Climbing rocks, but being scared out of your mind sucks.

Even when you’re not scared out of your mind (oh, that’s just me?) it’s frustrating to not meet your own goals of trying hard. When you can’t send your project, you wish you could at least gun it at the end and make those last few moves rather than dejectedly letting go.

A good hold is just three moves (and a scary clip) away! Why do I hesitate, give a half-hearted “throw”, and drop off the wall?!?!

That thought process rolls through my head more often than I'd like to admit.

There’s a few bits of psychology that go into the decisions you make when you are feeling fear (either consciously or unconsciously), but today I want to dig into something that isn’t in your own head. It’s how well you (and by extension, your partner) belay.

Here is proof that the quality of your belayer is very important to you (especially if you think any belayer will do)

  1. You would not let someone who does not rock climb belay you. They don’t have the minimum skills required, right?

  2. You would let a newbie belay you, but you wouldn’t climb a challenging route. They have not proven themselves to be trustworthy yet.

When you (and your belayer) learned to belay, you quickly moved through the "newbie belayer" stage, and achieved a certain level of proficiency. You probably have not gotten much better at belaying since than.

Here is a quick guide to being an amazing belayer. There are other things that matter, but if you (and your belayer) keep the following three principles in mind, you will have proven to your climber (and vice versa) that they are in good hands when run out, chicken winging, and are deciding between clipping the bolt or going for the jug.


Stand in the right spot

Don’t stand more than one large step from directly beneath the bolt. (I’m talking about a traditional indoor climbing gym where bolts are generally 12 feet (3 meters) high or lower.

When the climber is low to the ground, stand to one side so the rope does not ever lie between their legs. Imagine they fell right after clipping the first bolt. If they could end up straddling the rope, you need to move.

In the below gif, compare the left side (bad) with the right (good). Same climb, similar clipping stance, but if the climber fell right after clipping, she’d not be happy on the left.




Move around as needed

Just like your climber is moving on the wall (I hope) so too should you, as the belayer, move around. There are a few different situations where you should move around, but the most common (and predictable) is when your climber is clipping.

On the left, the belayer steps towards the wall to create a little more slack. (This also has the benefit of allowing her to quickly take slack out of the system if needed just by stepping back.)

On the right, she doesn’t move at all. This is the difference between being able to clip without getting short roped, and getting short roped. This movement is also an indicator of an attentive belayer. So when your climber is clipping, get in the habit of stepping into the wall to give them a little more slack. (There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but you’ve got to know the rules in order to know when to break them, right?)



When your climber “gets air” and takes a whip, you should too.

I’ve saved the best for last. When your climber falls (which should be common) you need to “give a soft catch” to keep them from “getting spiked” because f=m*v^2 and other such jargon.

Just watch these a few times:


Which one looks more comfortable? Watch, again, carefully. What is the climber doing with her hands? Her feet? What happens to the belayer?

The climber is “getting a soft catch” on the left. She is “getting spiked” on the right.  

If she were working a really hard move and had to take that fall five or six times in a row, which one do you think would inspire confidence? Which one would make her leery of falling?

The only difference between these is that the belayer gave a hop on the left, and did not give a hop on the right.

Now what?

These are three changes you can make to your belaying next time you put your harness on. Send this to your belayer, so they can improve too. Once you’ve both made these changes, you’ll feel a little more confident next time you are on the wall.