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Flipping the Switch: 8 Ways to Send Climbs in Fewer Attempts

“Skip the attempts when you kinda go for it. You always end up getting it after 10 tries when you get closer and closer and then finally realize, ‘Oh, I can do this!’ Let’s skip those first nine and jump right to attempt number 10 and flash this thing!”


As climbers, we have all experienced the same process on climbs over and over in our careers. We walk up to and examine a route or problem, form beliefs about the experience we might have, and then give our “best” effort. When you see a climb that you know is within your ability to flash or even do in a session, you have a plethora of strategies and forms of preparation that can all increase your chances of sending on your first try. But typically, our first attempt is far from our best attempt, not only in quality but also in effort. 


Of course, this is mainly because we know the least about the climb and, therefore, are the “least” confident about our beta and the techniques we want to employ. This lack of confidence has a severe effect on the degree to which we commit, “try hard,” persist, and focus. Depending on the person, a climb that could (and should) have been flashed can take a handful of tries to multiple sessions! In all of the athletes I have coached over the years, I have seen a wide range in this ability. The climbers that experience success most often, always rise to the occasion and rarely “waste” attempts. 


I commonly tell athletes that struggle to “flip the switch,” that they need to “skip all of the attempts where you don’t try your absolute hardest. We know that you are going to get closer and closer with every try and that you are eventually going to do it, like you always end up doing. So let’s skip attempts 1–9 and jump right to number 10; fully committed, confident, and focused execution!”


coach charlkie schreiber climbing in a bouldering competition

This is especially applicable to committing moves when we are nervous to give our full effort because we believe that a failed attempt will result in an unsafe situation. The problem is that, 99% of the time, we are completely fine and are unnecessarily holding ourselves back. So instead, we constantly go through the process of testing the fall and guaranteeing failure over and over in order to finally convince ourselves of what we already know; that we are fine and it’s just a little spooky! This loop is so much more detrimental to our climbing progression than you may think! 


By taking more attempts than you otherwise need to on flashable climbs or ones you can do quickly, you waste time and energy on a route that doesn’t challenge your movement or strength at the level that is ideal to develop. Not only this, but you take time away from trying and working on more climbs in the development range and miss out on new movements and require different types of strength. In competitions, this point is highlighted so well. The climbers that give full focus and effort on their first attempts are rewarded with the highest score, the longest rest period, and the most energy in reserve going into the next climb. Climbers that lack focus and don’t try as hard as is needed to flash are punished with a lower score, a shorter rest period, and less energy left in their reserves. If competitions continued onwards through as many boulders as the athletes could withstand, the climbers that tried harder and took fewer attempts would be able to climb on and experience far more moves, rack up more points, and learn more skills. This never-ending competition is your climbing career, except you’re competing against yourself.


For all of these reasons, it is imperative that you learn to flip the switch! 


Tips to send climbs in fewer attempts

  1. Visualization and Rehearsal: Visualize yourself executing the moves skillfully and with the level of effort you intend to put on the wall. Feel exactly how hard the moves are so that you have no surprises and can maintain flow. In addition to visualization, mentally rehearsing multiple betas can help you feel more prepared to handle them effectively if you need to bail on an invalid option. This can include imagining how you will respond to any type of challenge, setback, or unexpected circumstances with resilience and composure. If your foot pops off when you didn’t expect it, how do you plan on responding? 

  2. Confidence Building: Remind yourself of your strengths, past successes in moments like this, and the hard work you've put in. I highly suggest recording all of your successes (any and all) in your training or climbing journal so that you can refer back to them when you need to feel confident or feel doubt creeping into your climbing. 

  3. Relaxation or Energizing Techniques: Depending on the style of climb, you may need to get very excited or find calm. For achieving the excitement and mental energy needed to try hard, use a powerful mantra, mental imagery of a moment in the past or future (past send or the one you’re about to do), or energizing music! Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation can help you manage pre-climb nerves and anxiety. 

  4. Focus: Narrow your focus solely on the task at hand, block out distractions, and maintain concentration on the present moment. Only with full focus can we make quick decisions, reduce anxiety, and enter a flow state so that you can execute moves effortlessly and instinctively! 

  5. Routine: Establishing pre-climb routines and rituals can help climbers get into the right mindset and prepare mentally for competition. Whether it's listening to music, performing a specific warm-up routine, or engaging in a pre-attempt ritual, consistency can help you feel comfortable and mentally prepared. Before every attempt, I always throw my arms up and down to get blood flow in my fingers, take a deep breath, and smile; it makes me feel like I am ready to perform at my peak.

  6. Trust in the Process: Trust that your training and preparation have set you up to succeed on the climb in front of you. Know that you have put in the work to succeed when it matters most. Instead of getting caught up in the outcome or result of the event, you can focus on the process and the actions you need to take to perform at your best. By staying present and focusing on the task at hand, you can minimize distractions and maintain concentration.

  7. Controlled Emotions: Emotions such as excitement, determination, and passion can serve as powerful sources of energy and motivation during moments when you are attempting to “flip the switch." You can channel these positive emotions into you performance, using them as fuel to drive their efforts and push themselves to new heights. Emotions can also have a physiological impact on the body, leading to increased adrenaline levels and heightened physical abilities. You may experience a surge in strength, speed, and agility during these moments, allowing you to execute moves with greater power and precision. Emotions can influence a climber’s mindset and outlook on the situation. By maintaining a positive attitude and mindset, climbers can approach these moments with confidence, belief, and optimism, increasing their chances of success. Emotions can also stimulate creativity and adaptability, allowing climbers to think outside the box and find innovative solutions to challenges. Athletes who are able to embrace and express their emotions authentically can tap into a deeper level of performance during clutch moments.

  8. Experience: With experience comes the ability to remain composed and make sound decisions even in the most pressure-filled situations. I highly recommend putting yourself in these situations as often as you can and recording your experience, reflecting on it, and analyzing how you can do better in the future. Experienced climbers develop mental toughness, which enables them to thrive under pressure. They are better equipped to manage stress, overcome adversity, and maintain focus and confidence during critical moments. More experienced athletes learn and practice effective coping strategies for dealing with pressure and anxiety. Experienced athletes have a deep understanding of their own strengths, weaknesses, and psychological tendencies. They are aware of how they typically respond to pressure and can proactively implement strategies to optimize their performance during these crucial moments.

In conclusion, your ability to flip the switch and execute at your maximum potential is a crucial skill that deserves as much attention as all of the other aspects of your climbing. If you are someone who constantly comes up short and takes longer than you know you should to finish climbs at your submaximal level, then you should program yourself time each week to practice the necessary mental skills to achieve full focus and effort. Each attempt can move you forward in your climbing at a varying rate, so it’s up to you to maximize every attempt’s quality if you want to excel as far as possible in this sport. I believe that feeling the rush of flashing or onsighting a route that you know was only possible if you gave everything you had is one of the best sensations we get to feel as climbers. So why not feel that every time you go climbing? 

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