Teaching the youth

A beginner’s mind.  That’s what I had when I began competing after only a month of climbing under my belt.  This mind frame is one that is eager to learn, is open to new ideas and concepts and doesn’t hold back out of fear (because there’s nothing to fear).  A beginner’s mind, too, is one without expectations.

Giving my dad the nervous smile at my first JCCA competition

I was a little 11 year old girl who thought climbing was going to be dumb.  My dad had to actually convince me to go try it with him.  He had tried this for many weekends, and finally I gave in and went one Sunday in March.  We stayed for 6 hours that day struggling to get to the top of the wall.  I was by no means a natural.

My dad and I climbing in El Potrero Chico, Mexico

After only a few months of experience under my belt, I had qualified for my first JCCA National Championship (JCCA was before our National Governing Body was known as USAC).  [**side note: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the format of a championship event, it is what we call an ‘onsight’ format.   This means that all the competitors are unable to have any previous information regarding the competition routes and they can not watch other competitors climb.  To prevent competitors from getting beta or watching, they are put in an isolation area where they are supposed to warm up and get their game faces on.]  This competition was held in Richmond, VA.  I was extremely nervous.  I had spent the whole season competing at local competitions here and there and had recently won the Southeast Regional Championship, which was my first onsight format competition.  I was beginning to recognize what I was capable of, which inevitably led me to put expectations on myself.  I had begun to lose the beginners mind.  Because of my expectations and my desire to do well, I was a complete wreck from the time my plane landed in Richmond until the final results were posted.

News paper article after my first Regional Championship held at my home gym, Atlanta Rocks

On the first day, I recall not wanting to go into isolation by myself…there were so many other kids in there and I just wasn’t quite sure where to sit down or warm up.  I didn’t have any teammates competing or a coach traveling with me to these types of events so I was on my own.  Every day was a struggle for me to keep my head screwed on straight and to keep tears from pouring out of my eyes.  Regardless, I some how survived my first National Championship and I was hooked…

This is at the Youth National Championship in 2003

I was psyched and very driven for competition.  My parents helped support my drive and love for the sport by taking me to competitions all over the Nation.  My dad worked for the airlines at the time, which allowed us to fly, free of charge, any where we desired.  This definitely allowed me the freedom to travel and experience competitions in other parts of the country.  I believe this was a huge contributing factor to the success that I saw within my competition history as a youth.  Regardless of my ability to travel and the successes that I was seeing I still had doubt & anxiety with regard to competing.

Old article from Blue Ridge Outdoors

I took a year off here and there from competing in the JCCA and/or the Youth National Championship.  One of the reasons I remember taking that time off was because I wanted to wait until I was stronger so I could get on the podium and get one of those rad US Team jackets.  I didn’t realize that if I had just gone to compete, I could have placed higher than I expected to and maybe I could have even gotten on the podium.   But I didn’t give myself that chance.  I was too afraid of not meeting my expectations and failing…I had lost the beginner’s mind.  When I look back today I feel regret with regard to those decisions for a few reasons.  First, if I had just competed I could have surprised myself as each and every competition is anyone’s chance to do well.  On the flip side though, it is possible for anyone to make a mistake and fall prematurely.  That’s just how competition works.  Second of all, if I had competed then it would have only benefited me because it would have given me more experience.  Each and every competition is a learning experience whether you succeed or fail.  And finally I didn’t realize that in order to do well and succeed at something, I had to put myself in positions where I could and would fail.  Otherwise, as I’ve since learned, it means that I am not pushing hard enough to see success.

These concepts are something I’m trying to teach the kids that I currently coach. I coach a local climbing team in Boulder, known as Team Sik Bird.  Seventeen of these kids are registered through our current National Governing Body of Competition Climbing, known as USA Climbing and are competing in the bouldering series known as the ABS.  Their Regional Championship is only 3.5 weeks away so I’m trying to prepare them to the best of my ability for this competition, as it too is an onsight format.  I recently held a mock-onsight competition for them to practice and become acquainted with the format.  This event was successful in my eyes because each and every one of them did nearly everything I told them not to do or vice versa.  The kids…I know they heard everything I was telling them, but they were really stressed just like I was at my first National Championship.  I understand.  They all recognize their mistakes, which I’m grateful because it’s situations like this that really sharpen the learning curve. 

Team Sik Bird getting psyched for their first ABS competition of the season.

I know that some of them are on the fence about competing at the Regional Championship because they are worried about this or that.  My guess is they are thinking along similar lines as I was when I was younger, “I want to get stronger first,” “I don’t want to do badly,” etc, etc.  All of these worries are legitimate concerns for any new or seasoned competitor and I by no means want to discredit those concerns, because even after 13 years I sometimes have those concerns myself.  However, I do not want the athletes that I coach to turn their backs because they are afraid.  I want them to be confident in themselves and in each other.

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind if you’re a competitor, contemplating finding a proj, or just because:

  1. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to compete (or do anything) as you may be waiting forever.
  2. Any competition can be anyone’s best day.  If you’re competing against the previous National Champion (or anyone you know/think is really good), it’s OK because it may not be his/her day to shine.  Any given day can be your time to shine.  This is competition so focus on yourself.
  3. Do not be afraid of not rising to your expectations or not doing as well as you hoped.  Just like learning how to walk, we all fall.  We learn things by getting back up again, and this is what makes us more successful.
  4. If it’s not fun, then don’t do it

Keep it fun!!! My first outdoor climb...with high top LaSportiva's and all...

Until next time 🙂


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