Are you (or have you been) a nervous leader?
Recently, I was sitting at a bolt on Cocaine Rodeo, a 12a at the Valhalla wall here in Ten Sleep. The route was the first of the grade I’d tried, and I was slogging up it bolt-by-bolt. While I was waiting for my arms to de-pump, I called down to my belayer, “I have got to stop clipping from crap holds.” To which another friend replied, deadpan, “Don’t get nervous, and you won’t clip from crap.”
And he was right. I started paying attention to my own nervousness while climbing, and I noticed some negative effects of nervous leading.
- You get pumped quickly. Nervous climbing leads to overgripping, which pumps your arms. If you’re deathgripping huge jugs, you’re using more energy than you need to stay on the wall.
- You climb sloppily. When I’m nervous, I don’t do my best work reading a route. I tend to let my feet get stuck down low, and throw my hands up ever higher.
- Panic Clips. One of the most distinctive features of (my) nervous leading is to clip a bolt or hang a draw as soon as possible, from whatever hold is at hand at the time, rather than from the best hold. While strenuous clips are sometimes unavoidable, it doesn’t make sense to clip from a sloping pocket if the next hold up is a huge jug!
How do you change an instinctive reaction? Form a new habit, one climb at a time.
Here are the strategies I’m using to try and control my nervousness and climb more confidently:
- Read Ahead. Before you start climbing, look for obvious rests and good clipping holds. If you spy blank-looking sections on the wall, try to plan a clipping stance ahead of time by identifying a good hold or foot.
- Re-set Your Mind. No bad habit changes overnight. Don’t let one panicked clip on a route or a tough move throw you off. Find a good rest, take, or get determined and keep it moving.
- Look for Good Feet. My foot-work is generally the first thing to go when I start to get pumped. Getting my feet back on the best holds and planning where they’re going to go next helps me get my technique back on track.
- Puppies and Candy Canes! Another piece of climbing wisdom from a friend: “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just think about puppies and candy canes.” When you get nervous, concentrate on your breathing and relax your grip. Puppies and candy canes!
Over the last week, I’ve been working on reducing nervous leading every day I climb. It’s working out well–I recently managed to pull off an onsight of a Ten Sleep classic–Bikini Girls with Machine Guns, 11a. I used all 4 strategies, kept it together, and made it to the chains!