A little insight into building coping skills

Recently, I was a sponsor and spectator at the Open and the Youth ABS National bouldering championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I really enjoyed seeing the strong climbers, which spanned ages 13 to 30 something. One thing that I noted that was different between the Youth division and the Open division competitors was that some of the youth competitors became visibly upset when they could not send a problem, some to the point of crying. I didn’t see this from the Open competitors. Once upset, the Youth climbers often had a hard time regaining focus. I don’t bring this up as any sort of a poor reflection on the young climbers, but to make a point about how coping skills are built.

In our book Vertical Mind, Jeff Elison and I discuss the fear of failure and how all of us experience this to some degree. Along with this, Jeff and I also discuss coping skills and how people react differently when they experience failure. The Compass of Shame model emerged from psychological research, and is used to show maladaptive reactions to failure. Unless you live in a cave, you have probably seen climbers react to failure with at least one of these behaviors.

Compass of Shame for rock climbers

Compass of Shame

The extent to which we react with any of these maladaptive behaviors is a function of our coping skills, which are nothing but scripts (which we discuss extensively in Vertical Mind). Scripts are created or modified through repetition of a desired behavior. For the same circumstance, two climbers can react differently based upon their scripts. In the case of failure on a climb, coping skills. The figure below illustrates this.

coping skills for rock climbers

coping skills

So, what does this have to do with the Youth and Open climbers at the ABS competition? What I saw, I think, illustrates how the Open, more mature, climbers had better coping skills that they had built up over years of being exposed to failure, and not just necessarily in their climbing. As we age, we gain valuable life lessons that rewrite our scripts and improve our coping skills. The younger climbers have not had the experiences that the Open climbers have had the chance to live through, and therefore their coping skill scripts are not as mature.

I took two lessons away from this observation:

1) There are some benefits to aging (and I’m 50!)

2) It is important to expose ourselves to failures, so that we can build strong coping skills that enable us to remain cool when faced with disappointments.

For more about building scripts, check out Vertical Mind at www.verticalmindbook.com

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