I reckon about 90% of climbers will answer yes to at least some of those questions. Despite being labeled as ‘one of the boldest female climbers out there’ I have certainly answered yes to most of these questions at some point in my climbing. How are we supposed to get better if we can’t try our hardest? What’s the use in all the finger boarding if we get to the crag and we’re saying ‘take' on moves way below our physical and technical ability?
'one issue is always the head, both fear and lack of belief in going for it.’
'You can be as strong as you want but if your head’s not in it then you’ve already lost'
I recently interviewed Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, who is one of the strongest female climbers in the world right now yet she freely admits to having an irrational fear of falling when sport climbing. She has climbed really scary high balls, but she told me that she has often reversed moves instead of committing to a sequence in fear of falling, even when she knows the fall is safe. Mina has climbed 8c. It isn’t only beginner or moderate climbers who are scared of falling - I’ve seen climbers top rope 8c+ sport routes first because they don’t want to take a lead fall.
Mina is dedicated to improving her mental strength by pushing her comfort zone slowly and gently. She knows she has to make an effort to train her mind as well as her body.
Mina climbs 8c and she’s scared. Why are we scared? We’re scared because it’s biologically programmed in us to avoid heights, avoid falling, avoid exposure. However, we can make those situations safe with climbing equipment and experience and knowledge. When we’re stood on the ground we know it’s safe to fall, but when we get on the wall fear and doubt and negative internal dialogue overrides that knowledge. But with practice and experience we can make those situations that seem terrifying, feel normal.
"Physical training is ‘easy’ on the mind! Mind training is not clear cut with hard to define gains. And physical training feels good!! How many climbers train on a 50 degree board on crimps, only to gibber and scream ’TAKE' as they pass the first bolt on a 5+!!”
Mental training takes a lot more energy than physical training. But it is necessary if you want to improve and necessary if you want to get the most enjoyment out of your climbing. I don’t pretend to be especially bold and if I ever have been bold it was certainly through a lot of hard work and dedication. It wasn’t handed to me on a plate at birth. However, I was lucky to start climbing at a young age and that has definitely given me a head start. I still have to work at it though. I often engage in what I call ‘maintenance’ to make sure I’m not getting stressed in situations where I should be comfortable.
"Hi Hazel, hope you're doing well. Just thought I'd send you a quick message; redpointed my first 7a today, absolutely chuffed to bits. Everything I picked up from you in Kalymnos has been brilliant, really given me the confidence to up my game, much quicker than I was expecting, too! You can add that to your list of coaching successes.."
"In my first coaching session with Hazel, she was able to efficiently identify my weaknesses as a climber and translate my efforts into attainable goals. Her coaching methods were thorough, direct, and personalized for my needs. Utilizing the tools and training mechanisms Hazel provided me, I have felt an immediate impact in my comfort and confidence on the wall. As a moderate climber, Hazel's guidance has helped push me in my pursuit of the next level. "
The day with Hazel was time very very well spent. By the end of the day I led a grade harder than I had previously – it was a great feeling! I’m more excited about climbing, I have a set of tools to help me push myself, my abs were killing me and I had a great day! She continues to be supportive. Couldn’t ask for anything more.
I had been struggling with lead climbing for some time and I started to look for ways to get past my plateau. My main issue was a fear of falling so I started to research that topic and I came across a podcast on trainingbeta.com’s website that featured Hazel. In the interview Hazel talked about the mental aspect of climbing and that she was going to begin coaching. I checked out her web page and what she stated about the mental aspect of climbing really resonated with me. I reached out to Hazel in hopes that she would still be taking on new clients. I was happy to hear back from her that she was and I was excited to start this part of my climbing journey.
The length of training was for 6 weeks and after a consult and skype chat we set out some goals. The focus would be on fall practice. I wasn’t sure how remote coaching would work but I was happy with the amount of communication I received from Hazel. I would go through my exercises for the week and report back to her and we would correspond through email and skype about how to move forward. Even though it was through email I felt Hazel was very attentive and supportive of my progress on the goals we outlined. I also appreciated the approach she takes to fall practice and having a gradual exposure to the practice, it really helped me ease into it.
By the end of the 6 weeks I was much more comfortable falling on lead and was able to onsight more difficult routes than I had before. I’m still working on my mental game but with the coaching I received from Hazel I feel I have a better skill set to move forward as I progress on my climbing journey.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time observing my own fears and doubts and also those of climbers around me. I’m a natural people-watcher and also naturally analytical and philosophical. I studied philosophy for 5 years and since graduating from university I have engaged in a lot of self-study. I’m one of those (annoying) people that always wants to know why. If I backed off a route I want to know why; was the risk real or percieved? Were there some irrational doubts that controlled me? Why did I have that negative internal dialogue?
I hope to bring the same level of care and thought to coaching as I’ve brought to my own climbing. If you’re scared of falling, my answer won’t just be fall-practice. Fear in a human is a complicated thing and if it’s especially rooted in you then expect to be mentally and emotionally challenged during the coaching sessions.
I want to run sessions that are tailored specifically and holistically to each person. This doesn’t just mean picking a time and a place that suits you; it means trying to get to know what is going on in your head and devising the best plan of action to move you forward with your climbing. This approach entails a certain amount of commitment from you in time and energy. Although this will scare some people off, I believe that this will filter out the people who are really interested in development rather than the unrealistic idea that I will be a ‘quick fix’.
I don’t believe in a standard template that dissolves every fear and doubt in the mind of every climber. The human mind is immensely complicated and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. However, mental training is like physical training in the sense that improvements are gained by gently stretching your boundaries. This means that with talking, thinking, exploring and practical exercises you can teach your body and mind to find what was once stressful, comfortable.
My coaching is still in it’s early phases. So far I won’t be running any workshops on set dates but I am flexible with my time. I can also do a lot of work with you remotely. If you’re interested in my coaching please email me at email@example.comIMPORTANT: My coaching is focused on people who can already climb competently with reasonable technique, and are safe climbers. I have no experience in instruction or desire to instruct. Please do not inquire if you cannot climb harder than HVS, 6b, 5.9 or cannot belay safely. Climbers who only sport climb, trad climb or boulder are all welcome and I can make the coaching specific to your preferred climbing style, goals and aims.