In the first week of May this year, I rocked up for day one of setting for the State Lead Titles in Queensland, Australia. Fast forward 7 days, and I'd clocked up more than 60 hours in the lead up to the comp, had slept on the floor of the gym for 2 nights, and probably jumared the height of El Cap. It was wild. Eye-opening, intense, fun, laborious, and mentally draining - all at once. I don't really know if my experience is representative of how things are done across the globe (I'm keen to find out), but I do know that there's a few things I wish I knew when I rocked up that first day.
DO WHATEVER THE HEAD SETTER NEEDS
A big comp, especially a state or national title, is all about logistics. There's just so much going on. Hundreds of competitors, complex scoring systems, judging, sponsors, isolation set up, and more. And that's before we even start to think about route mapping, assigning grades for qualifiers for each category, hold colour clashes, aesthetics, keeping an eye on the competitor list, forerunning videos, safety... and then, there's the actual setting of the routes. Thinking about movement and bolting holds to the wall.
The only way an operation like this can be successful, is if there's something keeping an eye on the whole. That's the head setter. They're juggling all that at once. As a setter, you are the most value to the team if you simply do whatever it is that they need. Swallow the ego, don't stand around waiting to be micro-managed, just find out what needs doing – and get it done.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SPLIT
When offered the chance to set on a new wall, with exciting new holds, and away from your commercial gym, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities of what you can create. Don't make that mistake. Instead, remember that it's all about the split. Before anything else, the route or problem you're creating needs to serve the overall purpose of creating a spread of climbers. Without that, there's no competition.
Again, the head setter will have an eye on what the overall spread of problems/routes needs to look like. Just make sure your route will serve the purpose for which it is intended. Make sure that the route will be fair for all competitors, has no stopper moves, and allows plenty of opportunities for scoring holds – especially in the upper section.
UNDERSTANDING THE CATEGORY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HITTING A GRADE
While you will generally be asked to set to a grade, remember that the specific number is not really what's important. A thorough understanding of the competitors within that category – their physical stature, along with their strengths and weaknesses, is at least as important as knowing what grade they climb. Certain age groups and genders will excel at a certain style of route, so it's not sufficient to simply set to a grade – you need to understand what they will find difficult, and what they will struggle on. Knowing this information will make the process of creating a spread of climbers far easier, and it will also allow you to create climbs that test the field in a varied and fair way. Keep an eye on the competitor list.
GO THE EXTRA MILE, IT'S WORTH IT
At some point throughout the blur of take-out food, lack of sleep, impact drivers and scissor lifts, we were contemplating whether or not to continue to tweak a finals route. It was late, we were knackered, and pretty over it, when someone uttered a thought that clarified things,
“Well, imagine when there's hundreds of people watching, the bright lights are on, the finals going down, and it doesn't work out.”
Needless to say, we made the tweak. It's often the case that at the end of a setting day, you're faced with putting those final touches on something when you really can't be stuffed. 'The drills upstairs, I have to go get the ladder...' and so on. Even in a commercial setting, it's almost always worth the extra effort. Especially so when it comes to comps. It's sheer agony to watch shorter climbers repeatedly struggle on a move that the rest of their category walks through, or to see a nobody come close to topping a finals route. Make that extra tweak, spend a bit more time. It'll be worth it when it's comp time.