Drawing comparisons between Climbing and Tennis

I enjoy going rock climbing and I enjoy playing tennis. I also enjoy watching and reading about these two sports. There is a lot more content available on tennis then there is climbing and so I find myself watching a lot of tennis or reading about it and trying to apply some of the principles that coaches, players and journalists talk of into the climbing world. After the 2022 Australian Open I wanted to collect all my thoughts about the comparison of these two sports in one place and needed an activity to make use of the time I now had on my hands having gained a lot without any time being being spent watching the Open. So, I wrote an article that I also hoped to attract enough interest in to get into a climbing magazine (I had a dream!). But, I never heard anything so the article was left to isolate itself on my Google Drive… until now. Enjoy the following piece as if you had just picked up the latest climbing magazine.

Climbing is a lot like a box of chocolates Tennis?

How good was the Aussie Open. If someone had sat me down on January 16 and said ‘give it two weeks and Ash Barty will win the Womens and Nadal will win the Mens’ you might have thought that was a somewhat safe bet despite Nadal looking closer to retirement than ever. But the way it played out over two weeks kept most tennis fans on the edge of their seats and put a lot of new fans on seats when watching the doubles circus of the ‘Special K’s’. Barty had the focus of someone on their final redpoint burn on the proj all through the first two weeks and then matched Adam Ondra’s tantrum scream as she finally sent. Nadal hadn’t spent much time on court last year but like any wily trad dad, he knew how to place his serve and could still whip a forehand so it was a matter of just hanging on and fighting to the muerte that only the Spanish know how. Now what’s all this tennis talk doing in a climbing magazine. Well, after spending the same amount of time watching the tennis as I do searching for easier crux beta I began to see the similarities between the two sports and found two key lessons that any climber can take.

Most tennis players are actually dirtbags. Prize money at the grand slams is massive but only the top 100 plus a few lucky qualifiers make it in. First round losers earnt $103k this year which is more than the average workers wage here in Oz. However, throw in a wage for coaches/physio/manager and transport costs to get to all the tournaments and it becomes clear how real the struggle is for those players on the fringe of the pro circuit. As climbers, we embrace the joys of living on the cheap side in order to spend more money following our passion. Free campsites, reduced items at local supermarkets and waiting for discounts at online stores are just some of the ways that modern climbers use to still wave the flag of the dirtbag. The lesson from watching the tennis-dirtbag is noticing how the best performing dirtbags still tend to spend money on coaches. Maybe they buy cheaper flights or only eat oats to compensate but to get the most value out of their prize money they choose to use the coach multiplier to their effect. A climber-dirtbag could experiment with this by not buying a special food or luxury item a few times a week and instead spend it on hiring a coach or maybe ‘incentivising’ the local guru to come out with you for a climb and see how that affects their performance. One thing is for certain is that you won’t get worse at climbing so what’s the harm in trying.

Special K’s show how doubles combos should work. Conversely bad belay-tionships may hold you back (and that’s more than being short-roped). Thanasi Kokkinakis has been fighting injuries for the past five years and Nick Kyrgios spent the first half of January fighting Covid. Put them together and they transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing, all-conquering doubles pairing displaying good chemistry and knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Other combo’s they beat might’ve played arguably better doubles but didn’t have a vibe that Darryl Kerrigan would’ve been proud of. So you’ve either got a good belayer, or even a few, in your contacts list or maybe you don’t, or maybe you don’t even know what one looks like. A good belayer knows when to celebrate little successes (like highpoints), give you that extra ‘vamos’ as you pump your brain out and knows when to admonish you for not committing that extra bit more. If your belayers don’t know these things or are negatively impacting you with their style, then sit them down and bloody tell them! People aren’t mind readers but they are able to learn if you give them an opportunity so don’t be afraid to give them some feedback. My number one belay-tionship was giving me donuts one day as I faffed about on a slippery grade 18 trad number despite sport climbing around grade 24/25. I was also getting grumpy for other reasons and just needed my younger compadre to tell me not to give myself a hard time and let me know I was still a ‘good climber’ and head back to the campsite. So I told him what I wanted him to say next time and at first I think it hit him right between the eyes. However, a week later, he had learned and the belay-tionship was stronger given the exchange of feedback and I ticked my first 26 away from my home crag, on the final day of the trip/tournament.

Now we’ve covered the two most poignant lessons from the Open. Let’s take a quick look at a few others to inspire your next crag conversation or thought train whilst on belay. Climbing shoes should be rotated throughout the day as the temperature changes just like tennis players change racquets to accommodate for changes in string tension. Not every tennis players expects to win the Open but they all enter looking to take something home at the end of the day. Just because you don’t bag your goal route of the trip on your next tournament/road trip away from your local doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Each player in the Open has a different story or journey through life but they all end up in similar spots. Just because old mate who sends V10 doesn’t train anymore doesn’t mean you should, or if your sport climbing mad friend is training 26 hours a day (yes, they’ve invented time travel to fit more training in too) doesn’t mean you should either. The most important parts about being a tennis player is having belief you can win and hitting the ball in more often than not. The most important part about being a climber is believing you can climb well and holding on more often than not. Game. Set. Match.

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