Psychophysiological and emotional antecedents of climbing performance
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractRecreational sport climbing is characterised by self-selected route choices, which place participants under both physiological and psychological stress. This thesis is comprised of four studies, each conducted with experienced climbers, exploring subjective psychological, objective psychophysiological and behavioural responses to anxiety-inducing stressors. Studies One and Two explored the means of protecting a climber in the event of a fall and the relative difficulty of a route. Significant and meaningful differences in self-reported anxiety and climbing performance were found in both studies. However, notably, psychophysiological measures of anticipatory heart rate and cortisol did not result in meaningful differences. Results suggested that situations, atypical of participants’ normal recreation sessions, with an increased likelihood of a climber falling or being unable to complete the route, were likely to be evaluated as threatening, elicit a negative emotional response and disrupt performance. However, the quantitative methods employed in Studies One and Two did not provide an explanation of the processes underlying participant’s anxious response and disrupted performance. Consequently, Study Three qualitatively explored individual experiences of climbers, with a focus on psychological factors that influence performance. The defining characteristics of lead climbing were discussed, as were the potential for taking falls, and/or the anticipation of falling. Further, interviewees described the choices they make, in order to increase or decrease the physical, psychological and technical challenges present. Critically, the choices made by a climber appear to potentiate or limit opportunities to perform optimally. Climber’s decisions were mediated by a number of antecedents, including a climber’s background in the sport, climbing partners and training status. Data suggests that while decisions made by the climbers allow them to engage with the sport on their own terms and exert a level of control over the challenges of their climbing sessions, it is often at the expense of performance. Interestingly, while interviewees were aware of techniques to reduce anxiety and improve performance, few regularly used these in training. Study Four examined the effectiveness of clip drops and repeat practice to reduce anxiety. Results indicated that neither technique resulted in reduced anxiety or improved performance when compared to the control group. While there were small differences in the success rate of participants in the intervention groups, they were less anxious and interpreted their level of self-confidence as more positive, compared to control, it was not possible to differentiate between the two interventions. However, when the combined means were considered there were significant and meaningful differences observed in the post-intervention red-point ascent compared to the initial on-sight. This thesis highlights the difficulty that arises in attempting to quantitatively examine anxiety. While there might not be (a) anxiety in climbers or (b) quantifiable differences between climbers of different abilities, it may be that what is possibly ‘noise’ in data arises due to weaknesses in the markers themselves. The findings of Study Three provide evidence of the true nature of anxiety for climbers, which was not evident from the quantitative markers; as well as the lengths climbers will go to, to avoid anxiety. Climbers’ responses to anxiety were individualised, consequently, generalised interventions may have a limited effect on reducing anxiety to a level which supports performance improvements. It may be that an individualised approach to anxiety reduction and avoidance behaviours has a more significant impact on performance improvement than any of the latest training programmes, equipment or nutritional strategies.
CitationGiles, D. (2017) 'Psychophysiological and emotional antecedents of climbing performance', PhD Thesis, University of Derby.
PublisherUniversity of Derby
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