Rock climbing coach helps students find inner strength

As a rock climbing coach, Max Francois said he believes rock climbing can help strengthen a body mentally and physically.

Men and women sporting work out gear, chalk bags and climbing shoes are lost in their athletic concentration. Some stand in front of the rock climbing walls, puzzling together their climbing route, while others are already hanging multiple feet in the air from jugular rocks and overhanging structures. Almost everywhere, climbers cheer each other on until they reach the final rock.

This is a common sight at Vertical Ventures, a rock climbing gym popular to USF students.

Vertical Ventures has two locations: one in St. Pete and one in Tampa. Among their staff is Max Francois, a USF senior majoring in electrical engineering. He fell in love with rock climbing in 2010 and has not stopped climbing since.

Other than balancing his studies, Francois has a lot on his hands. He is a personal trainer and rock climbing coach for the Vanguards Youth Climbing Team at the St. Pete gym as well as head coach of the USF Rock Climbing Club at the Tampa location.

One of Francois’s favorite things about being a rock climbing coach is training ambitious climbers to reach their full potential.

“I absolutely love being a rock climbing coach,” Francois said. “It feels fulfilling to help other people progress through things that I’ve struggled through personally.”

At a glance, rock climbing takes a lot of physical strength, but it also requires an equal amount of mental growth and development. Francois said that he enjoys mentoring and supporting individuals to help them grow because he feels like he didn’t receive the same support when he was a climbing student.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be recognized by my teachers and coaches,” Francois said. “I feel like it was kind of a rare thing for me, so I want to provide that kind of recognition for the kids I coach [and] make them feel seen and heard like they’re not just kids.”

During training, Francois said he tries to treat the children and teenagers like mature adults. By giving the kids the freedom to determine the pace at which they progress, the kids actually feel more accountable for their actions and become more diligent people, according to Francois.

“When you give people that choice to flourish as opposed to forcing them to, they often end up flourishing faster than when forced,” Francois said.

Francois is currently taking a semester break from school, but aims to graduate around 2021. He said he wants to continue working as a rock climbing coach after he finishes school.

While Francois believes climbing is a great opportunity for adventurous and thrill-seeking students, he also encourages introverts to try it as well.

Climbing is a great way for shy people to get out of their comfort zones while also receiving  open support from other climbers.

“Climbing can also be very personal,” Francois said.

In the gym, everyone is mainly focused on their own climbing progress, so no competition exists between climbers. Even when the USF Rock Climbing Club participates in competitions, rivalries that often emerge are uncommon within the sport.

“You’re competing with other individuals who root for you, which is rare in sports,” Francois said.

Francois believes that anyone can climb and work hard to become physically and mentally strong while learning how to be upstanding members of society.

“I’ve learned that a lot of people sell themselves short and don’t take into account the power of mindset, so I’ve learned to help people unlock their own potential,” Francois said.