“It looked like you were a little too relaxed out there.” This was how a post-qualifier-round interview began today at ABS Nationals. Over the course of 18 years of competing, many things have changed, but getting nervous is not one of them. Though my composure has improved and I suppose I’m better at “hiding” and managing the nerves, I still get jitters before every round of every competition.
Today I felt anything but relaxed. I prepared for ABS Nationals this year and decided to focus my efforts on this competition instead of others. I have climbed inside quite a bit for the past five weeks, often sacrificing days outside to do so. There are times in my life when this has not been my approach, but I chose to make this competition a priority this year. And while I do feel physically prepared and fit and confident, there is also a great amount of pressure that comes with preparation. It is, of course, self-imposed pressure. I put time and emotion and effort into getting ready, and that can be risky business with competitions. One only need watch a few minutes of the Olympics (or any sporting event for that matter) to know that preparation does not guarantee performance.
Someone asked me the other day if I’d rather be better at preparing or performing. It’s a very interesting question to consider in competition climbing, because anything can happen. We’ve all seen and known incredible off-the-couch competitors, as well as hard working, hard training climbers who don’t make the cut to the next round. If I had to choose, I’d take extraordinary performance capabilities over superb preparation techniques. It always seems that a level-headed, smart competitor can get much further than an anxious spaz of a competitor, even if the strength differential is skewed in favor of the latter.
So why did I just spend all the time preparing? For me, knowing that I put time in to physically prepare gives me confidence and makes my mental game stronger, and when it comes down to it, that makes a more drastic impact on my performance than does pure strength. Of course the physical fitness that I gain from preparation helps as well, but the mental reassurance that I have training under my belt is far more important, in my opinion. But in a weird way, it can be a double-edged sword for me, that preparation thing. I feel more pressure from myself this year, because I want to put all that invested time to use and perform my best.
It’s a scary thing to say “yeah, I did what I could to prepare, and I feel good, and I’m going to leave it all out there.” But I guess that’s exactly what I’m saying. Now for the doing…