Competition. Part 1 Probably

Competition (Part 1 probably)

'It would be worth it just for the bragging rights.  "Just back from a day rigging for Big Walls with Andy K-P, yah, yah,"' I say, normal crack for climbers being what wild ideas they have got to get past the other half in the next few months.  It is much like a professional gambler - you can't win every race, but you have to keep your percentages up to stay in profit.

'Wait a minute!  YOU say YOU aren't interested in bragging rights!  YOU don't like competition, remember?'

Shit.  Its one of those moments, horribly exposed and high above protection, when you have a moment of clarity and suddenly see the word for how it might really be... 

Hating and loathing competition of any form started for me as a child, because I was shit at sports.  Occasionally, I would find something I was unnaturally good at, like skipping, but as a boy growing up in Liverpool in the '80s, you had to automatically love football and be amazing at it.  I fucking wasn't.

Then I moved to Durham.  In Durham, in the '90s, you had to automatically love football and be amazing at it.  Sound familiar?  There I was, in my all-white PE kit, being run into the ground by man-sized thirteen year olds looking for a quick kill.  (I went to Framwellgate Moor Comprehensive School: the list of notable former pupils has five names on it, four of them are footballers, one of whom was notably a co-defendent of Woodgate and Bowyer in their infamous 'racist assault trial'.  The list unaccountably also fails to mention a local lad convicted of murder - surely that counts as notable?)

When I was Thirteen I was in a school sports day  - my house Hawk were doing badly.  I remember suddenly thinking 'What has any of this got to do with me?'  The results were other people's, who had no connection to me other than we had been grouped together in some insane dickhead's attempt to emulate a private school in pit village County Durham. 
Fuck! She's beating me!  Must climb faster...

This set me off on a thoughtful path.  Achievements meant nothing in comparison.  If I ran a certain distance in a certain time, that was surely independent of someone running next to me who might be quicker or slower.  After that moment of insight, formal competition meant nothing -absolutely nothing- to me, attempts to learn the names of football players faded within seconds, not just the weird foreign names either.

When I came to climbing, I liked it because no one had to lose for me to win, I just had to achieve something, and anyone else could too.  Climbing has been becoming more competition orientated, has been for decades, but this is coming more prominent with inclusion in the Olympics.  There can be a competitive atmosphere at some climbing walls, it might be pretty informal, but you can tell when someone gets on a climb to burn you off.

But you can sidestep any competitive aspect because climbing is such a broad church.  Not much room for competition below the top levels of alpinism or Scottish Winter, because the stakes are so high, adding a layer of competition would surely ratchet up the 'normal' level of crippling tension beyond any serious functionality.  Plus, it is easy!  Then, when you get back home, you can lord it over the bouldering types with your thousand-yard stare because you can't handle the moves, but they can't handle the danger.
Beating this guy though!
Until he puts a spurt on, and he's nearly there...  
My self-esteem shrivels like my tiny cold cock.

All the time without worrying about why a comparison needs to be made at all.  Maybe, just maybe, the truth is you are so competitive that you CANNOT STAND even the prospect of of being beaten.  Not entering a race is the only sure way of remaining undefeated.

Mind you, if you are unpicking things to this level, you are dangerously close to reaching enlightenment, and the ultimate universal truth that everything is meaningless.  Including your own survival, which would briefly allow you to really push your trad grade. 

Hmm.  All very troubling, so one solution: seek out some interviews with great climbers.

Luckily, two land on the mat, just as I am worrying about all this.  The first is an interview in The Project Magazine with Malcolm Smith: read it now.

The second is the interview with Tommy Caldwell on the Enormocast.  Listen to this now, especially as Chris Kalusz had what my missus describes as 'an extremely sexy voice'.  Even I have to agree.

Malcolm Smith has some fantastic insights.  As a very introverted chap, he has to live in his own head more than the world, and as such really knows himself.  Despite his introversion, Malcolm went out into climbing competitions.  These competitions favour the extrovert - of which I most definitely am, even on  my own I am showing off to a crowd of one, who doesn't care and isn't impressed.  But for Malcolm they were a nightmare, and he had to go to war to do well.

One part stands out:  "needing to be good is a character flaw, it's ego. Competition and grades are about social status. I don't want to be part of a hierarchy or scene anymore, it's weak. Strength is about doing your thing for you and not seeking approval."

His point is clear: needing to compete and do well is weaker than disregarding the opinion of others and doing it for yourself.  I would feel validated by his opinion, if it were not for the fact that needing my opinion validated by his is... a bit on the weak side.

Then Tommy Caldwell chimes in.  Freeing the Dawn Wall with Kevin Jorgerson was a newsworthy event, hitting national and international news: I first heard their names on the BBC News.   Tommy gets motivated by competition, it makes him try harder.  But at the same time, he thrives on collaboration, all his friends and family jugging up fixed lines to help him and Kevin get to the top.  His attitude is to take a bit of competition and use it to spice up his performance a bit; using it as a handy tool.  

So that's it.  Competition is simultaneously weak, but also a useful tool to inspire performance?  You will have to decide for yourselves, because I'm none the wiser.  I still don't like competition though. I will be using some movement drills and strength training as useful tools instead.