by Steve Bechtel

As the year wraps up and I have time to look back on all that happened in the previous 12 months, I find looking for lessons useful. None of us would say that 2020 was unmemorable, but I feel that despite the difficulty of the year, there were valuable experiences that can help dictate better decisions in training and in life during the coming months. Learning is essentially trying to take lessons from other people’s mistakes. As Dan John puts it, “trying to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again…as often.”


I took the biggest five lessons from the year that I learned – you probably learned a few of them yourself – and put them together below. We need to remind ourselves to look for learning opportunities: When we finish a training session, “What did you learn?” When we fall off the top of our project again, “What did you learn?” Getting physically stronger only goes so far, but our learning can be infinite. 


Forced Simplicity – training with less

When COVID hit, many of us went from training in state-of-the-art facilities to doing push-ups in our living rooms. This was really challenging for our coaching staff, whose job it is to make training fun and effective. Without gyms, we had to figure out good ways to help people move forward, and keep a positive attitude toward the changing landscape in the world. 


What we came back to was principles. When the method changes, the principle can still be followed. The training principles of overload, progression, individuality, and accumulation can all still be followed, even if our favorite one – specificity – cannot. If I can’t be in the gym, I can still work at increasing levels of difficulty, can progress to even higher ones, and can work for durations similar to my sport. 


The value of doing something over doing nothing can’t be overstated. If you take an entire week off of activity (when you aren’t in need of a big recovery week), you are definitely going to backslide. Yes, going for a walk around the neighborhood seems silly, but it is still telling your body it needs to be moving. Activity is good, and training – asking your body to do specific things – is better. 


You can train at the park jungle gym, like we used to do in the Laramie, Wyoming during winters before we had indoor walls. You can train on the rafters in your garage. You can fill backpacks with water jugs and squat, push, pull, and lunge. 


The best part is that once you get to use a hangboard again, get on the Kilter Board, or have access to a full gym, you might really appreciate the variety and you may not take it for granted.

Accepting Advantages

We were all taught a lesson this year in privilege. It might be that you have white privilege, or privilege because of your gender, or your economic status, or where you live. Some of us even learned from the lesson! One big take home for me was that even though I work hard and I struggle and I have dreams I have yet to reach, I have had some big advantages in my life.


In September, I spent a fun weekend at Ten Sleep with some friends, and was again astonished at the fact that there were so many climbers just hanging out in a remote canyon in Wyoming – not struggling to make a living, not trying to find some food…their biggest problems were waiting for good conditions and finding WiFi. What a gift it is to have advantages.


Understanding that you do have these advantages should help compel you to make something of them. You should take the great opportunity of a day with no obligations and find enjoyment in it. Push yourself to be better. Connect with those around you. Be grateful for today, because chances are tomorrow won’t be the same. At the very least, you’ll be one day closer to the end of your career.


My great advantages in the first months of COVID was that the CS team went to work on streamlining our coaching program, Ellen went to work on securing loans and grants for the gym, I got more time with my kids, and I still got to keep doing the same work – and training in a huge empty personal gym space! Even still, I did not take full advantage of these gifts. Now I see. Isn’t that always the way? 


With Difficulty Comes Focus

Focus is the crux of my entire life. At any given time, we have normal gym business to attend to, programming for athletes, kids’ activities, a book project, shipping to do, articles to write, training to do, and projects to send. Usually, when I get overwhelmed or stuck in a bunch of work projects, I start another one. Not good.


This year has been great for focus, and I hope to pull this forward into the future. There was so much we couldn’t do during the COVID shutdown in the spring, that we got really good at the other stuff. Going from a messy planner with 20 things on the list to five…well, those five started getting done. This relates to the forced simplicity above – All of a sudden shooting the next video was the only thing we could do. Then edit it and publish it. Then hangboard. Then go play basketball with the kids.


I have tried many ways of organizing time, but by far the best was to eliminate the things I wasn’t the best person to do. It might sound funny, but coaching athletes is not one of my stronger points these days. Of the eight coaches on the CS team, I am the last one I’d recommend. My ability to do a great job coaching is limited by my other commitments in the business, so I pass this work on to the team, who are legitimately much better at this task. It sucks to move away from the day-to-day of coaching, but my end goal is to help as many people as possible. As a single coach, maybe you can effectively train 20-30 athletes at a time. As a team, we can do exponentially more. 

Pick Your Attitude

My son is a big Jocko Willink fan. Some people find him abrasive and too black-and-white when it comes to dealing with difficulty. My favorite: “If you want to be tougher mentally, it’s simple: Be tougher. Don’t meditate on it.” 


How hard is your life?

How bad are conditions?


At Ten Sleep last summer we were blessed to spend the day climbing with a person who seemed to complain even about the best parts of the day.

“There’s no one here. I thought there would be more people to hang with.”

“It’s too cold in the shade.”

“This water isn’t as cold as yesterday.”

“It’s hard to find organic in Worland.”


I felt like helping her solve all her problems by suggesting she go to Rifle, but I kept my mouth shut. It was a goddamn brilliant day at the crag, even with her complaints. I was with three of my best friends, out in the mountains, and climbing. 


Every day brings us one day closer to death. Climbing is never going to be easier than it is right now, so I find that an attitude of gratitude serves me way more than one of lack. 


Be tougher. 

Don’t complain. 

Do your share of the work.


Strength Is Safety

If a global pandemic teaches us anything, it might be that it is good to be hard to kill. We want to be strong so we can perform at our best more frequently. We want to be strong so we can cut firewood all day Saturday and still send on Sunday. But when it comes to a virus that is especially challenging to the unhealthy, well, that’s a good reason to stay strong, too.


Strength gives you wiggle room. Strength gives you somewhere to step back from. If you’re weak, the next step back is, well, really bad. 


It’s cheap. It’s simple. It’s totally under your control.


Thank god for anything that fits that bill…especially in 2021.

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