICAS schemes?Group of Climbers (source: Sport England)Our schemes, which are the National Indoor Climbing Award Schemes (NICAS®) are an introduction to climbing and provide a gateway to learning more about the sport.

The key aim is to provide a safe introduction to climbing for young people aged 7 years and up on artificial climbing structures (e.g indoor climbing walls). Those who are keen to progress through to the higher levels also start to look wider and learn more about the history, ethics and styles of both indoor and outdoor climbing.

The nationally-recognised scheme also helps to standardise the teaching and coaching of young people in an engaging manner.

All involved, the climber, parent and coach, can easily monitor and record skill development and progression through the sport. In 2014 we also developed a bouldering scheme, which involves climbing but without the use of ropes and harnesses.

There are approx. 240 centres that run our schemes. Between them they have introduced over 140,000 young people to climbing. With logbooks to work through and certificates for achievement, the schemes give candidates a great start to their climbing journeys.

At the first session some climbing centres even provide a "Pre-NICAS" Participation Certificate showing some of the skills mastered. Ask your local centre about these certificates. We feel that these are a great way recognise your achievements, and to guide people towards the next steps with our schemes.

How will my child progress? Our Climbing and Bouldering schemes each have five progressive levels of award for complete novices to expert climbers. The scheme is split into two parts and takes a minimum of 80 hours to complete Levels 1 to 4 and an additional year to complete Level 5. Part one contains Levels 1 to 3 and part two contains Levels 4 and 5.

When you register with an Accredited Centre you receive a logbook for Levels 1-3. Later you will be offered a booklet for Levels 4 & 5. A binder is available separately to keep the booklets and additional papers pristine. You will be awarded with a certificate as you pass each level. The Accredited Centre will award the certificate on behalf of the ABCTT.

NICAS aims

  • to develop climbing movement skills and improve levels of ability
  • to learn climbing rope-work and how to use equipment appropriately
  • to develop risk assessment and risk management skills in the sport
  • to work as a team, communicate with, and trust a climbing partner
  • to provide a structure for development, motivation and improved performance
  • to develop an understanding of the sport, its history and future challenges
  • to provide a record of personal achievement
  • to point the way to further disciplines and challenges in climbing beyond the scheme.

The five NICAS levels are:

1. New Climber
An entry level aimed at novices that recognises their ability to climb safely under supervision.

2. Foundation Climber
Aimed at promoting good practice in climbing and bouldering unsupervised on an artificial wall.

3. Technical Climber
A more advanced top-roping and bouldering award that focusses on developing technique and movement skills. This is aimed at ensuring a candidate possesses the knowledge and skill to climb and belay safely at any climbing facility (whether or not under supervision or with back-up) and operate in a responsible manner. Achievement at this level is broadly equivalent to a pass at GCSE.

4. Lead Climber
Concentrating on the skills required to lead climb proficiently. Aimed at developing a self-motivated climber who has a wide range of skills and has reached a high level of competence, with a desire to progress by identifying and setting goals.

5. Advanced Climber
The top-level award that focuses on improving performance, a deeper understanding of climbing systems and the wider world of climbing, as well as experience of local and national competitions.

NICAS Bouldering aims

  • to develop climbing movement skills and improve levels of ability
  • to learn how to use equipment appropriately
  • to develop risk assessment and risk management skills in the sport
  • to work as a team, communicate with, and trust other boulderers
  • to provide a structure for development, motivation and improved performance
  • to develop an understanding of the sport, its history and ethics
  • to provide a record of personal achievement
  • to point the way to further disciplines and challenges in climbing beyond the scheme.

The five NICAS Bouldering levels are:

1. New Boulderer
An entry level award for candidates who wish to learn what bouldering is as a physical activity and how to use a bouldering wall safely.

2. Foundation Boulderer
Aimed at helping the candidate to understand how a bouldering wall works, and basic preparation and control while bouldering, with an introduction to equipment and movement skills.

3. Competent Boulderer
Corresponding to most bouldering–only centres’ “membership” standards. This is aimed at ensuring a candidate possesses the knowledge and skill to boulder safely at any bouldering facility and operate in a responsible manner.

4. Skilled Boulderer
Aimed at developing a self–motivated boulderer who has a wide range of skills and has reached a high level of competence, with a desire to progress by identifying and setting goals.

5. Performance Boulderer
The top–level award that focuses on improving performance, with advanced skills and knowledge of training and bouldering as well as experience of local and national competitions.
How long does it take to do the schemes? There are no maximums for either NICAS Climbing and NICAS Bouldering, and every child can have as many goes as they want or need to meet the syllabus and assessment requirements at each level.

Climbing is a very individual but life-long skill, so every child will progress at their own pace. We have guidance about the minimum number of hours each level might take, but these really are minimums and our experience shows that most children take about half as long again at each level.

To make a comparison to another sport, a child learning to swim must demonstrate that they can swim a certain length, in order to move on to the next distance award. A 10m swimming badge wouldn't be awarded to a child who is unable to achieve this distance safely. With our NICAS Climbing and NICAS Bouldering awards, the same measures apply - climbing coaches will not award a pass until the relevant skills can be demonstrated.

Level 1 is reasonably straight-forward and a child who's climbed before, with the right attitude and aptitude, might pass it after 4-6 climbing sessions however this does vary greatly. In addition, every centre runs their courses slightly differently, so if your local centre runs Level 1 over a longer time, such as over a 10 week block, then trust in the process: they're making sure your child has the best possible foundation for moving on to the higher levels. Climbing is mentally and well as physically challenging, so completing many shorter sessions on a frequent basis may have a better learning outcome than fewer, but longer, sessions.

