Climbing and Competitive Climbing
Climbing is a wonderfully varied pastime. Outdoor climbing involves exploring cliffs and boulders, often set in picturesque and inspiring locations. Natural rock climbs and boulders present enduring challenges that climbers can test themselves against for years to come. With so much rock available all over the world, there is effectively no limit to the opportunities for climbers, regardless of age or ability.
Indoors, we create the challenges by setting climbs on fabricated walls using plastic climbing holds, plus large plywood or fiberglass features to create infinitely varied movements that we constantly change to maintain interest and promote improvement. We test ourselves against the climbs both informally, and in formalized climbing competitions.
Climbing 12-15 feet above pads has become extremely popular for its simplicity and lack of reliance on equipment or partners. As with sport climbing, the scoring of a bouldering competition often comes down to the highest hold reached on the short but intensely difficult climbs. Climbers are only given 4-6 minutes to solve the puzzle of each climb but, in a major difference to the sport climbing competitions, the climbers may attempt each “problem” (the short climb) as many times as they like within the time allowed. Every attempt must start from a designated starting point. In most bouldering competitions several separate “problems” will be attempted during the final round with a short break between each. Because of differences in techniques and strengths demanded, competitors may have varying success from problem to problem. Scoring becomes a complex process of comparing results between competitors on the different boulder problems.
Sport climbing, which is climbing with a rope on climbs protected by top-rope or (for lead climbers) by pre-fixed carabiners which the leader clips the rope through, closely mirrors what climbers typically do when they go sport climbing outside. The idea of the competition is that the athletes will attempt climbs from around 50 to 100 feet long, climbs so difficult that, in the final round of the competition, few if any climbers will reach the top. In sport climbing competitions, each competitor typically only gets one try–any fall, or weighting of the rope or any other equipment terminates the attempt. The ranking of competitors is determined by the highest point reached before falling. Often a series of rounds will be held, beginning with easier climbs that reduce the field for the final in which the top group of competitors will attempt a single climb one after the other. The top ranked climber from the previous round climbs last in the more advanced round.
In speed climbing competitions, two climbers race against each other in heats. For the top level competitors, the climbs on which they race are identical. The climbs are not only identical to each other, but identical to every other regulation speed climbing wall in the world. This means that you can train in Texas for a speed climbing competition in China. When you arrive, you compete on the exact same climb – the exact same holds placed in the exact same positions on a wall of the exact same angle and length that you trained on. Minor differences in position, texture, humidity, temperature and so on, create variations in how that “same climb” can feel. People race against each other, and also try to beat their fastest time, measured by timers down to 1/100th of a second. For less formal speed climbing events, or those for younger competitors, non-standardized, newly made climbs are usually used.
USA Climbing and the Synergy Climbing Team
Coaching for our climbing team is based on preparing climbers to compete at youth events sanctioned by USA Climbing.
USA Climbing is the governing body of competitive climbing in the USA. As such, USA Climbing keeps track of competitions that it sanctions. For youth events, USA Climbing divides athletes into categories based on age and gender (see below), and gives the competitors a national ranking based on their results. USA Climbing is tasked with establishing, through competitive events, a youth national climbing team that will represent the USA at the international level.
Please note that USA Climbing is not the only organization that hosts climbing competitions. Climbing gyms and other organizations also may organize their own competitions for their members or for the public in general. These events may be very different in style from USA Climbing youth events. Typically events that are not sanctioned by USA Climbing for youth competitors will be geared more for adults and/or elite climbers or perhaps for middle or high school sports, and will have various formats (at the discretion of the event organizers) – some may be outdoors, some indoors.
We structure our training sessions toward are the USA Climbing sanctioned competitions — those designed for youth competitors, with the competitors split into their respective age (2-year increments) and gender categories (see the category age brackets below) and with each competitor ranked by this national organization.
To be sanctioned by USA Climbing, a competition must meet specific criteria, and those criteria can be relatively informal and loose for local-level events, but are formalized and strict at the Regional, Divisional, and National level.
USA Climbing Seasonal Schedule
There are three types of competitions sanctioned by USA Climbing: sport, speed, and bouldering (the three disciplines described above).
USA Climbing divides the year into two seasons, bouldering is one season while sport and speed are combined into the second season.
- Bouldering: The bouldering season is in the Fall and Winter, with competitions beginning in September and culminating in a Bouldering National Championship in mid-February.
- Sport and Speed: The sport and speed season is in the Spring and Summer, with competitions beginning in March and culminating in the Sport and Speed National Championships around mid July.
Membership of USA Climbing
In order to participate in USA Climbing events other than “local” level competitions, an annual membership of USA Climbing is required. The current annual competitor membership fee is $105. To participate in any or all “local” level events, an introductory USA Climbing membership can be purchased for $20 in lieu of the full annual membership. But participants who wish to attend a Regional Championship (the qualifier for Divisional and beyond) must become full annual members. See the membership FAQ page of the USA Climbing website for more details.
Participation in the regional is possible for EVERY competitor that has attended no less than one “local” event and placed in the top 16 in at least one “local” events. We require all team members to compete at the Regional Championship level, and so, it makes sense to become a USA Climbing member in September and before doing any USA Climbing sanctioned local events.
In addition to membership, are the fees for the competitors which vary from around $35 to $50 for local events, and $150-$200 for regional, divisional or national championships.
Although the season is divided in two, membership of USA Climbing is an all-or-nothing choice (you can’t buy a membership solely for the bouldering season). The membership year begins September 1st and runs through August 31st. Thus, signing up for USA Climbing membership is something you can do at any point from September onward, but the cost is the same regardless of when you join. Even if you are only joining in order to attend the sport and speed season beginning late February or March, you still must pay the full annual membership.
Signing up for USA Climbing Membership
Do this in September. Do NOT do this before September. It is good to know a few things before signing up for membership, such as your region, your team, your coaches and your category.
- Your region is Region 602, also known as the Mid-South Region.
- Your coaches are Lisa Rands and/or Wills Young.
- Your team is Synergy Climbing.
Age categories for the 2019-2020 competition season are as follows:
- Youth D – competitor turns 11 or younger in 2020.
- Youth C – competitor turns 12 or 13 in 2020.
- Youth B – competitor turns 14 or 15 in 2020.
- Youth A – competitor turns 16 or 17 in 2020.
- Junior – competitor turns 18 or 19 in 2020.
All our team members must compete at not less than one local-level USA Climbing event during bouldering season and the same during sport and speed climbing season. NOTE: a local event does not need to be within our own region. Registration for local events is typically done through the host facility’s website (a week or more before the event). More information will be given to team members in advance of these events.
In addition, we require all our team members to compete at the Regional Championship. To do this, as noted above, each individual must:
- Become a member of USA Climbing before attending any local events for the discipline(s) that they wish to eventually attend at the Regional level.
- Attend one local competition as a USA Climbing member (results and region are not important, but you should be in the top 16 in one of the local competitions).
We will update team members by email with a list of local events and the dates and locations of the Regional, Divisional and National. These events are also listed on our team calendar, for which there is a link at the end of all team emails.