Mental Toughness

  • SumoMe

Hello again!  Wow, I haven’t posted in a long time but am going to try to blog more consistently now.  It’s been a busy fall so far; school is in full swing, and climbing competitions are starting up once more.  I should have lots to blog about!

First off, here’s the climbing technique for today: back flagging.  This balancing tactic could be described as a backward flag.  I found this awesome definition in a list of climbing terms online:

A climbing technique where a foot is extended behind the other leg in an effort to counter-balance the movement of the hand on the same side of the body.

I am finding that I use this technique more and more often, especially on highly technical routes on vertical terrain.  On one particular boulder problem, I was able to prevent barn dooring by sinking beneath those slopey holds and back flagging.  It worked like a charm, and I was surprised at how natural the move felt.  So, whenever a move may be done more efficiently, or if switching feet is impossible, try the back flag and see what happens!

Now to the main topic of this post: mental toughness.  This past weekend I participated in an ABS 14 competition at my home gym.  A few minutes before it was time to climb, the adrenaline levels were soaring, and psych was high.  The signal was given to begin climbing, and we rushed into the bouldering cave, eager to get on our first route.  Then it all came crashing down.  A young climber screamed for help; he had fallen and broken his arm badly.  “Competitors, stop climbing.  Move away from the bouldering cave, toward the garage doors,” blared over the loudspeaker as coaches rushed to the spot of the accident.  The crowd of confused kids moved as one toward the doors.  Separated from my partner in the chaos, I felt lost.  Two very different emotions, one of elation, the other of fear, had exploded on impact and combined to create a sickening feeling deep in my gut.  After finding each other, my partner and I extracted ourselves from the puzzled mass of climbers and collected ourselves outdoors.  The injury was bad, we had heard, but an absolute fluke.  After everything was taken care of, climbing was resumed as if nothing had gone wrong in the first place, but I couldn’t shake the nervous feeling until two hours later.  Even then, it still wasn’t the same.

What had upset my mental balance?  It’s extremely hard to explain.  I wasn’t truly scared of injuring myself, but the shock of the tragic unexpected had shaken me.  One of the best Youth B competitors in the country saw the injury occur but was still able to gather himself and tie for first in his category.  How does one acquire this type of mental toughness?  Many things can and will go wrong at a comp, and even smaller problems than the example above can devastate your performance.  On this site, I found a definition of mental toughness:

Mental Toughness- Having a physiological edge that enables you to be consistent, confident, focused, and determined during high pressure situations in order to perform at maximum potential.

I want to have this “physiological edge” when I compete.  I have realized that I can’t let frustrating circumstances faze me.  Pondering on this past competition, I have tried to figure out what I could have done differently, what I will do in the next situation that confronts me when it is crucial to keep my psych high.  I have decided that next time, I will only allow myself to think of the climbing ahead of me.  If I don’t allow myself to become distracted by what is going on around me, I won’t be shaken by the performance-crushing occurrences.  Also, next time I’m going to pull out my iPod and drown out the entire world with some upbeat music.  Continuing to warm up and talking to myself mentally about the competition ahead may do some good as well.  Next time I compete, I will be prepared!  But at the end of the competition, I was feeling alright again, was proud that I did my best, and placed after all.  It was a day of learning for me, and the experience I had has helped prepare me for a day when there may be more at stake than a local comp.  I also learned to not set too much store in what place one earns at a comp.  The point is to do your best, enjoy the journey, and, at the end of the day, be proud of yourself.

A big shout out to the climber who broke his arm: Get well soon!  You are one tough cookie.  I hope to see you  back climbing in the gym in the near future!

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