8 Ways To “Play” Better

Photo: Eric Klaszus (Instagram: @eklaszus)

At first glance, mountain sports and musical performance don’t seem to have much in common. But in reality, there is a strong connection between the two which make them mutually beneficial to pursue.

This is a classic short list of universal climber’s tips that I’ve learned through the years that help not only to bring your level of “play” to the next level out in the mountains, but these techniques are surprisingly equally useful when up on the stage or prepping for a performance.

1. Calming the nerves: Believe it or not, the initial sickening wave of nervousness and fear that is experienced moments before stepping out on a highline or tying into the sharp end of the rope on a hard climb is very similar to the moment just before stepping out onto stage in a performance and playing the first note. Managing stress and nervousness is paramount to success. Negative self-talk is a close companion to nervousness, but it must be turned into a positive energy that gives you a laser focus to face the fear with a deep sense of calm. Nervousness will likely never fully go away, so it needs to be used to your advantage by giving you a heightened sense of awareness to drive you to success.

2. Visualization: It is incredibly useful to visualize the scenario in detail beforehand. Feel the nervousness and the fear, and imagine the ways that you plan to cope with the stress, and imagine yourself succeeding. It’s a common technique in sport to give yourself an extra boost of confidence once you’re in the moment, and is equally useful when preparing for a performance.

3. Sing: When the going gets tough, remember to sing the melody. A favourite climbing partner once shared this gem of advice with me. I can’t count the number of times I watched her climb effortlessly and calmly through some gnarly overhanging roofs while softly singing, “Every little thing is gonna be alright. Don’t worry about a thing.” The effect is undeniable. Instantly the body relaxes, and confidence soars.

4. Move efficiently: Find ways of minimizing unnecessary movement and poor posture. It is amazing how much energy can be wasted by holding the body in an inefficient way, and this has a huge impact on how successful the outcome will be.

5. Finger exercises: As tedious as they are, they absolutely help. Progression cannot be made without putting in extra effort.

6. Pace yourself: When you’re facing something at your limit, you’ve got to keep something in the reserve tank to give at the hardest part. Find areas where you can rest; if not physically, then mentally.

7. Breathe: Strangely, forgetting to breathe deeply is a natural response to fear and nervousness. If you can consciously be aware of your breathing, your mind will be more at ease and your body less tense.

8. Be present: Shutting out the peripheral noise in your mind is essential to achieving success. For me, the most difficult thing to do in both climbing and music is to forget about whatever happened 10 seconds ago, and just focus on what’s in front of me right now in the present moment. 10 seconds ago doesn’t matter right now. It’s about being mentally efficient. To ensure success, you can’t afford to be dwelling on anything but the present moment.