By Steve Bechtel –
I never wanted to be a coach, I only wanted to be better. I wanted so badly to get rid of the fat around my middle and get past the feeling of not being able to hold on any longer, that as a high school student I read every book I could find and tried dozens of workout programs to try and make sense of getting better. Here I am some 30 years later, still trying new things, revisiting old ones, and beating my head against the same problems. I vacillate between feeling like I really might have it sorted out, and feeling like I have missed the boat – balancing between impostor syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
We might be able to say that the training worked. Between lots of hours in the gym and lots of days on the rock, I did get better. I got better each year until I was maybe 25, then sort of plateaued until 35. Got better again in my early 40s. Sent my hardest route ever at 47 (though maybe not actually stronger anymore). The thing I finally did figure out was how to balance training and practice, how to think of each, and having a realistic perspective on what training can provide. (I’ll let you know what I think that is a little further along in the article.)
I had a degree in exercise science, was clearly interested in training, and was getting better…so people started asking questions. My climbing partners and I had all heard of power and tendons and peaking and rest weeks and supplements and programs. It just happened that I paid a little more attention than my friends, kept taking classes, kept reading, and experimented.
I coached marathoners and triathletes and people that were trying to get thin. It wasn’t glorious work, and it wasn’t exactly training climbers, but hundreds of athletes and their bad habits and neuroses and fear and non-negotiables taught me a lot. I wrote an article a week for about 5 years, all about climbing training and performance. I did my “real-world master’s thesis” on big walls and in chalky basements and sitting it the base of sport climbs. Eventually, enough people read my articles and books and did my plans (and got better), that I started sharing the methods with fellow coaches.
Although I grudgingly “coached” climbers for years and years, I never felt like I did a good job of it, always more focused on my own training, on running our gym, and on raising my kids. I lacked the framework from which to coach athletes simply and effectively, and I didn’t have all the basic business items covered – like insurance, communication tools, billing, and a referral network.
I coached a bit anyway. The calls kept coming in, and so our head strength coach at the gym (and a great climber), Charlie Manganiello started coaching, too. By the end of 2018, we were overwhelmed and we reached a breaking point. I gathered up our Climb Strong team and we talked for hours about the direction of the business. Did we want to build a certification program around the success of the Performance Climbing Coach events? Did we want to pour our efforts into books? Mobile apps? Videos? Travel to gyms to give clinics? What was the best way that we could help climbers?
In the end, we decided that none of us were invested in anything as much as we were in getting people to actually make positive changes in their lives. We decided to pour all of our efforts into building the best one-on-one coaching program we could. In spring of last year, we added a “Coaching” page to the Climb Strong site. When a climber clicks this button, they are directed to our coaching page, where they can pick a primary focus for their training, such as bouldering, route climbing, etc.
Once there, they fill out a detailed questionnaire, and then we try and put them in contact with the best coach for them – one that understands the needs and pitfalls that come along with that type of training. Once they finish their initial consultation (usually about an hour of questions and clarity-building), our coaches decide with the athlete what the best course should be. Do they need personal coaching or just monthly guidance? Would they be better served by doing a pre-built template plan? Do they need any specific training at all or are they better off just getting some miles on the rock? Do they need a sport performance coach, or does it seem like their limiters are more emotional or psychological?
If they do end up signing with us, they begin with weekly check-ins with their coach. The coach and athlete co-create a season-long overview of training needs and plans, then start training on a month-to-month program aimed at those needs. Weekly check-ins include video communication on planning, habits, technique, and tactics. Athletes send test results to the coach, and each month, the overview plan is reviewed and adjusted according to the athlete’s progress and changing needs.
We work hard to help athletes understand training’s place in performance, and to hold this realistic view despite the noise our athletes are fed about this training tool or that supplement. We maintain a firm grasp on the fact that we are dealing with human beings and that certain behaviors and rules run through everything we do in life. Our goals in sport reflect the bigger picture of life, and we don’t forget it.
I am really happy with our programming, with or training systems, and most importantly the now seven coaches we have working together on the Climb Strong staff. This, I think, is our greatest strength. Each of the coaches is constantly working on assessing and streamlining their programs, and our team shares their insights in our coaching meetings. If an athlete is stuck, struggling, or injured, our entire team works together to address the problem. Our coaches are also relentlessly honing their craft with continuing education and experimentation, allowing us to effectively multiply the entire team’s education through sharing experiences.
I don’t believe that coaching is for everyone. There are many climbers who continue to stay driven and progressing without ever even chatting with a coach. There are many who are interested in doing all their own programming, and do a great job. For those who are struggling, who feel stuck at the same grade, or even feel as if they reached their “ceiling,” I think getting in touch with a coach is a great next step.
You can learn more about Climb Strong Coaching here.