John Brosler talks speed climbing, mental resilience and confidence

At 23-years old, pro-climber, John Brosler has won numerous U.S National Championships and is also a Pan-American Champion. We caught up with him to talk about mental resilience, unfounded criticism and developing confidence in speed climbing.

John Brosler

Source: Supplied

Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a little bit about your life outside of climbing and speed climbing, in particular?

John Brosler: Outside of speed, I’m a kinesiology major at the University of Utah. Other than climbing, I enjoy cooking, skiing, and drinking coffee. I also have a younger sister, and a dog named Casper.

How did you get into climbing, and in particular, speed climbing?

When I was little, I went to a bunch of rock climbing summer camps. Eventually, I joined Team Texas, the youth climbing team in my area.

Speed climbing was heavily emphasized in youth competitions and our team practices, and I  was introduced to it when our gym built a 10-meter speed wall and we started using it at team practice.

I think people assume that speed climbing is “trying” to be like lead climbing or bouldering, but that’s really not the case at all.

Speed isn’t usually the discipline of choice when it comes to pro-climbers in North America. How did you find yourself so invested in the sport?

I was progressing at speed climbing more quickly than I was progressing in lead climbing or bouldering, so I was naturally drawn to it as a young kid.

I always chose to speed climb at practice instead of training the other two disciplines, and I was more motivated by it as well.

After I made the US Team for the first time and competed at my first Youth World Championships in Singapore, I became obsessed with improvement because I believed in my potential to eventually be one of the best.

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We all know about the unfounded criticism towards speed climbing and it ‘not’ being real climbing, why do you think this is?

I don’t think it’s unfounded! The version of speed climbing that exists in competitions is objectively completely different than lead climbing or bouldering.

However, just because it isn’t real climbing doesn’t make it worse, it’s just different. I think people assume that speed climbing is “trying” to be like lead climbing or bouldering, but that’s really not the case at all.

It just exists on its own, removed from the other two disciplines. It occurs alongside lead climbing and bouldering competitions because that’s where the sport evolved from and it’s still very young, but in 50 years time, I could see competitive speed climbing being completely separated from the IFSC as its own sport.

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And what do you usually say to people who make these assumptions or criticise the discipline?

If someone is handing out medals, people are gonna try to win them. The sport is intense and fun for both athletes and spectators. Let climbing be climbing, and let speed climbing be speed climbing!

There are many physical qualities required to become a top speed climber, what in your opinion are the most essential though?

Muscle memory is the biggest component, so time on the wall is crucial! Strong legs and good coordination are important too, in order to propel yourself up the wall and do so consistently.

John Brosler on the starting line for a speed climbing competition.

John Brosler on the starting line for a speed climbing competition. Source: Supplied

How about in the context of mental resilience. With speed, you are often challenging yourself, over and over again. What is important, in your opinion, to keep in mind or develop (i.e. confidence) to overcome potential mental barriers when speed climbing?

With speed climbing, you only get one chance to perform at your limit when participating in an elimination round, which makes each individual run extremely important.

There is almost zero margin for error. So, having the confidence to execute at your limit, when it matters, is crucial to success in a speed climbing competition.

As with any sport, any factor that is out of your control and draws your focus away from the task at hand (ie. other competitors, where you are in the standings, the conditions, etc.) can be detrimental to your performance if you give it your attention.

Easier said than done, but there are mental techniques out there that make it easier to focus on yourself rather than any distractions.

For example, I never watch my competitors before I’m done competing because what they do doesn’t directly affect me. I’m going to do my best no matter what.

I was progressing at speed climbing more quickly than I was progressing in lead climbing or bouldering, so I was naturally drawn to it as a young kid.

Little tweaks or changes to how one speed climbs is paramount. Could you run me through what needs to be done to improve over time (technique, sequence etc)?

Finding a technique that suits you is the most important part. Taller and stronger climbers may be able to skip more holds for a faster sequence, but that same sequence won’t work for someone who is shorter or has a different body type.

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Also, it’s important to find a sequence that allows you to climb straight up the route, rather than using holds that swing your centre of gravity too far to either side. Alongside this, continued strength training and plyometrics are very important in order to continue improving.

John Brosler

Source: Supplied

Speed climbers are no strangers to injury, what goes into training and keeping ‘up to the mark’ when speed climbing?

Speed climbers spend a great deal of time on the official route in order to keep their sequence and muscle memory fresh in their minds, but also spend lots of time doing coordination drills, strength training, and plyometrics off the wall.

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Alongside this, it’s always important to do general injury prevention exercises and get proper rest between sessions and before competitions to make sure their bodies are rested and healthy when it’s time to compete.

Do you see more climbers getting involved or partaking in speed climbing since you started?

Yes, definitely! I’ve been continuously surprised by how much more emphasis is being placed on speed climbing in youth climbing programs, as well as the prevalence and psych around speed climbing in the Salt Lake, Texas, and Colorado climbing communities that I’ve spent time in.

How do you think the Olympics will change/add to this, in the future?

In short, it’ll expose more people to the sport. So far, the momentum behind speed climbing has mostly come from within the already existing climbing community, but the Olympics will help add some outside influence as well.

It would be cool to see some more prominent non-climbing companies get involved with speed climbing, which could expose the sport to an even greater audience.

You can follow John Brosler on Instagram and Facebook.

For more Climbing content, follow Sportageous.

The curation of the article was supported by Kinza Tahir. You can follow her here on Linkedin.


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