Climbing targets holistic skills: initially Agility, Balance and Co-ordination (physical literacy) - as well as a sense of responsibility, risk, and teamwork. It takes time to develop and hone these skills alongside the technical know-how of knots, holds, flexibility, strength and stamina. We want children to fall in love with climbing and make it a regular habit, and that means it can take years. The best climbers in the world say they're always learning.

Here are our guidelines for the minimum commitment at each level of the Schemes, but talk to your local centre to get a feel for what's right for your child. Minimums are just that, and don't factor in individual differences and factors.
Level NICAS - roped climbing NICAS Bouldering - bouldering
1 4 hours over at least two sessions (but many centres run over 4, 6, 8 or more weeks) 3 hours with a coach, and 3 hours on their own consolidating their learning (some centres may run this as a minimum of 6 hours with a coach instead, over 6+ weeks)
2 12 hours (usually at least 12 weeks of lessons) 6 hours with a coach, and 6 hours on their own consolidating their learning (some centres may run this as a minimum of 12 hours with a coach instead)
3 16 hours with a coach, with another 12 hours of climbing under light-touch supervision* 6 hours with a coach, and 14 hours on their own consolidating their learning
4 20 hours with a coach, with another 16 hours of climbing under light-touch supervision** 12 hours with a coach, and 18 hours on their own
5 One year of regular climbing 20 hours with a coach, and 100 additional hours over a period of a year
Each level's hours are stand-alone, for example Level 2 NICAS is an additional 12 hours (at least!) once they have graduated from Level 1. The higher levels of each Scheme require candidates to visit other centres and enter competitions, so at this stage you may be called on as a taxi service to take them farther afield to broaden their horizons.

* If your child has passed Level 3 of NICAS they might be able to go straight into NICAS Bouldering at Level 2: talk to your centre about this.
** Due to the higher risks of Lead Climbing, which is started at this Level, centres like to take a slow and steady approach to make sure candidates are genuinely ready. Some centres have a minimum age requirement for insurance and risk assessments, such as 14, so be prepared for gentler progress from here on. Centres will explain the higher risks to you before your child moves onto this level.
What are the benefits of climbing?Hazel Findlay climb (credit Stephen Ford Horne)Lots! So many we have another page about benefits. In summary, climbing and bouldering offer great health benefits, both physically and mentally. Climbing offers something for everyone, young people who aren't "sporty" or into team sports really often LOVE what climbing offers! Our schemes also give candidates the opportunity to learn about safety, equipment, grades, belaying, warming up, training and progression as well as the many other positive aspects of becoming a climber. Combine this with life skills: trust, communication, team work, self-confidence, awareness, risk management and understanding limitations and it quickly becomes clear why climbing is an amazing sport. There is a huge amount of learning and development that takes place at the climbing wall.

A quote from our ambassador, professional climber Hazel Findlay:

"Climbing is good for the soul because it challenges both body and mind. It also brings the two together where you find perfect moments of clarity and flow. It opens up to you nature and the outdoors and helps you see the unimportance in the majority of the modern world. It brings you closer to the friends you already have and helps you bridge boundaries to people you've yet to meet."
How safe is climbing? Climbing (from a non-climbers point of view) could be viewed as risky. There are risks, as in any sport, however these can be managed and minimised: this is fundamental to the principles of our schemes. We teach risk awareness and risk management from the very beginning of the Schemes and specifically focus on injury prevention as part of the syllabus at higher levels.

Teacher with students (source: Sport England)Climbing, specifically climbing and bouldering on artificial walls, has relatively few accidents each year compared with other popular activities such as football, rugby and hockey.

German researchers found that climbing had a lower injury incidence than many mainstream sports. Indoor climbing had the fewest injuries per 1,000 hours of participation compared with all the sports studied in the 2010 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine. (Source: NHS). We, NICAS, promote a safe climbing environment by only allowing qualified coaches to deliver our nationally recognised and accredited schemes. We check our accredited centres to ensure that everyone running our schemes continues to meet our requirements.

We are very aware of the potential impact of intensive training on young bodies and for that reason we expect coaches to be very experienced at managing these specific issues.
Helping my child Your child is learning to find their own path in climbing. You can encourage your child to take advantage of the opportunities available on the scheme. Help them think about the benefits of learning and working in groups and undertaking activities that our schemes offer, with likeminded individuals.

There are amazing social benefits of climbing and bouldering. As parents and carers you can also get involved. Here are a few ideas to support your child and to help them develop:
  • Getting them to the wall on time: it seems simple but if they turn up late and flustered they are not in the right mind-set.
  • Practice knots: in the early stages of NICAS, knot tying is the biggest hurdle and takes the longest to learn. The main knot is the figure of eight - learn how to tie it. Most walls will hand out old lengths of rope for candidates to practice at home. Sophie Mitchell's book includes a piece of cord so knots can be practised.
  • Your child has a logbook so go through it with them and see how they are progressing.
  • Most walls will offer some form of ‘Learn to Belay’ or ‘Introduction to Bouldering’ course. If you take time to learn the basics it means that you can bring your child to the centre outside their NICAS Climbing and NICAS Bouldering sessions and allow them to practice and consolidate their skills.
  • We also recommend taking a basic coaching course. The FUNdamentals of Climbing workshops offered by the BMC and Mountaineering Scotland are a great place to start. FUNdas1 is aimed at basic movement and working with children so is ideal for a parent wanting to get more involved.

Parents who are more involved are more able to provide just the right balance not only to facilitate enjoyment, but also to challenge the child to continue to grow and develop their skills as they begin their pathway in climbing. Climbing may even become a family activity for years to come.
Useful links
"NICAS gives the students confidence in not only themselves personally but in what they can do."
Katrina Rondel

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