Friday 9 February 2007

Start of February!

How did it get to February already? Two days ago I got back from my working mini-tour of the UK, lecturing and coaching (and writing while en-route to the next city). I was very pleased with how my work went on the whole, although I still need to learn to write more efficiently.

Lecturing is still a strange experience for me even though I have done a great many now. My point of view in my lecture subject (the sport of climbing) is quite unusual and unique so what I am trying to do is communicate the reality of my experience to other climbers who have a very different experience and background. Not always easy. The biggest challenge is often describing how seemingly hard grades are actually very accessible if you get round the intimidation of seeing them as massive obstacles and start to see them as a series of small do-able steps. I definitely spotted a couple of audience members rolling their eyes as I tried to explain that the UK’s hardest trad routes aren’t really that bad. I wasn’t doing a very good job. The trouble with this kind of argument is that its easy to sound elitist when you have no backup from others. At least in E11 there is Niall McNair spelling out how crap I was at climbing in earlier years to underline the point that technique and strength are only one half of the jigsaw puzzle. Just deciding you are going to do something is the other half. Or maybe more than half. I guess what I was trying to say was not that E10 etc isn’t hard, it is, but rather that looking at your own levels of strength and technique on the rock as a measure to decide that you can never climb these grades is the wrong measure. Looking for the ability to open yourself up to the possibility of failure and the love of trying hard is really what needs to be done.

Andy K does an excellent job of showing how there is room for much British comedy amateurism even at an elite level in alpinism, so long as the psyche is there to get out there and just get it done, no matter how big the challenge. Of course in reality Andy is as switched on and prepared as they come, don’t let him fool you! But in his lectures I find myself thinking “I like what he does, but I could never do that”. My objective when talking about climbing or coaching it is to demonstrate that anyone can go much further than they realise, all that is necessary is a firm decision to go for it. I have much to learn here.

In recent months I have coached many more climbers and learned a great deal about patterns in what holds climbers or sports people back. I can see that the overriding common theme is that most climbers simply don’t know how to try really hard. Of course I already knew this from my research in the area of maximum strength output. It was laughable to see how easy it was to influence the results of maximum finger strength scores just by varying the volume of your encouragement! This effect has been demonstrated directly in plenty of studies. The problem is that many climbers want to get better without trying hard. Unfortunately, beyond a certain limited level, this is not possible. Trying hard and getting outside your comfort zone is a bit like getting into the swimming pool. You want to toe dip and put it off as long as possible. But once you finally jump in, after a few minutes you wondered what all the fuss was about.

The game is to find a way to love trying hard, instead of avoiding it. Once this is mastered, the rest is just going through the daily motions of bringing the body along with the mind.

Anyway, I went on a tangent, sorry! Now my scheduled work is over I am in Spain waiting for the rain to stop, trying to write, and then maybe I can climb for a few days. The picture is from yesterday at Barcelona Zoo. The Giraffe was quite polished and maybe about V1?

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