THE MENTAL REQUIREMENTS OF EACH DISCIPLINE
Climbing is undoubtedly one of the most exciting sports to watch. To be honest, the last week I was not really productive at all with work. Whenever there was a final or semi final on in the World Championships in Tokyo, I watched it. At least I opened a tab on YouTube and let it silently play, so I could work on something else in the meanwhile and just “every now and then” have a look at how it was going. Fail! I spent (of course) most of my time watching the competition, not getting forward with my work at all. So it goes! (I very much hope that I’m not the only “climbing addict” who got distracted that easily).
Even though there were long, I found the World Championships very interesting to watch. Every discipline is exciting and challenging for its own reasons. Not only on a physical level, also on a mental level. Every discipline requires different mental strengths and capabilities for which reason I decided to write these different mental challenges and requirements down from a psychological perspective.
If you look at the results of the last two years, you could think that bouldering (at least in the men’s category) has become quite arbitrary. There are hardly any climbers who have been consistently in boulder finals, not to even speak of the podium or winning a bouldering comp. Bouldering has more and more become like parcour, climbers have to take risks and be open for failure. There can be incredibly hard rounds with only two tops and where a few zones can make you advance to the next round or even put you on the podium – such as in the World Championship’s finals. The boulders are built in a way the requires risk taking. And this surely is the first important mental requirement: risk taking, being open for the opportunity of failure, not getting too upset or frustrated if one boulder doesn’t work. Compared to the other disciplines, you have 1) several tries and 2) several boulders that lead to an end result. The more we are exposed to risk taking and failure, the more important confidence and a realistic self-estimation becomes. How can I stay motivated and confident, even if I didn’t climb the first boulder? How can I push myself after two boulders where I didn’t get off the ground? Not giving up in your head if it doesn’t go immediately well, is one of the biggest challenges in bouldering, and yet, it’s so important: a competition is over when it’s over and not before. Remember: Adam Ondra could have still made a medal in the bouldering World Championships if he had topped the third or fourth boulder even if he hadn’t made a zone before. Another important mental requirement – which applies to the other disciplines as well – is surely to fully focus on yourself and not on others. Since there are different boulders with different styles in every single round and no one is ever the same, you cannot really compare yourself to others. While jumping and coordinative moves might be the biggest strength of Tomoa Narasaki, Jakob Schubert is unbeatable in full-on power moves. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Comparing yourself with others during the comp or e.g. when one boulder didn’t work is not really helpful – you might be better in something else. You can still get upset if the result is not as you wished for at the end.
Compared to bouldering, you only have one try for each route in lead climbing. While in speed climbing it’s always the same, it’s always different in lead climbing. This definitely changes the mental approach: you have to give it all in this one try. Since the lead routes have more and more open movements, jumps or other risky moves in there, the willingness to take risks, no hesitating and not being afraid of failure becomes more and more important in lead climbing, too. However, lead climbing still seems less arbitrary than bouldering and the lead finalists are generally very consistent in their performance. No route setters or spectators would want to see everyone falling at the start or because certain movements are impossible. For this reason such “risky” moves are still at lot less “risky” compared to bouldering. So how can lead climbers prepare for this “one try only” or to risky moves in routes? One relentless mental strategy surely is visualising: properly visualising the route to find out different possibly betas in advance. If you are not sure about how to do a certain move because it seems unclear when you look at it in advance, try to visualise different solutions – if your brain has thought of these different betas before, it will remember it better and more quickly in that situation which can help you to execute the move better in a situation. Just like in bouldering, confidence and self-efficacy are really important: what can I realistically expect of myself? If you know what to expect, you won’t get scared if you have only this “one try”. Another skill is to be able to switch between activation and relaxation. That’s a really important skill as well in bouldering (between tries or boulders) and speed climbing (between the runs). In lead climbing, being able to switch between activation and relaxation doesn’t only play an important role between the rounds, but also while climbing a route. The harder the routes get, the less possibilities there are for shaking and “relaxing” on the wall. The more important it is that it is done efficiently.
Besides all the mental requirements that have already been named, speed climbing has its own mental challenges. Compared to lead and bouldering, the speed route is standardised which means, climbers have to climb the same route every single time. This requires perfection in both the preparation and the execution. Compared to other athletic disciplines such as running, the chance of mistakes is still high due to the physical demands of the route. This firstly requires, once again, confidence, self efficacy, risk taking and being able to overcome the fear of falling or failure. Secondly, the need for a routine is even more important in speed climbing than in any other discipline due to its repetitiveness. A routine that helps you get in the right physical and mental state. It’s once again unhelpful to get distracted by comparing yourself to others, or worse, seeing at how the others do while you’re still climbing. Instead, full focus is demanded. Since the runs and the time between the runs are really fast and therefore stressful, being able to switch between activating and relaxing is important too. What’s your right activation level? When do you perform at your best? To perfect the moves, visualising the route as often, as vividly, with all your senses is an important mental strategy. As well as training in stressful, competitive situations to prepare for the stress in competitions.
Every discipline is different and therefore requires different mental skill. Yet, there are many similarities. As said, climbing is undoubtedly one of the most exciting sports to watch. The mental skills we acquire doing these different disciplines do not only help us to advance in climbing but also in our every day life.
Would you like to improve your own mental skills? Send me a message to inform yourself about individual one-to-one coachings or workshops.