Today the Climbing World Championships have begun in Innsbruck. I'm currently eagerly watching the live stream on my computer at home. Work productivity equals zero and I can't wait to go to Innsbruck on Saturday to watch the whole event live. So in order to be a bit more productive (and still not having to stop thinking about climbing), I now decided to write about a topic I was recently asked by you to write about: home world championships – a thrill or threat?
If you are Austrian, you might have realised the significantly increased media interest in climbing since a) it has become Olympic and b) with the home world championships around the corner. There wasn't a week with any news about climbing, an interview with Jakob Schubert or Jessy Pilz or other climbers. The expectations were highly pushed by the media. One of the biggest mental challenges before such an event certainly is to cope with the external expectations you're constantly exposed to, to cope with your own expectations, with planning training and relaxation periods while fitting all media appointments. Home championships are a stressful event on a whole different level. In general, all major events – whether Olympic Games or World Championships – are particularly demanding and challenging for both athletes and coaches for which reason long-term and considerate planning is essential (Gubelmann & Schmid 2001).
However, when I say stressful, remember, there are two types of stress: (positive) eustress and (negative) distress. There are two possibilities on how to handle a world championship hosted in your home country. Either you decide to take advantage of it or you choke under the pressure. If you decide on the first one, you can get a boost from all the hype which is created by your surroundings. If you focus on the increased attention and expectations, the second option will most likely happen. How we experience the world championships at home depends on how we judge and approach the situation and whether we have strategies for dealing with it.
HOW HOME WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS CAN BE SEEN AS A POSITIVE THRILL
There are several reasons why home world championships could be seen as a threat such as the increased media attention, the own expectations of wanting to perform well in front of your family and friends as well as your "home crowd".
However, home championships also have their advantages and we can decide to see them as an encouraging, positive experience. Home advantage is created in our mind (Strauss 2002). If we experience high self-efficacy and a positive attitude, we are more likely to associate the home crowd as supporting and positive – and not as a threat, which in turn can lead to an increased performance.
How can you get positive energy out of this special occasion?
- Be aware of the possibilities and that it is you who has to make the decision.
- Don’t have the goal to perform better than usual, you know there is a chance to make a new personal record but it is small.
- Stick to your rituals and don’t try to change anything last minute. The world championships – whether at home or not – as such as any other competitions. You have been to many before, you know how it is. The set-up, the procedure, what you have to do is the same.
- Keep your focus on yourself, stay grounded and don’t pay too much attention to the outside such as the media, to the fans, to the friends and, if it stresses you, even to the family.
Once the competition is over you can catch up, read all the article in the news, talk to fans and friends and enjoy the attention of the whole country. To perform well, it is important that you pay attention to yourself and what is going on in your body. What do you need in this moment? What does your body need? Do you need to calm down – how do you normally calm down? Do you need to detach from the rest – how can you do this the best possible way?
- Remember why you are doing this: What do you love about competing? What do you love about climbing?
- Focus on the process, on the here and now. Even more so in big, important competitions, we might think about these "what happens if" or "I really want to get into finals". This has been your focus, your main goal for the whole year. You worked for this for a long time and as hard as you could to be in the best shape. You did all you could. But don't let your (or other's) goals become your expectations. If you e.g. set yourself the goal to make a podium in the Championships, they might turn into the expectation that you have trained really hard for it, put so much effort and time into it that it's only right to expect this outcome. "I want" turns into "I should".
Unfortunately, overrated high expectations hardly ever lead to results in high-level performance. The pressure to meet those expectation raises linearly with the high expectations. Negative consequences of high expectations can e.g. be reduced confidence, anxiety, fear of failure, overthinking, not being able to move on after having made mistakes, negative thinking or under-performance.
You can't force it to get into finals, you can't guarantee it. Janja Garnbret said in an interview after she won the Bouldering World Cup in Munich this year "I'll compete in bouldering and lead (at the world championships), I want to be of course on the podium, both lead and bouldering. But you never know. Of course, I'll do as much training as I can. And I hope for a similar performance in Innsbruck." Even Janja – who is undoubtedly one of the most versatile and (one of) the physically and mentally strongest climbers in the competition circuit at the moment says "you never know". Of course, something unpredictably could always happen. But instead of focussing on these "what if's" or your results, focus on something that is in your control, something that puts your thoughts in the "here and now" and not in the future (e.g. "I will give my best today"). (You can also read more about this here).
- What also helps is focussing on successful experiences you have made in the past. You must have had several successful competitions in the past – otherwise, quite frankly, you probably wouldn't have been nominated to compete. Think of these positive experiences – what did you contribute to your success? What did you do well? How did that feel? Can you experience that moment again – maybe even with all your senses? Positive experiences like these can trigger positive emotions – and in turn, put us in an ideal state to perform.
How can you deal with the media?
With climbing becoming more popular, the interest of the media increases – and therefore also the abilities of professionally dealing with them. How can you positively deal with the media? Let's give a few examples:
- Dealing with the media if you don't achieve your goals:
Thinking about the media and what they would say about you if you failed, will only make you anxious which in turn will rub all your energy. To better prepare for such a situation in advance, you can prepare a quote, which you will tell the media if you didn’t achieve your goals. How will you react to the media? How will you professionally deal with "failure"? If you think about strategies in advance of how you want to deal with it the best possible way (e.g. your personal lessons learned, how to manage your emotions, whether there are some positive things that you can take home from this experience nonetheless, etc.), it can help you to better deal with the situation yourself as well as to better deal with the media.
Talking about media, you should also remember: people will eventually forget your result and the world will go on as usual (as harsh as this might sound...).
- Dealing with the increased attention:
Try to transform the increased attention in good energy! Try to have fun and enjoy having your family and friends close. They are here to support you. Some years later, you want to look back on a great week full of positive energy and emotions. You will surely remember whether you won or not (or whether you were on the podium). But whether you became 4th or 21st won’t matter too much anymore.
Talking to some athletes in similar situations about their experience, they said that they were convinced that people would expect great or even better results than they had before. But that’s not true – they realised (sometimes only afterwards) that they made that up in their head. Talking with fans and friends afterwards they were really proud of watching them live or on TV. They actually wanted them to have fun and enjoy the unique possibility of performing at the World Championship because they would never be able to do so.
One last little imagination exercise at the end:
Close your eyes and imagine yourself at the competition venue. You are about to compete and get ready. Imagine that all the people watching you are giving you energy instead of taking your energy by making you nervous for no reason. You trust yourself and imagine the best competitions you ever had. How do you feel? Try to experience the situation with all your senses: how does it smell? What do you hear in this situation? Do you maybe have smile on your lips? How does your body posture look like – feeling confident and full of energy?
We wish all the competitors all the best for the competition! Enjoy yourself and have lots of fun! It is you who can allow yourself to feel pressure, nervousness and anxiety or who says “STOP”, I don’t want to feel these feelings – I'm strong and confident, I enjoy the moment. (Btw: you can read more about self-talks and the stop thought technique here).
Talking about being able to say "STOP" to counteract negative thoughts and emotions – maybe you should watch this video to cheer you up a bit. Maybe we should just do what this therapist tells us to do... 🤔😉