Climbing Coaching - the 3 Elements
Many years in the making, I became a coach and trainer specific to climbers in 1995 as I wrapped up a masters degree studying the physical characteristics of climbers, and could finally climb a respectable grade myself. Although my research focused on what physical characteristics were predictors of performance, my personal experience led me to recognize the value of understanding movement and getting my head in the game.
One element, informs another. Strength and mobility inform ones technique, the combination of both strength and skill inform how we mentally approach challenge. This also works in the opposite direction; those who have confidence will typically be better equipped to develop strength and skill. The key to success is your ability to determine what you need to focus on training and then finding the activities and drills that will help you grow.
I have a test I used during my initial years of examining climbers physical characteristics. I asked someone I was testing to grab some pinches and hang on them for as long as possible. While the pinches are not the best, and holding onto them is a challenge, the real test is how long the mind will persist at holding onto these miserable grips. I mean, who wants to hang on a wall holding pinches for more than a few seconds. Certainly not the youth I coach, evident by scores that lasted between ten seconds to forty five or so. It was my turn. Less fit, decades older, lower climbing performance did not stop me from trying hard. I tried so hard, I hung on for over seventy seconds.
I wanted to hang on more than the youth. I was willing to actually try hard. The youth who hung in there for close to forty five seconds tried hard, but I doubt they tried their hardest. As much as the test measures grip strength it also measures the mental capacity to persist.
Passion is more. Passion is fuelled by, "I can, I will, I must!!!" Warriors would not be convinced to charge based solely on a pay check. Warriors charge and defend what they love with all their hearts. It is an honour to be of such service to ones community. Olympians make it to the Games with the earth moving desire to put in hours or training, injuries, expense for the one moment to perform their very best on the global stage.
So how do we cultivate passion if it is such an important and essential element in not only performance but training strength and mobility and being willing to feel uncomfortable trying to implement new technique?
First - there needs to be a goal - an idea of something desired deeply. Maybe it is success on a beautiful line that stretches from the valley floor to the horizon. Or maybe it is the idea of the world stage. Perhaps it is a desire for the fullest expression of what is in one's heart. Something... anything, but there must be a goal.
Second - from that idea one longs to fulfill, there must also be discipline to do the hard thing. The act of putting one foot in front of the other regardless of an off day or unexciting routes, the repetition of training, is essential. You do not get to leave the problems stumping you. You continue to ask how can I do this and work at it until you figure it out. As a coach, I definitely recommend that walking away for moments of reprieve can be very helpful in reawakening the passion and preventing overuse injuries, but the route is not left unfinished.
Third - one must celebrate every fall with curiosity and positivity. To fall and not be inquisitive, or to fall and not acknowledge how challenging this problem is, sets you up to walk away. As a line in the trailer of the Netflix series "Life in Pieces" states, "Life is about these moments." If you do not celebrate the moments, no matter what they are, one loses passion for life pretty quickly.
Fourth - Curiosity means to continue to try to figure out and learn - your way - to complete the route. You are more than an ape mimicking someone else's beta - climber's slang for climbing the route the way everyone else climbed it. After testing countless climbers, I can tell you that every body is different physically, and therefore the biomechanics for them to do moves is going to be different than someone else. Understanding how to fine tune, hone and work with your biomechanics IS learning technique. Basically this step is to grow.
Fifth - accept what arises. And keep moving forward. This is probably the hardest step to continue taking. My body is now 57 years old and I find hanging and engaging my shoulder with poor feet or no feet very hard. I can do all the other steps, but now my body is getting older and it is harder to just maintain where I was let alone improve. We are all aging. Year's ago at a lecture session I offered, I asked the group attending the session titled, "Aging Gracefully" a simple question. Think of all you have accomplished in the last thirty years. You could live another thirty years. What will you do with those years? One person responded with almost panic. The previous years had been full of accomplishments - for what - the well sought after retirement. And irrelevance that comes with it.
Every athlete eventually retires. Every CEO, model, actor, super star is eventually replaced by a newer younger version. But if you love what you do... it doesn't matter whether you are the best. It only matters that you get to do what you love to do. Meaning this last step is not about whether you win or lose, send the route or not... it is about playing the game. Being able to move, be in the community in whatever capacity you can and let go of the need for it to more than that.
This is the ultimate yin and yang of life. Birth is so greatly celebrated, as is ones death when we take stock of all that life has meant. But what matters to you at the end of life - is simply the moments within it and did you life honestly, in service - as a warrior, passionate for a cause or timidly on the sidelines as a spectator, enjoying a few drinks and snacks? Or somewhere in between?
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