With local SCS comps well underway, I thought it would be good to go over some basics for roped setting. Setting 50 routes in a sprint is a lot to deal with. Starting with the general:
Have a plan. Re-setting most of the gym is a huge task, and one that shouldn't be played by ear. If you don't have one, designate a head routesetter to take responsibility for final decision-making. Take an hour the first day, walk around the gym, and decide what should go where. The team goal is very likely to be separating the competitors, so make sure each range of routes has a mixture of terrain, style, length, setter, etc. For an onsight comp, the plan will need to be much more comprehensive, including setting up isolation, organizing the routes so that competitors can't see other routes in their category, and a mixture of other challenges. Onsight comps are a topic in themselves which deserve a focused post.
Stick to the plan. Don't let setters get off track by making ad hoc decisions about what should be done. Include a work plan for each day - when to strip which walls, what will be set, and even by whom and when. There will always be exceptions, but those decisions should be made by the head routesetter and not on the spot.
Work complex tasks first. For instance, deciding where large volumes should go and getting them on the wall is a task that can require teamwork and time. Waiting until there are routes up can be limiting. If you're creating any custom features, best to do it early in the week when complications won't threaten the comp schedule. Decide where they will go, how to integrate them, needed materials, and estimates of cost and time. Creating an interesting and unique comp atmosphere is crucial, but it shouldn't (and doesn't need to) threaten the setting schedule.
Prioritization is crucial in competition setting. When you have a lot of routes to set, focus on skeleton setting. Get the ideas up, then come back and tweak them. When you've been setting all day for several days in a row, it can be daunting to do the hard work: I've seen many setters make the mistake (myself included) of constantly tweaking the opening boulder problem of a route as a means of delaying roping up. Set the skeleton, discuss what needs to be fixed, and execute with fair attention to each sequence of each route.
Prioritize your effort on sequences. Are you so dead set on forcing your flashy crux sequence that you blitzed through the rest of the route? Each move builds on the last. Routesetters care about that specific cool sequence - gym climbers and competitors care about the experience of the whole route. You need to be the first, and think like the second. Especially with route climbing, "flow" can be more important than style points. Save the boulder problems for learning how to force a tricky new move - then you can put it up your sleeve for the next route.
There is always another move. If you're having a hard time forcing a move, drop the ego and set something else. Sometimes it can be frustrating when an innovative sequence just won't work out for you; instead, set something you know and move on. If the sequence needs tweaking later, it'll be tweaked later. Set a move, change the body position, and you have a fresh chance to be creative.
There is always another route. If you're dead set on a hard sequence, don't sandbag an easy climb because you can't step up and adjust. It makes ordering and forerunning the routes a nightmare. Similarly, if you're feeling tired, you might feel like setting something easier than you have to. Maybe this means hopping off the ladder and setting a different route right now - not always an option for routesetters who operate on a fixed schedule. But it might also mean saving up that inspiration, setting the route in front of you, and having that extra creative gas in the tank for the next route.
Stay organized. When there's a lot of setting to do, something as mundane as making a list of minor tasks / tweaks can feel like a waste of time. In reality, keeping a running task list can drastically alter how well a setting sprint goes. Anyone with downtime or facing setter's block can refer to the list and check off a few quick items. These tasks might be setting-related: adding a new foothold, adding or removing tape, adding a set screw, or forerunning and tweaking a sequence for consistency or equity. They could also be event related tasks - routesetters are often expected to follow through on creating route placards, printing scorecards, setting up seating and safety lines, or helpful secondary tasks like printing out a map of the gym for visiting competitors.
Manage the mundane tasks. Some of the most important things that happen during hectic setting are forgotten by most setters. And yep, that means doing jobs everyone hates. If there isn't someone designated to keep a load of holds in the wash at all times, there probably should be. Organizing holds for better access. Keeping the task list and route plan updated.
Communicate well, especially on small tasks like holds in the wash. This helps with sharing of gear. Keep track of your tools - if you're borrowing someone else's ratchet or drill, or taking a hold from their pile, let them know so they don't spend 15 minutes looking for it. And for the love of red wrenches, write down which routes are being set! Nothing says disorganization like an inexplicable 51st route on the last day. Communication is also crucial when tweaking, which I'd like to talk about more - for now, read the forerunning primer.
Distribute resources. In a smaller gym, aid gear and ladders might be in short supply. Set in rotation to maximize their usage. Setters should never be waiting for gear; there's always something to forerun, tweak, holds to wash, etc. If holds or bolts are at a premium, set up a ration. Set clear limitations and expectations for route length. Strategically save holds, but don't allow hoarding. If absolutely necessary, consider a lottery for choice holds. It can be tough to remember that the primo holds are better spent on a route that'll see a lot of traffic than the hardest route.
Delegate to save time and energy. If you're working from a plan, either delegate routes to specific setters, or let them pick. Be flexible, but have a plan ready. Don't expect one setter to handle steep terrain several days in a row - mix up terrain to keep ideas and muscles fresh. Newer setters may be expected to set the easiest routes, handle secondary tasks, and assist the setters, so that those with experience can work faster - just like any other workplace.
Work in batches. This should be rote for any serious routesetter by now, but never make a trip twice. If you're heading up to finish setting a route, ask yourself what else you might be able while roped up. Check the task list to see if routes on the same anchor need any edits, set screws, tape, etc. Check with setters of nearby routes. And of course, bring extra feet, bolts, screws and tape. Need to grab a hold from the pile? Check for what else you might need, and save yourself a trip across the gym. Better yet, if you're setting from a pile or set, bring them all over from the get go. Setting from a ladder and need a tap? Grab your harness and aid gear for when you rope up later. Heading to lunch? Grab everyone else a burrito... okay, that last one is dubious.
Small efficiency is big efficiency. Learn from your mistakes. Try to set every route faster and better than the last one. Use fixed lines, jumars, and other aid devices to save muscular effort for forerunning. Tweak by directionality, not by changing holds. Practice, practice, practice. Proper setup seems like a lot of extra work, but it saves more time in the long run. Check this list of basic efficiency tips to brush up on the basics.
That covers a good chunk of it. I'll make a specific post about forerunning for sport comps. For now, what did I miss? Share your secrets to a smooth comp week either here on the Facebook page.