Photo by ©The Circuit Climbing | Eddie Fowke

Photo by ©The Circuit Climbing | Eddie Fowke

We all know these days when nothing really works, when the execution of our movements is suffering, when the flow of movements, rhythm and harmony are decreasing, and movements are getting shorter and seem more tense. Things like e.g. changes in the competition plan or other unexpected influences can lead to the feeling of insecurity, frustration and pressure, and, in turn, our muscles get tense. Of course, there are also the "good days", when we feel super happy and euphoric, and feel like we are able to do anything – and can exceed our own expectations.

Emotions can influence a result, particularly in highly competitive situations. Emotions arise through our actions and are dependent on previous experiences we have made as well as on how we judge these situations (Nitsch 1986). Emotions are not automatically "positive" or "negative" – it depends on our individual judgement and interpretation of the context. E.g. for some of us in some situations, it might be helpful to be more aggressive, such before speed climbing or before having to do highly dynamic moves. In other situations, the same emotion might be less helpful.

Being able to control our mood and emotions can be very helpful – especially in passion and emotion rich sports like climbing. We all have our different strategies for controlling our emotions because we all respond in our unique ways. Being able to control our emotions can particularly be important in competitions or other stressful situations.

What are emotions?

In order to learn how to better control and regulate our emotions, I find it important to understand the difference between the different types of “emotions”:

AFFECTS are very intense short emotions that are hard to control, e.g. a climber that kicks his/her chalk bag away or kicks the wall after having done badly. (Oh you guilty of this, too? ;-))

FEELINGS have a medium-term duration. They vary in intensity and usually occur in response to an external or internal stimulus, e.g. happiness after winning or doing well in a competition. Being “overwhelmed” by a feeling takes about several hours up to some days.

Last but not least, what is a “MOOD”? A mood lasts for a longer period of time (several days to weeks). They emotionally affect our current actions. E.g. our training (e.g. training climate, our willingness to train hard, our relationship with our trainer) can be affected by moods which are not necessarily directly related to the training. You might know the “spring mood”, when it finally gets lighter again, everything starts to bloom, and you feel in a better mood and more energised.

How do emotions arise? What’s the biology behind emotions?

First of all, there's a stimulus to which we react. This stimulus can be different from person to person. For some it might the competition as such, for others it's not climbing to the top of a boulder or route, for others it might be a certain type of climb such as a slab. Have you observed yourself? Do you know what stimuli you react to?

In a "preparation phase", the emotion is built up. During this phase, we can still influence our emotions by applying coping strategies we have learnt. E.g. if a climber realises that he/she has climbed way above the clip draw, the feeling of fear might increase. By using breathing techniques and concentrating on the next movement only, he/she can decrease the feeling of fear.

In the "main phase", the emotion fully captures us and it's hard to escape the feeling.

The "end phase" marks the period of time it takes to reduce the emotion and calm down again.

It’s crucial to learn how to better regulate and control our emotions in order to perform well. It’s not something that is learnt over night, but needs time. Stay tuned for follow-up blog posts addressing this topic!

Climbing Psychology also conducts consultations and workshops where we guide athletes, coaches, and leaders along this path of professional development. For more information, please see our services page, or send us a message. Thanks for reading!