I recently came across an idea in an Atlantic article about mastery versus achievement. It took my mind away with a multitude of thoughts. Yes! I wanted to scream, this is the difference that I want the world to understand. Back many moons ago as a newly crowned high school graduate, I embarked on a job for the summer which would involve teaching canoeing. As part of my training, I had to go to canoe school.
We arrived at this summer camp property with small cabins and one large building for meals, situated on Lake Mockingee. After settling into our cabins, we were apprised of the expectations. Each day we would be up on the water practicing skills before breakfast. We then had an hour for a meal, and morning practice. We came off the water for lunch and a "classroom" session involving discussions about equipment, weather, water movement and rescues. Then it was back onto the water to learn skills and practice. After four days of this schedule, we would move to the assessment period of two days. There were various stations and we only had three tries to get it right. Stations included the windy weather course, the dock turns, slalom, speed course, the portage and rescues.
We were a group of maybe close to twenty people and we had to take turns during the testing and of course some stations, like the windy weather course, were weather dependent. We had to complete these stations paddling solo in a canoe that fit the requirements for the course. My five foot 3 and a half frame weighing one hundred and fifteen pounds had to complete these stations in a seventeen foot aluminum canoe weighing seventy-five pounds. Popping the keel out of the water in that baby was certainly a challenge for me.
In those ten days on the water from dawn to dusk, I mastered a canoe. I developed the ability to maneuver the canoe regardless of water conditions and boat size by experiencing the feel of both the boat and the water and knowing my own capacity. It wasn't a matter of strength as much as a mastery of skill.
When I came to climbing many years later, I first learned to teach the basic skill of belaying and setting up top ropes outside at local cliffs. Any guide can tell you, each anchor system is different depending on the unique nature of the gear you have the features nature is offering you as potential anchor points. Like the windy weather course, there are some general principles about how to aim the canoe and stay within your corridor, but the wind is not consistent and one must learn how and when to adapt. In building anchors, again there are principles one can follow, but there is no one right way, there could be multiple and discerning the most appropriate system for the situation. It takes a deeper level of knowledge than a couple of practice runs at setting anchors.
Now let's talk about coaching climbers. Lots of folks are stepping into the role as a coach at their local gym. Their resume consisting of the hard ascents and maybe, just maybe, some experience working with young people. Just because you know how to climb hard does not mean you know how to coach.
Period. Just because you have skills as a climber, does not mean you know how to share those skills and adapt based on someone else's climbing ability, body size and physiology.
Each athlete arrives with unique physical strength, mobility and anthropometry. Trying to copy what someone else in a different body tries could be like using a hammer to screw two pieces of wood together. You maybe successful if you try hard enough, but it will take far more effort than just using a screwdriver.
A good coach can identify what may work for the person given their size, their strengths and weaknesses. A good coach can not only make the athlete work hard and train, the coach can put more tools in the athletes toolbox. What tools? There are many ways to move up a wall. You can face the wall and use front steps the whole way. You could turn sideways and use back steps. You could use a combination of these techniques. These are two techniques that many climbers already have. But most will have a preference. I am a back stepper. I will always look for that option and as a result, I tend to have better grip strength relative to my back and should strength. I tend to have pretty good flexibility in my low back and hamstrings, However, my turn out could use some work. A good, effective coach would give me opportunities to work on developing the areas of weakness and the ability to identify when I should use the front step over the back step. This is a simple easy example of two techniques in a vast array of techniques possible in climbing.
Most importantly, a good coach would figure out what motivates me and capitalize on it with activities that develop the skill AND keep me inspired.
The magic of good coaching is the coaches ability to see what those specific weaknesses are and offer guidance in a way that can be received and applied by the athlete. The magic in climbing is not the ascent, it is understanding and application of the right moves at the right time in the right way. Mastery in climbing is not just being strong enough or knowing a technique, it is know when to apply it and how to develop a nuanced application for a given situation. It is understanding how to maintain focus and concentration, not rushing or hesitating.
This idea - theory has been the root of executive coaching, human resources training and life coaching. The only way to make a person change, develop is to inspire the growth. When folks learn you just have to join a team to get a ribbon, there is no driver, no action based in inspiration. The result is a world were people just want to show up and get credit for showing up, not for the quality of the work. Today, I challenge you to apply yourself. I challenge you to do what is uncomfortable for the sake of doing better.
Writing, journalling, podcasting... it's all about sharing the journey.