I remember the first time I ever actually tried hard. It was a random session on a random weeknight after school. The route – a new red 5.12 on a slight overhang. At the time I was a decent climber with a few 5.12 redpoints under my belt, but never a flash. My step-dad, Eric, put me on belay and gave me a quick pep talk before I started, nothing special. Three quarters up I met the crux where I messed up the beta and started getting pumped. This is usually where I’d throw in the hat and say, “Good enough”, but for some reason I wasn’t satisfied with that. This time, I decided I wouldn’t let go. I improvised with a downwards dyno onto a block and struggled my way through a massive pump to flash the route. I was really proud of what had just happened, seemingly out of nowhere, and Eric made no effort to hide the fact that he was ecstatic about it.
We finished the session with a few more climbs and packed up. We called my mother on the way home and she asked how the session went. Before I had a chance to answer Eric took over to say, “Really, really good” with a huge smile on his face. He told her that I just had a breakthrough session that would act as a precedent for the rest of my climbing career. As a kid, I was preoccupied by the fact that I just flashed a hard climb to see the actual success in my training that day, which Eric had identified, and the importance of the skill I just practiced for the first time: trying hard.
I wouldn’t come to truly appreciate or understand this for another five years, but here I finally am – five years later.
Trying hard only moved into the spotlight for me when I started coaching. The team at my gym is strong, and I mean really strong. So when I see them fall, I search for answers before I approach them. Did they miss the beta? Was the foot too low? Did they overshoot it?
Most of the time, though, I can call it immediately – “You didn’t try hard enough”.
As I started paying more attention, I realized this was a universal truth. Very few people consistently try hard, but those who do truly leave a mark. This is what separates legends from wannabes, professionals from amateurs, and athletes from the ordinary.
Even take those who always land on the podium in your area but don’t seem to excel in the big leagues. If the skill is there, beta reading is solid, and strength is high, trying hard doesn’t have to be in the equation at every competition. Athletes like this still put in the effort and log the hours, but when it comes time to bite down on a problem, that drive just doesn’t come out enough. Even worse, when it comes to higher level competitions, athletes like this just can’t perform because the try-hard needs to be running at full capacity from the word “Go” and they just don’t know how to hold the switch down.
Then we see the people who dominate competitions and take down crags. Not only do they have the skill, but they’ve harnessed the ability to unfailingly try as hard as they can at every possible opportunity. They are the first people who come to mind when you’re asked who the competition is. They are the reason you’re intimidated at an event. They are the ones who cast a shadow on your dream of first place – unless you can rise to their level.