Mental Approach To Climbing - By Sponsored Athlete Kevin Shields

Run out way above gear, hands sweating, heart racing, foot beginning to Elvis, groundfall potential, brain fighting to process everything, on a scary slab and you can’t just pull harder so what makes the difference???? Your mind……..

Having gained a bit of a reputation for climbing bold routes I often get asked about my mindset before and during a hard ascent. Everyone has their own approach and own triggers to fire up motivation and performance but I’ll outline my approach to hard headpoints here briefly.

The process is made easier and more likely to result in success if you are 100% honest with yourself. Once I have chosen my objective I look at it in a realistic way. I ask myself:-
How ready am I?? Have I trained enough, put in enough time on the rock to solidify confidence, is my mind in the right place?

How much am I willing to give?? Am I willing to put in the time to clean the route, to practise it , to give everything the route requires/deserves, Am I willing to risk whatever it takes, to test myself??

I then move on to acceptance stage:- I accept the toughness of carrying in all the gear necessary (I know its going to hurt my smashed up ankle & knees) , of the sleepless nights in the build up to the lead, accepting failure and learning from it, accept the risk as it’s a big part of the attraction of this game (for me anyway). While I’m going through these things I’m focused on the one image of me standing at the top of the route, successful. Revel in the challenge of these things, it’s not meant to be easy to push yourself. Gaining the next psychological level in your climbing is a journey into your soul, use it to find out who you really are.

Next I look at the potential to fall. I assess how realistic the chances of a whipper are and if there is a high chance I look at a few things. Where is the fall most likely to happen, will I hit the ground or something else, where is the best position for my belayer, will they need to run to take in slack etc, are they well briefed, have you went over rescue scenarios?? Most of all I make sure the belayer and myself are confident in each other.

Climbing Tactics Chatting tactics etc with my mate Steve, having solid partners is vital. Pic-Jane Holmes

At the base of the route on send day I like to relax myself by focusing on breathing and this helps to tune me into my surroundings and zone out from everything else. I also look at as much of the route as possible and go through the moves to the top, if anything disturbs this mental rehearsal I start again until it’s done. After that as long as everything feels right (you’ll know when it’s the right time) I leave the ground.

Ran out on first ascent of The Rebellion E6 6b

On the route nothing else matters. I feel like I’ve pulled a hood up and it keeps me focused on the moves and everything else kept out. I try to avoid over thinking, this is where the previous chats with you’re belayer solidify confidence. Take one thing at a time, use every move to get a wee rest, every breath to relax, this will encourage fluidity and hopefully allow you to enter into the “flow state”. This is the state I try to achieve on every climb, where everything feels easy. I never rush, this will cause trouble, all these things are like a huge line of stacked dominos, if one thing goes the whole lot collapses. Gain control of your mind and keep control, you can relax and lose control with a few whiskies to celebrate later……

Hip flask to celebrate hard routes, happy days. Pic- Jane Holmes

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