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RCDI awards - why VS 4c and sport 6a?

Updated: Mar 14

To attend a Rock Climbing Development Instructor training course, candidates need to have lead climbed a minimum of 60 VS 4c climbs and 60 sport climbs at or above 6a (as well as having experience working as an RCI).

In between training and assessment, candidates need to lead an additional 30 VS routes and 30 sport routes at 6a or above (as well as gaining significant rock climbing teaching experience). 

Full details of these prerequisites can be found on the Mountain Training website and in the RCDI candidate handbook, but in summary, the required standard is high. 

For some people, they have naturally built up these climbing logs over the years and so it’s not too daunting, whilst others are predominantly either a sport climber or a trad climber, and it feels like a significant hurdle to gain the leads in that other discipline. Some RCIs are super experienced and have brilliant teaching skills, but still struggle with either time, confidence or skillset to get all the personal climbs needed to attend RCDI training.  

It can feel frustrating, daunting, or elitist.

So, why have Mountain Training set the standard at 60 VS 4c and f6a leads?!

The RCDI qualification is a high level award, aiming to set a really high standard of teaching and developing rock climbers on both sport and trad crags. Candidates need to have plenty of personal climbing experience and instructing experience, and be passionate about sharing climbing with others. 

Here’s my interpretation of why these logbook standards have been set, and what it means for you.

Having lots of experience leading VS 4c and sport 6a means you will be more likely to...

...have lots of experience to draw on

It just makes so much difference! You can recommend different routes, crags, and climbing areas to your participants. You can spot when they might need to adapt their skills for different terrain or challenges. You can inspire them with your passion for your personal climbing. You can share your experience of how you learnt, progressed and developed different areas of your climbing. 

For example, you might be running a learn to lead course in the Peak District, but the folks you are teaching live in South Wales and you know they will end up climbing more on limestone coastal areas. So, you make sure you develop their movement skills specifically for limestone, spend time really nailing their personal abseil skills, and give recommendations for suitable next steps back at home. 

Being able to draw on experience from different terrain, grades and disciplines will mean that you can think ahead lots, are quick to notice things and prevent mishaps, you spot opportunities for learning, and are great at applying teaching to practical scenarios.

...have plenty in reserve 

You’re running an intro to trad climbing course and on the first day you get your participants used to seconding trad climbs. Classically, the weather is a little worse than forecast, and it’s on and off showers while you lead climb. You are SO glad that you feel comfortable enough on VDiffs and Severes to lead them in damp conditions! You are able to come across as super calm, slick and safe to your clients, and focus on giving them really quality teaching throughout the day. 

Having plenty in reserve is massive. You don’t have to be a superstar climber, but being experienced and having a few grades in hand gives you plenty of brain space left for the other million things that go through an instructors head - managing weather challenges, working at busy crags, being belayed by newer climbers, changing plans, or dealing with nerves on an assessment. Being relaxed and confident on climbs up to VS (and sport 6a) will mean you can focus more of your energy on teaching and adapting to your participants. It also means you will be able to retain more new information during your RCDI training course. 

...are able to work with climbers at a variety of levels 

The participants on your outdoor trad course were junior climbing squad members in their youth, and make the warm up climbs look like a piece of cake. You are so grateful you are able to lead them up some more challenging climbs and teach them some crack climbing skills to level the playing field! You have a great day building up their skills on second, and then all enjoy pushing yourselves on a harder top rope climb together at the end. While you don’t mind that they are much stronger than you indoors, it feels reassuring that you are able to challenge and develop their rock climbing technique, and you feel confident in your skills and experience.

Being a confident and experienced climber at VS 4c and sport 6a will help you to adapt your sessions to different client needs, especially when those clients have different abilities, or are strong indoor climbers! You wont feel intimidated easily, you’ll be able to manage challenging clients, and be more able to offer progressions for those that are climbing at a higher standard. 

"But 6a sport is harder than 4c trad!"

Is it though?! Perhaps the technical difficulty of a f6a is theoretically harder than VS 4c, but I’d argue that they feel pretty similar, and if you can place your own trad gear and handle all the decision making on a VS route, then you can climb sport 6a on bolts. 

Sport crags in the UK often don't have a whole lot of options below 6a, so it’s pretty crucial that you have enough sport climbing experience to deliver good sessions at the venues we have here. Most people start out climbing at indoor walls now, and often climb at a pretty good level on indoor sport routes, so again having plenty of experience developing and progressing your own sport climbing will help you have a range of skills, confidence and experience to deliver really good sessions. 

"I’d love to get my RCDI but those personal climbing logs just seem so far away!"

Try to enjoy the process of developing your own climbing, rather than feeling the pressure of ‘having’ to tick things for your DLOG. It’s so fun and satisfying seeing yourself progress, working on a different discipline, or visiting different areas (winter sport trip to Spain anyone?!!). Attend some further training, get a little bit of coaching, seek out climbing partners that will help you to develop, and find some books or online resources that will help you in your journey. You can be a heck of a lot more savvy at improving your personal climbing than just forcing yourself to try harder routes (which is partly why I love coaching!). 

You don’t need to be a super strong, training-obsessed, fearless climber to be competently climbing VS 4c and sport 6a, it can just seem that way if those grades feel far away. Choose to have the confidence that you can get there even if you can’t quite imagine it right now, enjoy building up the experience for this high level award, and learn how you can inspire, develop, and identify with, the climbers you’ll be teaching. 


The grade pre-requisites for RCDI are not a way of being elitist, or saying that only higher level climbers can be good at teaching (there are plenty of high level climbers that aren't!). It’s a way of making sure people have enough experience for training, assessment, and for actually working with participants.

Interested in connecting with others working towards their RCDI?

Join our Facebook group. It's a place to ask questions, hear of opportunities, and connect with other instructors working towards similar goals.

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