Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Power of Youth from Will Gadd

Will Gadd, one of the most diverse talents in outdoor sports, recently posted on the topic of "The Power of Youth." The piece is a short but powerful reflection on the self-induced damage caused by negative attitudes. Here's an excerpt:

"And you know what? I like 'em, especially in contrast to some of my generation. My generation was too dark, too pissy, too steeped in nonsensical holdover Victorian ideals, and over-read in Nietzsche and Sartre (plus a few others). I'm going to write more on this 'cause I think it's time to take a hard look at the dark motivations of so many climbers and paddlers in my generation."

I too look back and wonder what was going through my mind back then but also the minds of peers who by means subtle and not so subtle tried to keep other climbers "in their place." Thanks Will for shedding some light on this. I am really glad to be climbing in a time when this outdated approach is on its last legs. Climb what you want how you want, respect the environment, and have fun.


Kate T-C said...

That was a nice, thoughtful post in a concise format. Good writing all around!

I've been struggling lately with the idea of competition-based versus love-based motivation, both in climbing and yoga. Surely the best way to do any sport is because you love it. Have fun, do what you want, and forget everybody else's bullshit!

But I find my "performance" is definitely better when I'm trying to out-do somebody than when I'm just doing something for fun. Am I a bad person? :)

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

This may boil down to a matter of accessibility. Kids nowadays have so many options, climbing being an emerging one. With gyms popping up all over the country, climbing walls are starting to take hold in colleges and universities, YMCA's, and even in elementary schools. A much larger population of today's youth has the option of climbing, hence the bar gets raised, people climb harder, and sending V.12 isn't such a big deal anymore. (Of course I can only dream to accomplish such a feat) My point is that when climbing reaches a larger number of people-and not just climbing but any sport for that matter-climbing/the sport thrives and expands.

As for who is having more 'fun', that may never get answered. In my experience I started out climbing when I was 11 at the BRC and became a comp climber soon afterwards. I was scared to death to climb outside but loved competing and climbing indoors. Nowadays its the exact opposite, I love climbing outside and only climb indoors when the weather is bad or when I need to train. And I hate competing with other people, its bad enough I have a socrecard on 8a. The funnest times for me are when I'm pushing myself, competing against myself. And that is ultimately why I love climbing.
The kids I see crushing at the local crag and at competitions nowadays are all kids who train as a team for some local gym. They file in to the comp or the crag with matching sweatshirts/warm ups that have their gyms name on it, and all their sponsors like an NBA basketball team. This kind of phenomenon was not around when I climbed as a kid. But today its standard. To me it seems manufactured, almost contrived. But, these kids have a blast, and it gets them involved in climbing and introduces competition in a positive manner. Of course I have a hard time swallowing that. Sometimes it seems as if these gyms use these kids to get their name out and make money. So where does the 'fun' enter into the equation? Are these kids having fun training all the time and trying to be the best they can be, always chasing grades? I have no idea...
Is it any different from what climbers did in the past? Again, I have no idea...
I may have lost the point so feel free to correct me anywhere I have strayed or contradicted myself.

Peter Beal said...

I think competition has a place in climbing. The problems begin when the end overrides the means so that you might wish your "opponent" to fail rather than yourself to do better. This approach was all too common in the era that Will is talking about.

Micah is absolutely right. Young climbers are normalized into realms of difficulty that would have been called superhuman a decade ago. However a lot of this relates back to the need for climbers in the past to erect barriers to entry into higher grades. Instances include "ethics" that favored poor/limited protection, biases against training, rules against working routes, and derogatory statements about what is "real" climbing. Those have pretty much gone away, thank goodness, and people young and old alike have seen them for what they were; a form of psychological coercion.

However I mirror Micah's concerns about competition climbing among young climbers as becoming a paradigmatic practice. Climbing is much more than that and I feel that children should experience the sport in a much more free-form way, preferably outdoors. The book Last Child in the Woods describes to a T what I feel is the problem with the focus on gym climbing.

As an educator in both climbing and post-secondary institutions, I am leery of rules,regimentation and groupthink in any setting.

Peter said...

"The problems begin when the end overrides the means so that you might wish your "opponent" to fail rather than yourself to do better. This approach was all too common in the era that Will is talking about."

I think this is still very prevalent among the climbing community, perhaps more so among boulderers then route climbers. Secret problems/boulders, sandbagging, the clicks, etc. If you are part of the "in" crowd, just like in junior high, then everything is great - you and your friends are finding "new" (old) problems, naming them, grading them, and only telling "others" after all variations have been done. Then when someone else comes along and sees a different line (because many are arbitrary), they harsh on the new person, saying "you didn't climb it properly", or "the true start is over left" or whatever.

In the gym it is not so prevalent, but there still seems to be fierce competition outside.

Climbing is largely an ego-based sport, and as such it has a large modicum of competition. Sure, some people climb for the love of it, but many have an inner ego that they try and protect at all times: problems, grades, names, etc.

I think there is a lot more open collaboration - the tight nit groups have gotten bigger - but the competition and dark psychology is just as prevalent. Try being an outsider and walk into CATS or The Spot, or better yet show up at projects in Upper Chaos or Evans and see what kind of response you get.