so you want to be a rock climbing coach? Part II – The Backstory

The Backstory

Aurora and Audrey

Aurora and Audrey

When a friend asked me to consider climbing with his friend’s daughter who was ‘way into climbing,’ I admittedly only said yes as a favor to a friend. I had no idea what I was signing up for when Aurora walked in that first day. I prefer coaching adults because I grew up in climbing as an adult and I understand those dynamics best. Also, because adults pay me to help them (not mom and dad paying), they tend to be passionate and committed to the process. I don’t have to chase them down or corral them or entertain them to get them to do what I need them to do. I keep it fun, but we get down to business and have killer sessions. I like how this works and I like that I can be picky about who I coach.

When Aurora arrived that first day, I didn’t know what to expect. I asked the gym staff if anyone was coaching her. I assumed she must be on team or something like that and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by instructing her with potentially conflicting directions. It turns out she was on a team, the Advanced Jr Program ‘team.’ This is really a free-form, but more advanced place for skilled youth to climb and maybe the last step in priming a kid for the climbing team, if that is their ambition.

During that first session, I quickly realized I was getting into a lot more than I had originally thought. My preview session showed me that she had some mad climbing skills. She was adept, proficient, intuitive, strong, fierce, driven, and passionate about climbing. This girl knew what she wanted and was looking for a way to get there. Her previous training had taught her well and in my opinion, she had outgrown the Advanced Jr. Program, but I could see why, and after talking with her dad understood why, she was not on a climbing team.

Being a transient, this adds another layer to the reasons I’m not a good coach for youth. They need consistency and physical presence more than the adults I coach. I knew my time here in Seattle was coming to a close. I was already here longer than anticipated and had been on a day to day countdown to leave when I met her. Now I had the difficult decision to stay and coach her until I could determine a replacement strategy. At the time, she had no ambition to be on any climbing team let alone to compete, though she had mentioned she would like to be as strong as Alex Puccio.

Aurora competing

Aurora competing

Because Aurora is not on a climbing team and has had sporadic coaching from a variety of people indoors and out, she has gaps in her abilities. She’s strong and capable, but her successes are all over the place. She can pull moves on a V4, try a V6, but she can’t complete all V2’s. She’s so excited by different problems that it can be tough to reign her in and get her to focus. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to coach her. Her other challenge is that she lives an hour away from the gym. Making it to team practices would be challenging and even making it to the gym 2x a week seemed a challenge. I only get to coach her 1x a week, which means I have to balance training with free-form climbing because she doesn’t get a lot of that time otherwise. She’s a quick learner and while this strategy would work for a bit, it would only be a matter of time before she would need more. Hence, when she expressed an interest in competing in the SBC ProAM, I saw this as a sign that maybe, if she had success in this competition, she could be lured into exploring a climbing team option. In my opinion, this is where she needed to land if she wanted to be on a stage like Puccio.

Over the years of my own competition experience, including world cup experiences, I have pieced together a lot of lessons learned and if Aurora has a great time and wants to pursue this route, I wanted her to have these tools available to her. Therefore, I treated this event like any other high-caliber event, even though she was simply entering in the beginner Amateur category for her first competition. The last thing I wanted was for her to think she could have done better if only…she had a backup pair of shoes, different pants, something to eat, her favorite lucky charm, whatever. 🙂

The week leading up to the competition, we were both strategizing and planning how to prepare. Seattle Bouldering Project (SBP) recently had their competition and StoneGardens (SG) would be closed for setting the week leading up to their comp. Therefore, we chose to meet to climb at SPB and use their comp routes as a sample predictor for how we might do the following weekend. I was actually entertaining competing and thought this would be a good test for myself. Unfortunately, that morning at SBP, I strained my quadricep and tweaked my knee on a heel hook move, probably overdoing it, not having had a single days’ rest in 5 days. That was the most I’d tested my legs, let alone my injured ankle, since the onset of my injury. I was devastated. Not only could I not compete, but I couldn’t climb with Aurora later in the day–I was scoping out the problems that morning thinking I’d be more prepared for her session. Most importantly to me, was the fact that I was about to miss my only weather window left for sending my outdoor project, on which I had recently had a very nice high point–falling 9 moves into the 23 move final boulder problem.

While I focused on recovery, I still worked with Aurora on her strategy. Her sampling at SBP was a good indicator for how she would do at SG, yet I was still uncertain if she could get enough points to stay out of last place. Having no concept of who was in her category, this uneasiness persisted the entire competition, too. I talked through her ideal training plan for the rest of the week, which I would not be participating in and crossed my fingers her family would find a way to make it happen.

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About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climbing athlete and computer software/technology enthusiast.
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