What does it take to make a climbing star?

Posted by Niall Grimes on 24/08/2021
Hamish McArthur at the World Youth Championships in Arco. Photo: News Italy Press

GB Climbing works alongside promising young climbers to help create the stars of tomorrow. But how to do this? Niall Grimes talks to Tim Cunnington, the Coach Development Manager at GB Climbing to find out more about the thinking behind the process.

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How would you describe the structure of GB Climbing’s programme aimed at developing climbing talent. Is it like a pyramid, a straight line, a journey?

We definitely don’t see it as a pyramid, more like a linear journey. We call it a Talent and Performance Pathway, which has multiple layers, with strands moving in and out of each other, multiple ways in and ultimately multiple destinations depending on the journey of each athlete.

Looking at it as a journey, what do you see as being the start and finish, in terms of what GB Climbing is putting in place?

In many cases, the very beginning of the journey - especially for very young athletes - will be at a local wall, fun comps and maybe getting on to a wall squad or academy.

These often link into taking part at the Youth Climbing Series. For athletes that do well here, or who do well in the National Competition Series, there is the opportunity for support through Regional Development Squads and the GB National Development Squad. These athletes are supported through their competition journey, via training camps and with coaching support at Internationals competing for the GB Junior Team.

ENTER: BMC Youth Climbing Series 2021

For those who have aspirations as such, there are opportunities to progress onto the GB Senior Team and compete as a senior at International level. Some athletes will meet criteria for UK Sport funding and then be supported through additional development programmes towards the Olympics either Paris in 2024 or potentially LA in 2028.

Throughout this journey there are often opportunities to start climbing outside, get into route setting or transition into coaching. One key theme for GB Climbing is for athletes to be lifelong climbers and remain active within our climbing community.

Is there an underlying principle to what you try to bring to this dialogue?

Yes, there are a few: athletes taking ownership and accountability of their journey, developing the individual as well as the athlete and the values of health, performance and respect remaining at the core of GB Climbing. One way in which we support this is through, what we call the Four E’s: Expose, Explore, Enhance, Excel.

Exposure: to climbing environments and international style route setting which allow opportunity to experience or learn new things, for example athletes travelling to different walls as part of training camps or different setters setting at comps.

Exploration: of the athletes individual journey through a shared understanding of the needs of the athlete and thinking creatively about that journey. Then we can look at ways to Enhance that journey, whether this is through coaching, through routesetting; or other support options to add value to the journey. Ultimately so that the athletes have the knowledge, skills and behaviours to Excel along their way.

READ: How can you get involved in competition climbing

Does GB Climbing take the raw potential and shape it into a successful competitor?

Our processes are what we call ‘athlete driven’. By that we mean the athlete is the author of their journey at the end of the day. It’s down to their artistry, their vision of where they want to go, the better they are able to identify their needs, to see where the gaps are. To understand their physical development, to understand their social needs (whether they need family and friends around them, what coaching areas they need support with) and psychologically - what is their drive and level of commitment?

Primarily, this is about collaboration. It’s not the athlete just saying what they want and GB Climbing providing it, nor GB Climbing creating a mold that athletes “have” to fit into, it is the result of constant dialogue between all parties to create a shared understanding and a shared collaboration for support and performance.

If you are looking to spot the athletes with potential, what attributes are you on the lookout for?

Key attributes or key stones, if you like, which allow athletes to excel would certainly be having creativity, and a love of what they are doing. The ability to make good informed decisions, the ability to take ownership of their journey, recognizing their choices and responsibilities. Being able to train with a clear purpose and vision, being able to compete intelligently, that is, have they got the understanding of tactics, the psychological skills, the technical ability, creativity of movement, the ability to quickly make the right decisions at the right time. To make every moment matter; and deliver a best performance when they need to.

READ: How to build an Olympic climber

Is the dream to make climbing stars and win gold medals?

Yes and no. GB Climbing has set the intention of being the world’s leading competition climbing nation by 2032, so yes this will ultimately involve winning medals, but it is also more than that. It’s about infrastructure, people, culture, success across all four climbing disciplines and also community. In the past we have had people on the team such as Hazel Findlay, Katy Whittaker, Ryan Pasquill, and while these climbers have not won Olympic gold, they are definitely climbing stars and we are as proud of them as we are of Shauna Coxsey. We are proud of all the athletes who have worn the GB Climbing badge and are part of our heritage.

READ MORE: What is GB Climbing?


WATCH: We Are GB Climbing

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👀 VISIT: GB Climbing website and see who's on the team

GB Climbing is supported by the BMC, Mountaineering Scotland and Secur-it. The GB Ice Climbing Team is supported by Montane. Many UK walls also support the GB Climbing through free or subsidised entry.


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