Mental Skills for climbers

Psychological Skills for Rock Climbing

This sections includes a series of articles aimed at improving your mental and psychological skills for rock climbing by introducing sport psychology concepts with exercises and activities to flex your mind. Some of these exercises can be practiced away from the rock face, whilst other will require you to implement them at the crag. Either way just like the tactical and technical sections, these cognitive skills need to be practiced at first on low stress easy routes so you can get the basics ingrained before trying to use them at your limit.

The general list of mental skills we cover to help performance are Relaxation, Imagery/visualisation, Focus, Motivation, Fear and performance, coping with fear, Self-talk, Enjoyment and goal setting. Although some topics overlap or link themes, each of these is a distinct mental skill that through deliberate practice can enhanced your performance and help you to overcome specific issues that might be holding you back.

Despite climbing being a high risk sport where mental control is paramount to not only success but at times out safety, rock climbing instructional manuals have often been woefully thin on real help. The author studied Sport Science and Sport Psychology to Master’s level and offers up real mental skills advice from a background of evidence based interventions from a whole host of sports. As such these lessons are among the best advice available.

Attributes for Psychological Skills for Rock Climbing

The ability to analyse and question how you climb is a key part to improving in nearly every possible area you can train from the TTPPS (Technical, Tactical, Physical, Psychological & Safety parts of climbing performance).

Goal Setting is a much-underused part of climbing harder, without a goal you are driving a rudderless ship. A goal will help you focus on the strategies and tactics you can use to reach those goals.

Mental skills for climbers

There are two aspects to relaxation, one is the body the other is the mind, one does effect the other and vice versa. Being relaxed as possible has been shown to improve sporting performance in a number of fields.

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99% of athletes report using some kind of visualisation in their training or sport. Whilst for many it is just an image, we are going to cover the PETTLEP model of imagery which shows that imagery is a combination of a visual image, kinaesthetic feeling and an emotional response.

In sports science, they refer to this as Self-Efficacy, or one’s belief in there ability to carry out a specific task. So your confidence on a rock type you are very familiar with will be far higher than when you are visiting a new rock type.

Self-talk is the little voice in your head that often only starts talking to you when the going gets tough. Often to undermine your confidence or belief.

The human body has evolved to have a fight or flight response to what our brains consider scary situations. By understanding what the common response and behavioural effects are we can start to become aware of when we trigger that response and start to rationalise what we feel.

This is our ability to control what we are focused on when climbing. Again this can have positive and negative effects on our performance, as such we need to understand what we focus on, why we do and how we can maintain that appropriate focus.

This is your ability to remember long and complex sequences for sports routes and boulder problems. In general, this area is covered under the imagery section.

Whilst it is not possible to truly exert control over your emotions it is possible to understand them and as a result try to minimise the disruption to your climbing that can happen when you trigger an emotional response.

Being and state motivated is a key part to reaching you goals, whether that be motivation to train or get on routes that you know will be hard for you.

The concept of mental toughness is fairly modern, the idea is that it is various personal attributes and skills a person has to cope with difficult situations.