“Your ‘best’ climber can have a bad day, and a ‘weaker’ climber can have their best day,” explains Jeff Thomson, CEC Executive Director. “The only way to make sure you pick the right athlete is to look at results over time.”
This is part of the rationale behind Climbing Escalade Canada’s (CEC) first ever team selection camp, which took place over three days in Kelowna last week.
Hosted by Gneiss Climbing, the camp gathered together coaches, prominent setters and some of the country’s top prospects to represent the Maple Leaf in international competitions. According to Thomson, “Selection camps are actually far more important in some ways than just a competition for picking teams.”
Last fall, the CEC announced changes to how athletes earn a spot on the national team. One way to make the team is with high enough international rankings or results from the previous competition season. For those who don’t qualify that way, athletes can earn an invitation to the team selection camp, based on their performance at Nationals, and are potentially named to the National Team Program (NTP) based on their performance at the camp.
Thomson goes on: “If we look at more mature sports, and ice hockey is an easy example, certain players are invited to the selection camp and then over a period of time the coaches can look for things like consistency, coach-ability (how receptive they are to feedback etc), work ethic, attitude, relationships with potential team mates. And the team concept is really important to us. Even though climbing is obviously not a team sport in the classic sense, it can not be overstated how much strength athletes get from having highly supportive ‘teammates’ around them.”
Bea Evans shows her coordination at Day One’s mock comp:
Another point to consider is that, in the current landscape, the CEC needs to host events that cater to competitors with a diverse level of skills and experience. Thomson explains, “we need to set world-level difficulty problems and routes to truly see who can cut it at the international level. If we set those sort of climbs at our National Championships it could create a very frustrating and discouraging experience for a number of our athletes. We, Andrew [Wilson] and I, are also responsible for the wider development of climbing in Canada. So we know that we have to have climbs set at our National Champs that will both help us select the best athletes to go forward to the camp, but that all competitors will be able to experience a measure of success.”
Some in the competition community find the extra resources required for initiatives such as the team selection camp unreasonable for athletes hoping to represent Canada, and that qualifying for the national team in previous years was not just about one competition but a combination of competition results over the course of a season.
However, in the view of Thomson and the CEC, the benefit of a selection camp, along with the National Team Program more broadly, is its emphasis on fostering a national team spirit. Uniting athletes across such a geographically large country is one of the CEC’s biggest challenges so, for Thomson, this is a step to addressing that.
The idea is to have the athletes together as much as possible, he says. And in order to address extra costs, they will “try to alternate the locations of selection camps from Western to Eastern Canada. We have also implemented a cost sharing structure for these camps. In other words – an athlete from Vancouver will pay the same as an athlete from Toronto to attend a camp in Vancouver. And when the camp is in Toronto it’s the same thing. This is a typical strategy to help keep the costs equitable for everyone.”
It would seem many athletes agree. From our earlier interviews, athletes unanimously expressed how great it was to train together as a team, to bond with and learn from each other. Veteran comp climber Jason Holowach attended last week’s camp and he, for one, is psyched: “I’m very happy with my focus throughout the week, and very excited to be a part of this highly focused direction Climbing Canada is heading in.”
Competition climbing is a relatively young sport, and the CEC is still establishing itself, but if early feedback is any indication, then team selection camps may very well be the way forward.