10 Mental Skills of a Successful Cimber

Climbing in general isn’t a sport about winning over a competitor, it is more about setting your own goals and achieving them. Whatever the grade, the style of climbing or indeed the level of commitment, climbing is a great sport for setting challenges and overcoming them.

What seperates the successful from the unsuccessful one can be as simple as the just how important climbing is to you, and how you set your goals to fit in with limitations that you have in terms of life commitments, finances, time and natural ability. Someone could climb E5 and be unsuccessful or VS and be successful, in that success shouldn’t be measured as a simple grade.

Most successful climbers will set high but realistic goals to pursue, and train and play hard to reach them. They will believe that climbing is an important part of their lives and that it enriches them as a person, and whatever effort they put into the sport they feel they get back in return.

It essense it comes down to the old adage reputably utter by Alex Lowe, in that, “the best climber is the one having the most fun”. I my climbing I have seen people who from time to time lose sight of this in the quest for grades, but then I have taught people who have climbed below VS for 10 years and still bring and enthusiasm and vigor to the crag that puts climbing in the realm of having fun, rather than ticking grades.

Something that I urge readers to remember, if they think this sports psychology is just more than they need in their climbing. We don’t have all the answers, and simply reading through this article and blog, and ticking the exercises, will not lead to success by our definition of having fun.

Sport psychologist have long searched for key components that make up the raft of mental skills that athletes use in order to be successful in there sport. One current breakdown is that there are Nine Mental Skills that are highly correlated with ‘sporting success’, more than that though these nine mental skills are also applicable in other areas of our lifes. For the purpose of this article I have added a tenth, in the form of confidence.

Ten Mental Skills

  1. Choose and Maintain a Positive Attitud
  2. Maintain a high level of self motivation
  3. Set High and Realistic Goals
  4. Deal effectively with people
  5. Use positive self talk
  6. Use Positive mental imagery
  7. Develop high level of confidence
  8. Manage anxiety effectively
  9. Manage their emotions effectively
  10. Maintain Concentration

Quick SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is an assessment of your perceive Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats, with regard reaching a goal. Our goal is to become a more ‘successful’ climber by better utilizing mental skills. So try and fit each of the Nine Mental Skills in one or more of the SWOT analysis.

Many Sport Psychologist recommend focusing on these mental skills for success and improved performance. The first stage is to make you aware of your current levels of mental skills. Then devise a plan for YOU as an INDIVIDUAL to help learn, practice and develop those mental skills that need improvement.

In order to develop awareness we need to define these mental skills, and explain how these attributes can be used and occasional misused by use, so we can identify non-productive behaviour.

Attitude …Choosing and Maintaining a good one!

The first and most important thing to remember is attitude is a choice, although it can be affected by many things and seem to shift at will, more successful people tend to be better at realizing that there attitiude is shift and are better placed to do something about it.

Motivation…. Being and Staying Motivated

Successful climbers are usually aware of the rewards that participating in climbing can bring, and are used to the experiences that it offers. They are often able to persist through difficult climbs or boulder problems, even when the reward of success is not necessarily immediate. As such they understand and remember that the benefits from their climbing comes often through the process of climbing rather than the necessary out come of any given route, boulder problem or challenge.

Setting Goals…. Why high and realistic goals work

Successful climbers will use a variety of goal setting methods, sometimes formally but often just subconscious goals. These may be a long term goal in terms of a specific route or a short term goal like what routes they are going to climb today, next weekend or what they are going to train at the wall. To be successful these goals need to be realistic, measurable and have a set achieve by date.

To achieve this successfully the climber will have to be aware of their current level of performance, and be able to break down their skill set to seek out specific goals that address their weakness, and lay out details plans to attain the goals they set. The commitment to there plans, training and goals will also be high.

Good with People….

In order to succeed a successful climber will be aware that they are just a small part of a larger communities that they live in. This will include family, friends, climbing partners and coaches. They will be able to communicate appropriately with all these groups to help share their thoughts, feelings, emotions and needs, as well as reciprocate by listen to people within these groups.

