Mental training to overcome the fear of falling involves practice. Practice the mental script, practice good habits, practice falling! Below I have put together some games to help practice! Anything (including training!) becomes more fun if it is called a game! On a side note, can anyone guess how my mom got me to clean my room?
I have been lucky enough to go play at the gym. This gave an ideal set up. The funny thing about climbing outdoors is that the outdoors is not made perfectly. Still, there are good climbs to practice on. Look for climbs that are vertical, or overhung. Tall climbs that give a big height difference from the climber to belayer is best. Avoid slabs for now, and maybe forever. Just kidding! They aren’t always so bad, just most of the time.
My regular partners and I have all weighed close enough to each other that we did not have to worry about weight differences. However, that may be a concern if you are a big dude and your belayer is your lightweight girlfriend. If there is a big weight difference consider looking into the Edelrid Ohm. I found a great review on this site here.
Now that we have a great route and all the equipment needed, MAKE SURE THE BELAYER KNOWS IF YOU ARE PLAYING A GAME AND WHAT GAME IT IS.
Let the games begin!
Game: Climb to a reasonable height where decking is not a concern. Slowly increase falls. Start by clipping in a bolt and then falling. The climber will place themselves a little higher than before. Then take a fall. Keep putting more space between the climber and the bolt until the climber feels slightly uncomfortable. Keep doing that height distance until the climber feels good, then, go a little higher and repeat.
Benefits: Repetitively falling gives the climber practice at falling. It also lets them control when they feel comfortable. This game is a really good starter game for those who find themselves petrified.
Bump it Up
Game: Each week take one day to practice lead climbing. Pick a low rating to start out with. Way low. Consider asking the question, “Would I take my 5 year-old sister/brother/nephew/friends child etc. top roping on this route?” The target is literally that low. Each week the route is flashed, take it up a level. Come back next week prepared to do a harder route.
Benefits: The best training is practice. Starting out easy helps to engrain good practices like mental script habits with minimum discomfort. Other benefits include positive reinforcement and a confidence booster! As the climber gets more comfortable from practice each week it becomes easier to step up those ratings.
Game: Climb at an easy to medium grade. Keep in mind that an easy to medium grade will be a route considerably less than the climbers top rope ability. Plan accordingly and do not feel bad if this session was too easy. Keep it up and bump it up for next time. The belayer cannot take up any slack for the climber to take a break. A break means a fall. On a climb with no taking the climber gets one small fall from the chains. Clip in and let go!
Benefits: This forces the climber to take falls. Noobies treat clips as safe, and everything in between as danger. This game helps to train the climber that clips are not the only safe zone!
The Victory Whip
Game: Let the climber climb on any rating they choose. By all means pick a climb that is easy for the climber, or try one a little harder. The climber takes a fall from the top. There are three difficulty options depending on how nervous the climber is feeling, and how much you want to put some wear on your rope.
- Clip the rope and drop (belayer cannot pull slack out of the system first)
- Take a whipper by not clipping into the chains.
- Bring the rope to touch the chains and then take a full fall.
Once feeling more comfortable, put some paper in a jar. Randomly pick a paper to decide your fate (I mean gametime!).
I learned this game from the youtubers that call themselves Day in Nature. They made a really clever video with lots more information than I described above. Its clever, witty, and well done! I recommend taking a look at it here.
Benefits: While being at the top feels scary, decking potential is at its lowest. This is the best (safest) time to practice those bigger falls. As many people say the best training is practice. The different levels offer the climber opportunity to try small, medium, and large falls. While purposefully falling is intimidating (the climber is purposely doing something that causes themselves anxiety) it can help mentally to know that the belayer is expecting and ready to catch.
I’m Not Really that Scared
Game: Pick a climb that would be a little difficult to top rope. Lead climb that bad boy.
Benefits: If the fear of falling is not that debilitating then the climber can take some practice at falling anyways. While a certain amount of falls won’t kill your rope, repetitive falls can wear out that rope faster. This game allows the climber to fall naturally without doing it on purpose (purposefully wearing out the rope). Also, if the climber is playing this game, then congrats! The climber has reached the ideal mental strength for climbing. 🙂
I hope these games are enjoyable and/or helpful to you readers! Feel free to combine as wanted. I have been known to combine Bump It Up with the Victory Whip.
While there are a lot of tricks, everyone I have ever talked to has said to just get out there and fall. Just know that at whatever level you are at there is a game for you! The best part of climbing is that it is a sport for everyone. Any level out there has achievements. Start out where it is comfortable, and slowly expand. Everyone has off days. Realize it, take a nap, and try again later. Pretty soon you will be flying (in a safe and controlled manner).