Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Belayer Relationship Part Two

In my last post I wrote about three different belayer relationships I’ve seen in climbing and how they are different based on their level of emotional connectivity to that belayer. There are a lot of ways that a belayer relationship can get damaged. We’ve all had experiences, or seen them happen to others, where a belayer does a shitty job catching a lead fall or isn’t paying attention to their climber or worse is yelling at them. How can we fix these incidents when they happen – or better yet – how can we prevent them from happening?

Not so surprisingly, the same communication skills that help couples also help belayers.

Assert your needs: we can’t be afraid to tell our belayers what we need - more slack, less slack, more encouragement, or shut the hell up. When we don’t assert our needs up front then we start feeling the consequences of expecting our belayers to be mind readers. We get angry or resentful at them for being uncomfortable when we often hold the ability to fix it by speaking up before hand. If you find yourself angry at your belayer first ask yourself if you have asserted all of your needs in this situation. If you have, great! Do it again – without yelling. And first of all, do you even know what your needs are so you can assert them? Make a list…

Notice your climber: nothing makes me more scared than pulling a crux move on lead and my belayer is down there chatting it up with someone on the ground. Are they even paying attention to me? In my perfect world my belayer is fully tuned into me following my every move; noticing when I hesitate or get shaky and offers encouragement to keep going. Of course, those are my needs that I’ve asserted and I hope they follow through. But regardless of my needs vs. other’s needs, you should be attentive to your belayer and help them through the climb with more than the perfect amount of slack.

Ask for and give feedback: after a climb (or an incident) don’t be afraid to ask “how was that belay?” and don’t be afraid to hear/receive the answer. We might not get it right but we can make it right in the future if we know what we did wrong and how to do it better next time. Also, give your belayer praise when they do something you really appreciated. We shouldn’t focus only on what they do wrong. Offering feedback in the form of praise both asserts your needs by saying what you like and helps prevent future mistakes.

Overall, the most important thing in the belayer relationship is communication. The more communication that is actively reciprocal the more trust you will build in each other. So keep talking!

Footnote: thank you to my wonderful climbing partners both present and past, who have embodied and modeled great communication and belaying skills. I can’t wait to climb with you again!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this interesting post!! I'm in charge of a group climbing date night tonight and I really like how you described how belaying is like a relationship. Good stuff.


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