Monday, December 6, 2010

Clinics, Getting Hired, and Staying Fresh

An unfortunate side effect of the symbiosis between climbing and routesetting is that it's hard not to drift between focusing on one or the other. I spent a good chunk of this year traveling and climbing, with most of my actual setting during that time being a week here and a week there for competitions. There's nothing wrong with setting for comps - but it's hard not to get a bit rusty when you're not setting regularly.

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers makes the case that the primary characteristic of being an expert at something is having a considerable amount of practice. To be the foremost in your field, you have to get that experience before anyone else. The number he throws out is 10,000 hours. Do some quick math. Let's say you set 15-20ish hours a week, with a comp thrown in here or there where you maybe set 40 or more. Compromise at maybe a thousand hours a year. At an extremely busy, understaffed gym, maybe two thousand. So it's going to take you a while to reach Gladwell's benchmark, anyway.

For me, staying fresh involves thinking about setting as much as possible, especially when I'm actively climbing. How would I force that move if I was in the gym? Note where the feet are and the orientation of plumb lines on outdoor climbs. Try to see the climb as a series of physical consequences - each move's specific geometry being necessary to the foundation of the next.

Thinking is nice, but practice is what's really important. 10,000 hours of thinking won't spin a wrench. If you're free floating right now and have no gym to practice at, I suggest looking for one, and taking whatever you can get - friend's woodies and networking and helping at local gyms. If nothing else, get involved in the process - I pounded a thousand T-nuts for a local gym a couple months ago. Another great way to get some practice in are USAC clinics.

A subject that seems to come up a lot among setters is whether the USAC clinics are worth the cost. My opinion is that any time you get to set unrestrained on fresh terrain for two full days, get feedback from folks like Molly Beard and Chris Danielson who already have their 10,000 hours, meet other local setters and network, and generally just enjoy yourself - why would you turn that down? The cost is a fraction of what you'd pay in almost any other profession for the luxury of having expert feedback for two days.

Now that I'm back in society from my travels, I've been trying to brush up on my setting as much as possible while I look for a new gym to practice at. To compensate, I've been spending a lot of time trying to analyze indoor routesetting: both the physical act of setting and what it reduces to, and practical ways to become more efficient at it. So as I dissect my journal scribbles, there might be a lot more theory posts showing up, as well as one super secret, super mega routesetting info project.

In the mean time, I have some other new topics to cover: looking for a routesetting job in a new town, preparing for clinics and staying in shape for setting - I haven't practiced jumaring in several months and the clinic is sure to involve a lot of it. (Here's a hint: It'll be a bicep-thrashin' good time.)

Until next time, happy setting. It's indoor season!


  1. Hey!

    Love the blog! Wish you updated it more, especially the videos!

    I'm a relatively new setter (been setting on my home wall and am USAC Level 1 Routesetter certified). I live about 2 hours from the nearest gym, so getting a job setting there is a bit impractical.

    My wife and myself are planning on moving to Colorado soon and I'm hoping to get as much setting employment as possible (full, part time, whatever, I'll even work the front desk and belay kids if it gets a foot in the door). What I'm wondering is how to go about getting a setting job since I've never done it before. Do I go to the gyms in person and ask the front desk? Ask for the gym manager or head setter? Email? Snail mail?

    Thanks for any help or tips you can provide on seeking (and gaining) employment. I realize Colorado will be a very competitive market for climbing related jobs and I'm just trying to maximize my chances. I have a couple letters of reference for people I have instructed in climbing, and am just racking my brains for any other ideas on how to improve my chances.


  2. Well that's a tough topic. Having just gotten hired at a new place myself, I have experienced some of it. I've been trying to organize a post on the subject since the level 2 clinic, because it is something we talked about there. Look for it in the next few days.

    Thanks for the kind words! I'll update more frequently when I start setting more frequently again.. should be soon!