Why I have been Busy Coding iCoachClimbing.com

As a climbing coach I am always keen to think outside the box, it was why I decided to spend two years studying an MSc part time to see what sports science can do for climbing. During that two year journey I realised that there was a lot of information about the best practice for sports psychology, performance physiology and effective coaching of technical skills that can be applied to climbing.

In particular I was interested in goal setting, where goals can take on different meanings and functions. So whilst its great to have a outcome or dream goal like climbing a specific route or grade, sports science has shown that it is more important to have goals that are aimed at processes you need to improve to reach those goals.

Those sports scientists have gone further than that and developed a form of performance profiling that was designed for elite athletes to find the most important five processes to work on for a short period before reassessing their performance and setting another five goals. I always though that the process of performance profiling could be automated, but didn’t know how to go about it.

A little research later and I realised that I needed to learn to code php and combine it with a database. So one day I sneaked into the computer sciences department in Bangor University and put a sign up asking for a coding tutor in php and mySQL. After three hours of teaching about database normalisation and a link to some online tutorials I set out programming. After much hair loss and frustration I eventually automated that performance profiling system for rock climbers.

The next step was based on a thought from many coaches that if you do the same thing over and over again you won’t improve just get really good at doing the same thing. Having seen the BMC’s training logbook that was the next thing I set about coding and implementing a way to see the results more easily. As logging all your training by route means that I could program a way to explore the data in more meaningful ways. So at present the overviews show number of routes, average grade and average rate of exertion if you choose to use them.

The perceive rate of exertion is a subjective scale with which you can score each route as to how hard you found it from 1 to 5. It is included because it can show improvements in performance before you see a marked increase in grade. This added sign of improvement can help you stay motivated as it is potentially a finer measure than the grade you climb.

With both these in place I them turned back to the performance profiling that has around 50 attributes that are related to climbing (if you use the system and can think of other attributes I am happy to add them to the system). I initially decided to have the pages in my book “How to Climb Harder” where you can find subjects relevant to those attributes. However I quickly realised it would be great to write articles for those attributes, but the coding was taking up so much time that I remembered I had already written dozens of articles and that there were dozens more written by other people.

Having been at the forefront of the wiki revolution in new route reporting in North Wales I thought why not code a way that I or anybody else can add links to articles, blog post or videos from around cyberspace, and instead make a repository of online resources for climbers and coaches. These are linked with the attributes in the performance profile so now when you do you profile you get a reading list for each attribute.

As a coach I also hope that eventually as I code more features and increase the functionality that more and more climber use it, and even coaches come along and monitor their clients with the system. As I have also coded a complete Mountain Training Logbook system and a way to monitor clients performance. There was also talk of the new coaching award requiring trainee coaches to be mentored by more experienced coaches and whilst I have not added this feature yet it too is planned in the future as is an Open Source Climbing Award that is linked to the national curriculum.

My point is that the site is now functioning well, and I am busy when not busy working dreaming up new ways to use the site. I have many ideas and only me to code it but for me it is more than just a site but a great way to learn a new skill as who knows what the future holds but there will come a point where maybe my body fails me and I need a new career.

The last thing I have coded is a advertising banner feature and if you have made it this far and are interested in some free advertising in return for help to promote the site then get in contact with me via icoachclimbing.com.

There are set of video tutorials that highlight the functions of the site and how you can use it.

Sport and Trad Climbing Courses in Swanage and Portland – Oct/Nov Half Term 2012

Whilst I currently live in North Wales, the start of my passion for rock climbing started way back in the early 1990’s when I first visited the Swanage and Portland as I grew up in neighbouring Bournemouth. As such in th hope that there is some late summer sun in the October/November half term. I am going to run some sport and trad climbing courses in the area.

The courses are a two weekend sports climbing courses, and are ideal for any climber who wants to make the transistion between indoor climbing and outdoor sports climbing. These courses will take place at either Portland or some of the bolted quarries along the swanage coast. We will cover a whole host of skills that will bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor climbign and help you stay safe.