Similarly the successful athlete will have learned effective ways to deal with conflict within or between these social communities, and how to deal with people when they are negative or oppositional.

self talk…. Having only good words

Successful climbers will be able to help maintain higher levels of self talk through either covert or overt positive self talk during difficult and bold route. This self talk will be rational and phrased in a manner that they would talk to a best friend. They will also use self talk to regulate thoughts, feelings and emotion during training and climbing.

Imagery….Imagining the positive

Succesful climbers will prepare for a climb by imaging themselves performing well on the lead. They will see themselves calm and composed, by imaging clear mental detailed of specific and realistic climbing situations. They will also use imagery during climbing to prepare for a climb or recover from poor climbing performance, in order to recentre themselves.

High Levels of confidence

A successful climber will have high levels of climbing confidence, and apply that confidence to specific and realistic climbing routes or boulder problems. They will have spent time developing the skills they need for their chosen route or problem, and be confident that they can achieve the expected outcome.

Should they fail they can have a realistic and rational response to why they failed, and not allow it to effect there confidence in a catastrophic way. To achieve this the climber will have a very good understanding of their current skill levels.

Anxiety… Understanding and cope with

Climbers will know and accept that anxiety, fear and its resultant effects are centre to the sport of climbing. They will be aware of how it affects there body, thoughts, feeling and emotions, whilst at the same time knowing when that anxiety can help performance, versus when it is having a negative and possibly catastrophic effect. They will also have develop good coping strategies to help reduce the physical and mental effects without losing the overall intensity of performance.

Emotions … Understanding them and using them appropriately

A successful climber will be able to accept that rock climbing can illicit very sptrong emotional responses, be it excitement, anger, fear or disappointment. They are able to use these emotions to improve there performance through a variety of methods.

Concentration… maintaining focus

A successful climber will be aware that concentration is a key to success, and be able to focus that concentration during a climb to where it is needed. They will be able to avoid distraction from themselves, others or the environment, and if necessary regain there concentration after losing it on a climb. Above all they will have learnt to climb in the ‘here and now’, rather than focusing of past or future events.

Full SWOT analysis

A SWAT analysis is an assessment of your perceive Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats, with regards to becoming a more ‘successful’ climber by better utilizing mental skills. So try and fit each of the Nine Mental Skills in one or more of the SWOT analysis. This time try putting each of the sub set of skill into a SWOT, and add a why you think that skill is a strength weakness, opportunity or threat. Finally add in what you are going to do about changing the weakness and threats to your performance, and how you are going to maintain your strengths and oppotunities.

People Skills
Self Talk

Sport Climbing: Warming Up, Confidence and a Clip stick

I have recently brought a clip stick, and have found it a really powerful tool for my climbing, as despite being far from ‘match fit’, I have seen how it can positively effect my climbing. Having thought about the effects of a clip stick, I think that it comes down to the simple answer that by clipping the first bolt on a sport route we totally eliminate the chances of a ground fall.

As a result I have certainly been much more relaxed climbing up the initial moves, this ‘relaxed’ style seems to then carry on through the route. Rather than starting up a route climbing nervously and defensively and probably over pulling on holds. It has shown real results in that I managed to climb Contusion on Mayfair Wall, something that previous I had failed on.

More than that, over the last week or two I have upped the amount of time I am on the rock. This has meant that I have been feeling more confident in my ability. So where a couple of months ago I was climbing easy routes for me, I have progressively increase the difficulty through HVS, E1, E2 and a couple of E3/4 slabs. Again this confidence means that in my climbing I am feeling a lot more relaxed and composed.

Finally, I have been warming up. The day I did contusion we climbed three F6a(+)’s, so when we came to go on this for me challenging route. There was no flash pump, and the blood vessels in my arms were fully dilated.

My advice for sport climbing, get a clip stick, warm up and work your way up through the grades over weeks and months. Remember always try and end the day consolidating a grade or working a new one. V12 Outddors have a variety of clip sticks, I recommend the 12ft one!