Intentions in Competition Route-Setting
A few years ago, I attended the USA Climbing Coaches’ Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Chris Danielson, administrator for the USA Climbing Route-Setting Program, gave a presentation on “Intentions in Competition Route-Setting”. He explained that route-setters realized the importance of using volumes about a decade ago for setting competition routes. These volumes were small, augmenting the routes they set with regular holds. Now, a decade later, large volumes are the main component of routes with regular holds augmenting them. Chris’ main point was that there’s constant change when setting routes for competitions and it’ll be challenging for athletes to adapt to that change.
I reflected on his observation and how we could prepare athletes mentally for this. If athletes will face continually changing routes in competition, then an important quality for them to develop would be adaptability and resilience to change. Change creates a lot of uncertainty, which can distract their attention, and create sub-par performances.
Uncertainty is unsettling.
I had an unsettling experience last week at our local YMCA, during my weekly hot/cold process. I alternate between the hot steam-room and the cold pool. I like the contrasting feeling of hot and cold. The pool isn’t very cold, so it’s not challenging to get into it. It’s actually a relief. Staying in the hot steam-room, however, is challenging for me. The temperature changes a lot, creating uncertainty, and I get anxious, desiring certainty.
When we look at change in a broad context, though, we see that it’s the only constant. Everything is in constant transformation, changing from one form or position into another form or position. Food transforms into energy as I eat it; energy transforms into my effort that helps me climb. My body is in one position and moves into another position when climbing. Life is constantly changing.
So, if change is the only constant, then why is it so difficult to deal with it? Shouldn’t it be easy to deal with change since we’re also part of the changing world? Change is difficult because there’s another motivation that drives us: seeking comfort. Change is stressful and makes us feel unbalanced; we seek comfort to get back into balance.
There’s nothing wrong or unusual about seeking comfort. However, how we go about seeking comfort does make a difference. If we focus on end results, then we’ll be uncertain; we’ll direct our attention toward a future state when we’re comfortable again, when change seems to have stopped. However, we can seek comfort differently.
- First, we prepare for change by knowing stress is a natural part of our experience. This is an important first step because we have a tendency to think stress is an aberration, something that shouldn’t occur, and something that the world imposes on us just to make our lives difficult. Knowing stress is a natural part of our experience helps us welcome it and look for the learning opportunities in it.
- Second, we adapt to stressful situations by how we direct the flow of our attention. We do this by being clear about our goals and being clear about the processes we’ll focus on during stress. We identify the tasks that need our attention, such as thinking tasks we do with the mind and action tasks we do with the body. We let our attention flow to whatever task we’re doing.
At the YMCA, I let my attention flow to the mind to do critical thinking. I set a clear goal: I will stay in the steam-room until a minute after the steam shuts off. I also think about the processes I’ll focus on while engaged in the stressful experience, processes that help the body adapt to the heat. Then I take action; I step into the steam-room. Stepping into stress creates a lot of uncertainty: I’m uncertain about when the steam will turn on; I’m uncertain how long the steam will remain on; and I’m uncertain about my ability to remain in the heat until I achieve the goal. Change is constant and all of these uncertainties make it difficult for me to adapt to change.
I notice that my uncertainty diminishes a little when the steam turns on. Now, I’m only uncertain about how long it will stay on and whether or not I’ll be able to achieve the goal. Then, my uncertainty diminishes a little more when the steam turns off. Now, I’m only uncertain about whether or not I’ll be able to stay in the heat for another minute and achieve the goal. Then, my uncertainty disappears after one minute passes and I achieve the goal. Suddenly I feel like I can tolerate the heat better, and choose to stay in the steam-room longer if I want to. I feel like I have the power to choose, now that I’ve achieved the goal.
I can retain my power of choice throughout the experience by shifting what I focus on. Uncertainty doesn’t have to diminish over time; certainty can remain constant throughout the experience. I let the flow of my attention go to processes that remain constant in the midst of change. I direct my attention to the body by focusing on breathing, relaxing, and enjoying it. These processes are certain because they are within my control and occur in the present moment. Focusing this way improves my ability to adapt to change. I retain the power of choice throughout the experience because I’m choosing to focus my attention on certain processes instead of uncertain outcomes.
Chris Danielson is correct; route-setting for competitions is constantly changing. We’ll make athletes more resilient by training them to shift what they focus on. By helping them welcome stress, identify certain processes they can control, and practice focusing on those processes, we’ll create athletes that can adapt to constant change. Instead of becoming anxious about uncertain outcomes, they’ll be resilient in applying themselves to certain processes.
Practice Tip: Certain Adaptation
Once you’ve set the goal, don’t focus on uncertain outcomes; focus on certain processes. These processes occur in the present moment, which is all you can control.
- Thinking process: Think about the goal. Be clear about exactly what it is that you want to achieve. Having this clarity will help you know what you need to do while working toward goal achievement.
- Doing process: Identify the processes that you’ll focus on while engaging your body in climbing. These will be variations of breathing, relaxation/tension, movement, and eye focus. Vary your breathing, the amount of body tension, how quickly/slowly you move, and your eye focus based on what the climb requires.
You’ll adapt well to constant change because you’re not focusing on uncertain outcomes; you’re focusing on certain processes.