Sandwiched between these two courses is a one week long Sport/Trad course, where we will alternate between sport climbing at Swanage and Portland and trad climbing on the awesome sea cliffs around Swanage. Again we will cover a variety of skills to help you bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor climbing and introduce you to some trad climbing skills and equipment.

Portland/Swanage Sport Climbing Weekend (27th/28th October 2012 & 3rd/4th November 2012)

These courses are design to help you move outside the confines of a climbing wall and start sport climbing in one of the UK’s greatest sport climbing destinations. These courses run on a maximum ratio of 1 to 4 and we will cover the following skills:

  • Belaying
  • Clipping bolts
  • Using a clip stick
  • Threading lower off
  • Climbing on ‘real rock’.
  • Cleaning a sport route.
  • Basic Redpointing skills.

Cost: £250 per person.

Portland/Swanage Climbing Coaching Week (29th October & 2nd November 2012)

This week long course looks at a whole manner of climbing skills from climbing movement to ropework skills that are helpful for both trad and sports climbing. As we are planning on tackling some of the multipitched routes at swanage we operate on a ratio of 1 to 2 for this course. As such it is more aimed at climbers already heading out onto the cliffs and who are climbing around the F5/VS grades who would like to gain more sport climbing and trad climbing experience.

Due to the low ratios the exact content of the course is very person specific and our coaches will chat to you on a daily basis as what you would like to achieve over the course.

Cost: £600 per person.

What is provided on the course?

During the courses we will provide ropes and more technical climbing equipment. However you will need your own harness, rock boots and Helmets (we do have a limited supply).

What isn’t included?

We don’t provide food, accomodation or transport to the crags. Although we meet up every morning to lift share to the crag from a cafe.

Caff’s plan for the Meltdown or How to Climb F9a

James McHaffie has been a dominant force in UK climbing for some time now. Most associated with hard onsight ascents of both existing and new routes. This was epitomised by his ascent of the Tower of Midnight on Cryn Las early this year. However in the last year or so James has turned towards sports climbing to push his limits and unsurprisingly he has managed to repeat one of the hardest routes in the UK The Big Bang at LPT.

The Meltdown Plan - courtsey of Jame McHaffie.

Early this year I accompanied him on a couple of days out and whilst I was injured James most certainly was not. One of those days was a damp day in Twll Mawr home to his recent first ascent of the long standing Meltdown project. After the ascent James mentioned he had designed a plan for the route by sketching it.

I thought I would explore this tactic from a coaching point of view. A couple of years ago now I coached a few elite welsh junior climbers as part of my MSc, the aim wasn’t to design training plans but instead to try and get my clients to improve their psychological approach to hard indoor climbing. After working through a series of self-talk, imagery and relaxation exercises and getting the think more widely about there climbing, I introduce planning a route.

At first I tried to see if I could get these kids to look at a route and plan the moves. As this is something I do on a regular basis. However when I got the kids to do this they would look you for about 10 seconds and say “Planned it and off they went”. I needed something to slow them down and make them actually plan in depth rather than just pretend they had. So I turn to a pen and paper and got them to draw the route and plan their hand movements, orientation of the holds and where they could match or rest.

Within a few week they went from F6b+ to F7a+. So I know this works really well for indoor climbing, but I have never used it outside as often time constraints mean its impossible. Seeing Caff’s diagram tells me that it probably works outside as well because he climbed the Meltdown in a rapid style. Whilst it suits itself to redpointing, the whole planning and preparation for the onsight of a hard route can also benefit from simialr lengthy tactics like climbing adjacent routes and noting possible rest or gear. Some of course will think this is cheating, but to me its just a sensible tactical approach.

Anyway, I just wanted to share caff diagram and how they can be of help not just to rock climbing legends like Caff but also us the common man. Caff is shortly heading out to the States for round two with El Cap, but before he is in an undisclosed location in the UK attempting to repeat a very hard route. I hope he is successful as it would be a significant reduction in time to make the ascent than the first ascentionist. I also wonder whether he’ll draw a plan for the top pitch of that route.