Stephen Keir is a well known competition climber on the UK scene, who’s built up a depth of experience in the domestic and international circuit over the last few years. He’s also been coached and mentored by Tom for the duration of his time with Lattice, so he’s experienced the full range of training methods and performance lessons! In this article, he writes about setting new goals outside of climbing and the efforts, sacrifices and passions that went into achieving his climbing and academic goals. Read on to find out what Stephen learned from a period of adversity and how he turned it into one of potential opportunity.
Growing up, climbing had always been my number one priority and everything else took a back seat – including schoolwork. This year, that changed; I prioritised my studies over my climbing and I don’t regret it at all. I say this like it was a mature decision that I made all by myself, but in reality it was more pushed upon me due to my circumstances. It had a lot to do with setting new goals outside of climbing.
This decision came about when I didn’t regain my place on the British team, as one mistake at the selection event lost me my place. After placing 4th at the European Cup the year prior to this and winning the British Youth Bouldering Championships, I was bitterly disappointed. If it hadn’t been for the support and guidance from Tom and the Lattice Team and those around me, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to refocus my goals as quickly as I did and see the positives of a situation that seemed totally depressing at the time. With some prompting from Tom, I realised that I had two choices; I could sit around in self-pity thinking that competitions are everything (something I’m sure you outdoor wads will be glad to hear I no longer think!) or I could accept the circumstances and move forward to achieve something new.
Trusting the Process
Around this point in my life, I had recently moved home and school so everything was changing. I had always had one goal; to get my place back on the British Team. But now I had another; to leave school a year early to study Law at university. Now that I had these goals, I was going to work as hard as I could to achieve them both.
“I trusted the process and knew that it would be worth it in the end.“
I saw not being on the team as an opportunity to focus more time on my studies, as I wouldn’t have to put the same amount of volume into training for international competitions which run during the course of my exam timetable. Balancing both climbing and studies was a struggle, but I realised that studies came first as I only had one shot or I would have to face another year at school. It wasn’t easy to prioritise my studies – as all I had done in the past was climb and all I wanted to do was climb – but I trusted the process and knew that it would be worth it in the end.
Sacrifice & Reward
I think sacrifice is a good thing. Sometimes things can take too much of a hold on your life, and when that happens, it can be easy to let the enjoyment slip away. Now looking back, I’m happy that I took that step back from climbing because it meant that when I went back to training hard again, I didn’t take it for granted and found myself enjoying climbing more than ever. Lattice and Tom Randall, in particular, played a huge part in helping me manage this by supporting me in every way possible – I couldn’t have done it without the support I received.
“I think sacrifice is a good thing. Sometimes things can take too much of a hold on your life, and when that happens, it can be easy to let the enjoyment slip away.”
Letting climbing take a back seat became a bit easier with the gentle reminders from myself and others that it would be worth it in the end. I was actually looking forward to results day, knowing that I couldn’t have given any more even if my result was not as I hoped. The selection process for the team had been altered due to the volume of complaints from the previous one, so I could now gain preselection if I won the overall bouldering title from the British competitions.
The first round was the British Open, which I won. I realised the benefits of not being on the British Team on my climbing too as I competed; I wasn’t nervous, I felt no pressure to perform, and as a result I felt as though I was able to climb my best a lot easier – something I have come to know is hugely important in climbing, to not take yourself too seriously!
Exams soon came around, and despite all the preparation I had put in, I felt like they had not gone well at all. After some guidance from Tom and my family, I was able to see that even if I didn’t get the results that I wanted, I had still put everything into my exams and I couldn’t have done much more. I wouldn’t say I felt proud of myself purely because of the effort I had put in, but I realised it was out of my hands and all I could do was wait and start to enjoy climbing more.
“I no longer saw climbing as the be all and end all in my life, and I don’t think this has harmed my performance as an athlete. I still love it just as much, but I have other goals and I think that’s a good thing.”
As the competitions came around, I managed to win the overall bouldering title and with that regain my place on the British Team. This was a big relief. I knew that I had at least achieved one of my goals, but I would be lying if I said I was content with just that. I still had my exam results in the back of my mind, which perhaps took something away from regaining my place on the team. It showed me that not only did I prioritise my exams over my climbing, but getting my place in university became a priority over getting my place back on the team. I no longer saw climbing as the be all and end all in my life, and I don’t think this has harmed my performance as an athlete. I still love it just as much, but I have other goals and I think that’s a good thing.
When results day arrived, it turned out that my exams weren’t such a disaster after all. I got more than what I needed for university, and I will be starting my course on the 6th of September. I was super happy when I got my results, everything had come together; I had done what my teachers said wasn’t possible and I had my place back on the team.
All of these results came from hard work and making little sacrifices that seemed hard at the time, but looking back and now forwards they were completely worth it. What I am trying to say is, no matter which path you choose, there may be times when you feel that you have to choose between two things – but in fact you might not always need to. Compromises will have to be made, but choosing both is more often than not a legitimate option.
“It’s 100% worth it when you achieve what you have devoted your time and effort to.”
I couldn’t have done all of this without the help and support I received from Tom, Lattice and my sponsors, Beyond Hope Climbing. If you are struggling with balancing work and climbing, or schoolwork and climbing, then take a step back and see where you could make better use of your time. Speak to your Lattice coach if you have a programme too because they will be more than happy to assist, and they really know what they’re talking about especially in these situations.
Excelling in two areas of life will be much easier if you are doing something you love and are passionate about. Of course, there were times when things felt hard, but I would focus my mind on how devastated I would feel if I didn’t get the grades or didn’t get on the team, and that pushed me on to keep going even when I wanted to quit.
Yes, it’s a challenge! But it’s 100% worth it when you achieve what you have devoted your time and effort to.