The Dilemna of Being a Good Friend/Climbing Partner

Growing up in suburban Massachusetts to non-outdoorsy parents, I had limited experience with activities like hiking, backcountry skiing, and climbing. Instead, I grew up playing traditional team sports such as football, basketball, and baseball. It wasn’t until college I discovered that through outdoor sports I could blend my love of athletics with a passion for being outside—and it wasn’t until I began working at Eastern Mountain Sports that I learned to climb and ski.

In hindsight, I wish I had access to a rock gym when I was young, or that my parents had signed me up for the ski team, but the fact is that a childhood playing a variety of sports instilled the coordination, athleticism, and aptitude to learn new activities. However, many years of playing organized sports also established another, less desirable characteristic: competitiveness. Every football or basketball coach loves players who will stop at nothing to make a tackle or dive on the court for a loose ball. But bringing the win at all costs mentality to activities like hiking, backcountry skiing, and bouldering can be off-putting, mainly because, in most cases, these activities aren’t competitions.

While healthy competition in the right arena is okay, at times my desire for it has turned casual hikes into unofficial trail races, favorite boulder problems into climbing comps, and leisurely bike rides into mini Tour de Frances. Even worse is that my need for competition has burned out or turned off potentials partners. After all, who wants to spend their Saturday in oxygen debt, desperately trying to keep up with someone who does this every weekend and is secretly trying to kill you? (Sadly, I have lost more of these “competitions” than I have won.)

In addition to turning off potential new partners, sometimes this competitive attitude can ruin the atmosphere of an otherwise fun day. On my last two trips to Rumney, I left incredibly disappointed with myself due to an inability to climb two routes I have done many times in the past. However, what bothered me most wasn’t my inability to send, it was my friend’s quick and casual ascents of the climbs. That competitiveness put a damper on what was otherwise two fantastic days of climbing. This past weekend while bouldering at Pawtuckaway, I suddenly realized I was rooting for my friend to fail on a problem. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want to see him send…I just wanted to be the one to do it first.

It’s funny that years of playing team sports teaches the importance of teamwork and stresses the value of appreciating your teammates, in addition to breeding a competitive attitude. However, in outdoor sports, your climbing, skiing, and hiking partners can be both your team and the competition, leaving people like me conflicted. Like becoming a better skier or better climber, becoming a partner is a process. A process I continue to work on. I think being competitive is valuable, but there is a better way to channel that competitiveness. Rather than pushing yourself against others, the challenge is to use that competitive fire to get fitter, get faster, and become better, not just for yourself, but for your teammates (i.e., your climbing, biking, skiing, and hiking partners).