The strongest muscle needed in climbing is mental strength.– Mingma Sherpa
As a former three-time national rock climbing champion and a current national climbing coach, Mr. Mingma Sherpa sports a welcoming smile far more humble than one would expect out of someone of his stature. We sat with Mr. Sherpa at the Astrek Climbing wall to discuss his climbing experiences as well as his coaching strategies.
“When you climb, you may be the strongest and lead the pack. But once you look down, that fall factor is something else. It will feel like the whole world is far below,” he explains, “The thing about climbing is that it gives everybody some advantage. If you are tall, you can reach the holds easily but you might find it difficult to perform small moves. It’s the same for the other way around. Russians and Italians for example, are big and tall but the latest speed record was set by a small Indonesian girl.”
Five things you need to be a good climber- Mingma Sherpa:
1. Finger Strength
2. Core Strength
6. But Mental Strength is king
The most common misconception about climbing seems to be that it is purely physical. You grunt, you huff or you puff but push on through. Mr. Sherpa however dispenses this by saying, “Climbing is a technical sport. You need good footwork but also have to account for your center of gravity. There is a certain math to this.” Unlike football or muay thai, this isn’t a contact game. Rather, it is independent. “You are only truly competing with yourself,” he remarks.
Talking about the importance of an isolation zone, he recalls his experiences from different competitions. “Other countries are aware of the importance of keeping the athletes occupied, so they play team games or cards. A team from Korea came prepared with puzzles. The foreign coaches know that if the climbers keep worrying about the competition, the pressure will affect their performance.”
Mr. Sherpa is a big advocate of keeping busy. The stress of competition can be so high that, “Even if a person has practiced the same route multiple times, the clouding weight of a competition is enough to affect their performance,” he reiterates. Switching lanes, we asked about the coaching environment in Nepal. He shrugs casually and answers with, “There isn’t
really a structure for coaching. We do our best by watching how the foreigners are trained. We talk to coaches from different countries and build the structure on our own.”
Speaking like a true teacher, he compares his trainees to a clay mold. “Wherever you mold it at first, that is the shape it will take. If you have five athletes, they will need five different trainings. Because the physique is completely different.” He holds very strong opinions regarding the cookie-cutter strategies many coaches use during training.
“Some will just make them do laps or provide rigorous training without any customizing. It all depends on the teacher. It’s his job to fix mistakes, encourage the trainee and nurture their enthusiasm towards this sport.” His words ring true with simply the amount of climbers in this park, who come during our conversation with a warm hug or visible admiration. He prides himself in how much faith his trainees have on him. “I’ve told them all, especially females, whether you’re sick, injured or it’s that time of the month, you can be honest with me and I will make sure to adjust your training accordingly,” he boasts with a smile, “All of them come to me before even consulting a doctor. They show so much faith, looking up with their innocent eyes and calling me ‘Dai’”
“This sport definitely comes with its own line of injuries,” he admits, “Leg numbness to finger injury to chances of hurting your shoulders or groin. Still, every time they say ‘okay this is too hard, we won’t do it next time’, but next year I see the same faces back for more.”