The Beginner Jitters: How to Start ANY New Sport

Tasia Whicker

Tasia Whicker

It’s ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning.

There I was, at the bottom of a huge rock wall watching my husband’s feet as he scurried up it like a spider, barely touching each handhold before bouncing to the next. He was at the top in seconds. It had to be easy right? I started my climb up the exact same wall, and after several painstaking minutes I fell… a whole six feet.

Did my husband laugh at me? No. At least not externally. Was he judging me? No. Was I embarrassed anyway? Oh yeah! Did I want to go rock climbing with him ever again? No way!

Being a beginner standing next to someone who could do what I couldn’t (and could probably do it blindfolded) was intimidating. It made me not want to try again, despite how much I liked climbing those six feet.

Overcoming those beginner jitters was not an easy task, but there are some things I discovered that helped me through it.

1. Begin at the Beginning

The first thing I discovered, that I just had to be ok with, was that beginners begin at the beginning. A shocking revelation right? For some unknown reason I looked at rock climbing differently from any other learned skill. I was young and fit. I should be able to do this right? Wrong.

If I wanted to learn to paint, I wouldn’t expect myself to sit down and paint a masterpiece the first time. I would expect to paint something that looked like someone who had never painted before painted it.

I had to realize that rock climbing was the same, a skill to be learned over time. I couldn’t instantly go from zero understanding of the sport to scaling cliffs. That was an unreasonable expectation. I had to get over this expectation and tell myself (more than just once), “It is ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning.”

2. Find the Right Place to Start

After I lowered my expectations of myself to something more reasonable, I had to figure out exactly where the beginning was. I had to understand what my body and skill level could handle.

I wish I could tell you that the next wall I tried was easier. Everyone at the gym told me this was one of the easier walls. But, after several attempts that ended in falling, I concluded that they must be lying.

I liked climbing enough that I wanted to work up to climbing those walls, but I knew I couldn’t start there. I began exploring other options, and found somewhere to start.

That was when I discovered the wonderful thing that was bouldering. The great thing about bouldering is that boulders are typically shorter structures. Perfect for someone who couldn’t make it past the first few feet of any wall.

Practicing on boulders increased my strength and my love for climbing. Each time I tried it climbing became easier and more attainable. It seemed like I might not be completely hopeless after all.

3. Find a Mentor

A few months later (Yes, it took me months) my husband and I took a trip to City of Rocks. We climbed over boulders and up some easier rocks. This trip made a couple things very apparent to me. First, that I was absolutely in love with rock formations. I mean, wow, this place was cool. Second, I wasn’t gonna get anywhere without a mentor.

I was about halfway up a rock formation, when I got stuck. I had no idea where the next handhold was, and I was starting to panic. My husband offered me his help, which I quickly and snapplily declined. Then I clung there, in the same spot, until my arms ached.

After I began shaking I knew I needed a little help. So, I swallowed my pride. Well, more accurately, I choked on it and asked my husband for help.

My husband kindly offered advice from above me, and I made progress. It was in that moment that I realized the value of listening to someone who has already been where you are. Not only had my husband climbed these rocks just moments before me, but he had, however long ago, been a beginner too.

After I reached the top, my husband and I agreed that he would be my new mentor.

It wasn’t easy having a mentor. There were days I felt self conscious about him witnessing my lack of skill, and other days I wanted to insist I knew what I was doing without his help. I choked on my pride many times, but I kept on choking because I could see improvement.

For me, the most wonderful thing about having a mentor was not the advice, but the support. He cheered me on, whether I succeeded or failed and after a time I realized he wasn’t the only one.

4. Join a Community

I noticed that people who frequented the rock gyms we went to started to become our friends. They cheered for my success and shared their own stories of success and failure.

When you learn a new sport, you aren’t just learning a sport. You are joining a community.

As I grew more advanced, I began searching for other ways to find advice and new climbing spots. A quick internet search lead me to local rock climbing groups on Facebook and other social media sites. The online support and information became crucial to me as I began integrating myself into this community. I noticed how friendly people were, and how some people seems as excited by me learning their favorite sport as I was to learn it.

5. Achieve a Goal

I had come a long way. I really had. To go further, I needed something to work towards. I needed a goal.

A few months after I started climbing, I sat there at a notebook. With a pencil in hand I tried to find a goal to set for myself. Where did I want to be in six more months? What did I want to accomplish?

My mind wandered back to that first wall. Just the thought of it made me gulp with fear and blush with embarrassment. Somehow that natural reaction made it very clear to me that that should be my goal. In six months, I would go back and climb that first wall.

After a lot, and I mean a lot, of practice, I found myself standing at the bottom of that first wall, six months later. I began climbing as my husband and mentor cheered me on and called up advice. When I made it past the first six feet I smiled. It took me a couple of tries, and a lot longer than my husband’s few seconds, but I made it to the top and I was elated.

As I bounced back down, I couldn’t help but think back at the moment that gave me my beginner jitters. Those were gone now, and I was so glad that I was able to take control of them before they controlled me.

It was a process. I had to realize it was ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning, to find a place to start, to humble myself enough to listen to a mentor, to join a community and to set goals. But I made it, and now I look forward to being a beginner again as I try more new sports.

I still constantly have to say to myself, “It’s ok to be a beginner who begins at the beginning.” This is just something I have to tell myself when I have the beginner jitters. Don’t be afraid to tell that to yourself as you start out in your new sports.

That’s the key. Be ok with being a beginner, find a place to start and just start.

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