The first day climbing – staying calm under pressure

Stay calm and carry on!

Stay calm and carry on!

Being a mountain guide is about being a leader, finding the way and making big decisions. But it is also about being a mentor, enabling others to be the best they can be.

One element I have always enjoyed is coaching people to rock climb. Sometimes people have climbed a lot and want to improve so they can realise a particular ambition, for others it is a completely new experience. I approach a session with somebody who has never climbed before by remembering how I felt the very first time I climbed: I clung on for grim death, scrabbled with my feet and I didn’t trust the rope to hold me. I probably used enough energy climbing 40 feet of gritstone to light up Sheffield for a day!

So what do I wish I had known on that first day?

The two most common sources of anxiety when climbing are fear of failure and fear of falling.

I always emphasise that it is ok to fail and that actually if we struggle with something we have an opportunity to learn and ultimately improve.

A fear of failure is a threat to the ego. It can be either not wanting to let your self down or not wanting to perform badly in front of others, or both. You need to be kind to your self and remember that having the courage to even attempt a climb is a positive action. It is common to worry about what other people think, but it’s important to know that the team around you want you to do well; feed off that. One technique I use is to try and gather a ‘quiet mind’ just before leaving the ground. In yoga practice or in martial arts this is often the first step before action. Let go of anxiety, breathe comfortably and focus on the next move.

I find that the easiest way to reduce the fear of falling is to actually climb up a short distance and then let the rope take your weight, assuming you have a top rope! This way you get to test and then trust the rope, the harness and the person holding the rope through the belay device. The knowledge that you can be lowered to safety at any point is comforting. As a leader, I like to position myself close to the climber, to be able to see their eyes. In my experience this is the quickest way to build trust.

There are many factors that can prevent you from realising your potential when climbing; over gripping, poor footwork and poor physical condition. But by overcoming our fear of failure and our fear of falling the chances of success are dramatically increased.

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