Interview with Climbing Coach Matt Chapman: Part 2

Rock climbing coach Matt Chapman and I discuss the importance of losing, doing mental training with his athletes, and his incredible social media following.

Matt Chapman high-performance rock climbing coach

Here is part two of my interview with rock climbing coach Matt Chapman. In part one, we discussed his motivation for coaching and how he rationalizes the stress of competition with his athletes with the parable of the plank.

In part two, Matt and I continue our conversation with his thoughts on winning and losing:

[Richardson]: To what extent do you care about winning?

[Chapman]: This is actually another one of my favorite topics! I don't like to talk about winning. I find that's very one-dimensional.

You get your dumb trophy, and you feel good for 15 seconds or maybe longer because you get to post and get that rush of people congratulating you. It's fun, but it's meaningless.

What I'm more interested in as a coach and philosopher is loss. I would say I have a unique relationship with loss in that I really enjoy it. I like to lose.

Now in the moment, I'll be honest, I writhe in agony. But shortly afterward, I feel very grateful that I had the opportunity to lose.

I see myself not as a teacher or as a coach, I see myself more as a student. And part of that, of course, is being a student of loss and recognizing how dangerous losing can be.

When we lose, we do a series of things. The first is we look for reasons for losing. And then, as we look for reasons, we tend to make meaning. And then, as we make meaning, we begin to live into the meaning we've made.

Let's say you're training all season for a major comp, and you expect to make finals, but for whatever reason, you have a bad round, and you don't even make semis.

Now you enter into one of two stages immediately: The first is you look for reasons in what I call the Reasoning Stage: "Did I fall apart mentally?", "Was I not in control?", "Did I misread the beta?"

Those are the first things that go on, but very, very quickly, that morphs into things like, "What's wrong with me?", "Am I falling behind?", "Am I not good enough for this level of competition?"

These darker thoughts pop into our heads partly because losing is emotional and so real in the moment. These make up the Meaning-Making Stage and this is where it gets dangerous because it can change your behaviour.

If your Meaning-Making is severe enough and your self-talk is damaging enough, you could leave a sport you actually love.

So loss from this perspective is a really important topic. And as a philosophical concept, it needs to be considered. This is what I mean by I love it.

I've been a competitive athlete my whole life. I got pretty high up in various sports, and I lost a lot as an athlete. You lose a lot. And now as a coach, my athletes lose a lot.

A long time ago, when I was a young philosopher, I decided to embrace losing. But not just embrace it, to learn to love losing. So we can say, I learned to love failure.

And when failure and loss are understood and embraced philosophically, you recognize that it is the best opportunity we'll ever get to see things about ourselves that we would otherwise miss.

If you think about any sort of real growth that you've had in your life, I can promise you it's come from loss and failure.

I think it also changes your goal-setting process. Is your goal to win a comp, or is it to become a better competitor?

If your goal is to win a comp, then your experience is reduced to winning and losing. But if your goal is to become a better person, then loss becomes a very powerful factor in your life that's not necessarily a bad thing.

And this empowers you to compete at a whole other level. It frees you up to be completely okay with loss, which makes you a more powerful and more deadly potential winner.

[Richardson]: Wow, that's such a great way of putting it.

But how much of this do you think gets to your athletes?

[Chapman]: I don't think a lot. I think the only person that gets the most is Indiana because she's my daughter. We talk about concepts all the time.

She would get the most, but for my general youth athletes, it's hard. I'm only with them maybe 12 hours a week, and a lot of that's focused on training.

This year I've been getting a string of requests to run more training camps. I hosted Team Saudi Arabia and I ran a couple of youth camps this year, one was international, and the feedback has all been, "Hold on, why isn't there more of this? Where do we get your book?" and I don't have any of that. It's just all in my head.

So some close friends and mentors have pulled me aside and said, "We need what's in your head to get out, and we'd really like you to take that seriously."

I've started to be like, okay. I don't know. Maybe.

[Richardson]: Yeah, to me, this looks like a book or something. A blog is definitely easier, but it's a long game that you have to invest and believe in.

[Chapman]: Yeah, I'm not sure what the best way is for me. I'm not good at selling. I used to think I had to do something, but I'm old enough now that I'm just happy with who I am.

[Richardson]: Well, I appreciate stealing a bit of your knowledge today.

[Chapman]: Well, yeah, that's why I said yes. I was like, hey, cool, maybe Maddie can write it so I don't have to!

[Richardson]: (laughs) Okay, so I just have one last question for you. I saw that your Instagram profile is extremely popular. And so, my question is:

What exactly is the role of social media in your life, and where did it come from? How did it grow?

[Chapman]: Well, I'll be honest with you, when you told me that you didn't have social media, the immediate instinct I had was envy.

Every once in a while, I'll meet an athlete who stayed away from it. And I know you changed that now with the fact that you guys got married. I personally enjoy seeing your YouTube stuff and reading your posts, so I'm glad you're on social media now, but I mean, that initial response is closer to my heart.

As somebody who thinks deeply about things, I see the sham of social media, I see the danger of it and time wasting and things like that. I see the falsity of all of that. Philosophically, I have more problems with it, but in reality, it's a tool. That's how I see it.

I originally started Instagram for Indie. I started to be like, hey, we're doing cool stuff, check it out. And then it just started to grow.

I'd post workouts, and people thought it was cool, but then one day, I posted a little tutorial on how to do a figure-four, and it just blew up.

It went from whatever, 1,000 or 3,000, or I think my highest was like 6,000 views to 50,000, and I was like, whoa.

And then somebody pointed out to me that my stuff was geared towards high-performance athletes, but I should focus on regular climbers who are trying to get better. And then the light bulb went on.

And I went, oh, this is how I could serve my community and provide free content for how to get better at climbing.

Generally speaking, it's pretty simple stuff. So I started to do that. When I'm posting regularly, which is not often anymore, it would go crazy. I was averaging 250,000 views per video, and my following went from 2,000 to 6,000, then 6,000 to 20,000, and then 20,000 to 80,000.

I wasn't really prepared for that, nor am I interested in that. I couldn't care less, to be honest. But now that it's there, it's a tool. Sponsors will approach me and I'm able to get stuff for me and my team, stuff for Indiana. Opportunities just come.

And I get it. I know it's a world of commercialism and blah, blah, blah. I get it, but it's a tool. And while I have it, I'm going to use it. And now that I have an audience, maybe I have some things to say that can help and encourage people and maybe make their climbing journeys, and dare I say their lives, a little bit better. If that can happen, then I'm quite happy with social media.

[Richardson]: Yeah, Zach and I found the same conclusion. It is a tool, and as much as I didn't want to be on social media, I'm in a lucky position where like Zach can just do the whole thing for us! I'm glad you've found the same conclusion.

I did notice a while back you decided to take a week off of social media?

[Chapman]: Yeah, I call it a digital fast. I'm still on this one. Mental health is everything. My wellness and how my wife is doing and how my daughters are doing is not just first in my life, but it's a billion miles ahead of social media.

So I just needed to take a break, reset, and come back strong. That is the first break that I've taken in a couple of years. And I've enjoyed it so much that I'm still on it. It meant to be a week, and now I'm in like month two or three.

It was a good reminder that I need to make sure I'm a human in the world before I'm a human on little screens in front of people's faces.

[Richardson]: Absolutely.

Okay, that's all I've got for you! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today!

[Chapman]: Thanks, Madison!

A Madison Richardson Article

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