Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Women's Climbing Symposium (WCS) 2013

One of the key trends I've noticed during the time I've been climbing is the increase in the number of female climbers in what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. And these are not just beginner climbers, persuaded by their boyfriends to 'give it a go'; these are women climbing as hard (if not harder) than their male friends - motivated, psyched and STRONG women! 

This increase in participation has led to a number of climbing events and sessions focused specifically at women, which my local wall, The Arch has been particularly good at supporting. From my perspective this can only be a good thing, but the announcement of a 'women-only' climbing event tends to provoke outrage from indignant men who vent their frustrations on forums such as UK Climbing - which I suspect is one reason why the organisers of this year's Women's Climbing Symposium did not advertise the event on the forum

And they didn't need to - word of mouth ensured it was sold out weeks before the day itself. With sign up for the coaching sessions on the day, I wasn't the only one who got there as the doors opened at 8.30am and, as hoards of women filed in, I was very glad I did! With some of the top climbers from the UK and overseas giving talks and coaching sessions, we were in for a good day.

Women gathering for the first talk of the day (c. Paul Phillips)

The programme for the day was bookended between the old (sorry Angela!) and the young; with Angela Soper kicking off the day with a look over the history of women's climbing in the UK, and Ella Kirkpatrick  finishing off with her account of climbing El Capitan. I'm not sure what I was more impressed with; having the balls to go up the immense El Cap at 13, or still be climbing 6c at the age of 73!.

One of the frustrating things about the day was not being able to go to all the talks, which led to huge dilemas about which ones to attend, as they all sounded fantastic. I was especially sorry to miss Fran Brown's talk on coping with pressure, which I am hoping there will be video footage of on the WCS website at some point (hint hint...).

However there was one talk I definitely wasn't going to miss; Eva Lopez had travelled all the way from Spain to present on the key performance indicators for female climbers, and most importantly how to train these. For climbers who are serious about training, her blog is a must; combining scientific study and research, and translating this into practical implications for climbing training. Eva dealt with both physical and mental aspects of climbing performance, in a practical, no-nonsense way, as she took us along her climbing journey, from her first 6a, to the 8c+ she climbed last month. Living proof that if you are willing to put the training in, the rewards will come. Her presentation left me desperately wishing I could a) speak Spanish, and b) move to Spain. Eva – I want you as my coach!

The talks were varied, and it was great to hear about some really strong climbers who have full-time jobs, aren't sponsored and yet still manage to climb and train hard. Emma Flaherty is possibly the most enthusiastic person I have ever met, full stop. She was like Tigger on Red Bull as she bounced around the mat, convincing us all to get psyched for climbing and giving tips on how to blag extra-long holidays from work. Anna Rigge, resident physio, helped make anatomy simple (everything's joined to the neck, so look after that!), and addressed not just common complaints and injuries but the under-reported side of climbing injuries. She also emphasised the importance of good climbing posture; so just remember ladies - boobs out, bum in.

The timetable was busy, and I was hugely impressed by the organisation on the day, with organisers Steph and Shauna, and their helpers keeping everything running perfectly to time. It could have been complete chaos, but largely people seemed to end up in the right place at the right time!

There was a choice of four coaching sessions, all of which proved popular. As a sloper-phobic climber at the best of times, an hour spent dangling (and falling) off the damm things was an hour well spent. From the other side of the room I heard the power screams/squeals of people flying up/off the walls, encouraged by the ever-bouncy Leah Crane and Shauna Coxsey. Proof that you don't need to be tall to reach holds...
"Boobs out, bum in..." does that work on slopers?! (photo c. Paul Phillips)

The training session encouraged us to think about our goals, and focus our training accordingly, particularly if (like me) you can never fit enough climbing time in. Pull ups, push ups and fingerboarding was the order of the day, though following this session I swear the most effective training tool is probably to have Katherine Schirmacher glaring at you, stopwatch in hand...

But the part of the day which really hit home for me was Mina Leslie-Wujastyk's talk on self-efficacy. I used to think (in my young and ignorant days) than psychology was generally a lot of waffly nonsense. But as my climbing has developed, I have come to realise that it's the psychological aspects of climbing that hold me back more than the physical aspects; something which I would hazard a guess is true for many women. 

Mina gave us a very personal insight into the challenges she's faced, both on the competition circuit and with different disciplines of climbing. It made me realise just how important a factor self-belief is in defining our approach, not just to climbing, but to challenges in life. It was a brave and thought-provoking lecture, and ended with some raw footage from Jen Randall's film Project Mina (due out next year) which left me, and I suspect many others, with a lump of raw emotion in my throat.

I hope the one thing that every woman took away from the event was that there is no 'magic secret' to success, and that the women we see winning competitions and cranking on V12s have worked damm hard to get to that level. It is up to each of us to decide what our goals are, what effort we are willing to put in to achieve them, and perhaps, what sacrifices we are willing to make. 

And I guess if these top women, who are achieving so much, can open up to us about their struggles on the path to success; the very least we can do is to listen, take note, and – if we want to improve – be brave enough to face our own climbing demons, whatever they may be.

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