How to Be A Better Spectator
No one wants to be a pest at the gym, but sometimes we can be without even realizing it.
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No one (or at least almost no one) wants to have a negative impact on someone else’s climbing. We’ve all been at the gym, grinding on a particular boulder problem or route, when some nob walks up and starts telling us what we’re doing wrong or begins demonstrating the moves for us. It’s often framed under the guise of helpful, well-meaning advice, of course, but that doesn’t make the experience any less grating on the nerves.
The funny thing is, most of us have probably been on the other side of the spectrum at one time or another, whether we realize it or not. We’ve all offered some unsolicited beta at some point in our climbing careers. No matter how benign our intentions are, how unassuming and laidback we are as about it, our partner or another climber has probably thought “I wish they’d just shut up and let me work this route” at one point or another.
Learning to be a good spectator is a heck of a lot easier than upping your 8a.nu scorecard, so take note.
Don’t Offer Beta Unless Asked
Unsolicited beta, or “spray,” is the hallmark trait of a bad spectator. Despite what you might think, unless the climber asks for it, there is never a reason to offer beta to someone working a route. Even if you think you’d appreciate the beta if you were in their position, resist the urge to tell them “make sure to use that sidepull” or “try to push harder off of that right foot.” Aside from being annoying, it could also wreck someone’s chance at an onsight.
If they ask for help, by all means, go ahead. Otherwise, the only reason to offer unsolicited advice to someone climbing a route or boulder problem is if you see them doing something that is objectively unsafe.
Don’t Lap Routes Someone Else is Projecting
You’re grinding and grinding on that pink boulder problem. You’ve slipped a dozen times now, and you simply can’t figure out the last couple of moves. You step back from the wall and take a breather. Suddenly, a guy who has been standing on the sidelines watching you for the last four tries comes in and flashes the problem in a split second with perfect beta, walking away without a word or backward glance. It’s obvious this person has sent the problem before. Nothing is more frustrating.
On some level, this is just a fact of climbing. There will always be stronger climbers than you. There will always be someone out there that could flash your project with their eyes closed.
But there’s a difference between taking turns working a route with another climber (or giving a new route a go after watching someone else project it), and specifically heading over to lap a route you’ve already sent 1,000 times before, just to flex on the climber who is struggling on it.
If it’s a route you haven’t tried before or it’s a route you’re working on yourself then you have every right to take a go, regardless of how strong you are. But if someone is working hard on a problem you’ve already sent multiple times and could probably send with your eyes closed, show a little respect and leave them to their efforts. If you really, really need to lap that route again, just wait until after they’re finished.
Note: This tip applies tenfold if you’re campusing. There’s bound to be another problem in the gym to flail on rather than the one someone else is projecting.
Keep the Vocal Encouragement to a Minimum (Unless You Know the Climber)
Everyone is different when it comes to the level of vocal encouragement and support they desire when working a route or problem. I always appreciate the sentiment when other climbers yell “You got this!” but if I had my way I would rather not hear a word from my belayer, spotter, or any other spectator while I’m climbing. I climb best when I get my motivation from myself and no one else. Added voices from randos yelling “Come on dude!” just distract me, particularly when I’m projecting at the top of my grade.
Not everyone is like me, of course. Some folks really benefit from vocal encouragement, and love for you to hype them up and support them while they’re on the wall. Meanwhile, other climbers like support from their friends, but don’t really care for random people they don’t know stopping to watch and cheer them on.
There’s no right or wrong answer, what works for you works for you. The key thing to remember is if you don’t know the climber personally and know their thoughts on the process, you’re better off just shutting up and focusing on your own climbing.
Cheering someone on isn’t a crime against humanity, of course, but don’t assume that yelling “Crush it girl!” at the top of your lungs when you’re passing a random person working a boulder problem is going to be welcome encouragement, or that it’s going to benefit the climber. If in doubt, just keep it to yourself.