A professional who knows the ropes, beyond climbing

Institutional Communication Service

26 August 2021

Bouldering world champion Petra Klingler delivered the keynote speech at the Alumni & Alumnae Reunion event on 3-5 September, where USI graduates gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Università della Svizzera italiana. Of particular relevance to alumni and alumnae of all USI Faculties, Petra spoke about personal development and self-management, which are key elements for an athlete and a professional who has reached the highest levels of her discipline and will soon represent Switzerland at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Petra Klingler, 27, from Bern, was the first Swiss athlete to qualify for the next Olympic Games in Tokyo. As a bouldering climber - one of the three specialities, with Lead and Speed, of sport climbing - she has already been world champion in 2016 in Paris and European bronze medallist in Munich the following year. Her story of goals, determination and also of many falls will be a source of inspiration for the many graduates who - in the middle of their professional careers - have chosen to return to the campuses, in Mendrisio and Lugano, to meet once again the professors of their alma mater, attend a lecture, retrace the history and achievements of USI to date and share their development plans for the future. Petra Klingler, gave her lecture on Saturday, 4 September, at 2.30 p.m., at the East Campus in Lugano, and shares with us a few insights.

Bouldering is a short free climb, without safety: how do you feel about the risk of falling?

In bouldering, I don’t see falling as a risk. It is part of the training. We probably fall more often than we actually climb a route. Over the years that I've been climbing, I have learned how to take a fall. I know exactly when the mat comes and how my body behaves in the room. Subconsciously I know how my body acts every time I move, how it feels when I make the move but also how it reacts when I fall. A bit like a cat, only I don't always land on my feet, but more often on my bottom.

It is important not to be afraid, but also to be present to avoid injury. It often happens, during training, that I do not make a perfect movement, so I observe how I fall to learn from my mistakes. New movements always bring new chances of falling, especially in the last few years, where the boulder style has developed more and more in the direction of coordinated jumps.

Injury prevention in general, but also falling, also belongs to specific strength training and strength building.

Can you tell us your personal technique for getting back on your feet?

In bouldering and climbing, falling and failing is part of the process. If you don't try, you won't know if you can do it.

The most difficult moment is always taking off. The moment when my foot leaves the mat and the attempt counts. It is the moment when I take the risk of failure. But at the same moment, it's also the moment of something great, a little journey to success.

Every single boulder is a small project, a small goal that I want to reach. And with it, I accept the challenge and take the risk of failure. If I fail, I have to literally get up, pull myself together and try again. In a competition, I have 5 minutes per boulder. That means after a first attempt I have to see how much time I have left and then proceed tactically. I study the route again and analyse what I should have done better. Then I make a new plan, focus on something specific and prepare again - never forgetting to rest sufficiently! Finally, I take a deep breath and then move on.

Just like in a single boulder, I try to handle it in my everyday life. I have become aware that the bigger the goals, the deeper you can fall. But it's the same process to get back on your feet. Even if it takes more time, the first step is always to get up. Sometimes you need help and strength from the outside.

I have just experienced it with the Olympic Games. A huge lesson for me. Getting up again, gathering energy and digesting the disappointment cost me more energy than the competition itself.

It helps me to have a few days to myself. To think about failure and to take the time to be sad. It helps me to talk to friends and family, and also to make new plans, define new goals and get back into a routine. The show goes on and it must go on.

In your discipline, strength but also dynamism are important: how do you reconcile these two apparently contrasting aspects?

Power and dynamics are not at opposite poles. They are two different types of strength and they go hand in hand. If I have more power, my explosive power will also improve and with it my dynamics. The challenge, however, is to use the right amount of power at the right time. When do I need to jump, when do I need to do static movements?

In training, it is important to learn to feel these differences. When to step on the accelerator, when to hit the brakes. But if nerves are then mixed in, everything changes again and must be "taken into account" in the competition.

Tell us how, from the foot of the climbing wall, you decide on your strategy for the competition.

It's hard to put into words exactly what I think when I'm faced with a bouldering problem.

First I look at the holds, think about how the movements are designed and what the idea could be. Often there are several possibilities and hunches and thanks to my experience I can come up with a solution. Many things rush through my head, pictures appear, and I somehow see the movements before me. This process can take from 5 seconds to 45 seconds, depending on the complexity of the boulder and my ability to figure out a solution.

When I get into the wall, I normally have a plan A but also a plan B and C. It is crucial to be agile and adapt the movements throughout climbing. Adjusting the feet and body position. It’s often my instincts that guide me through the movements.

How important is personal discipline in achieving these goals?

Discipline is in my opinion a crucial aspect to achieving big goals. There are a lot of athletes out there who are extremely talented, but also many that work hard and train a lot. But to excel in what you do, you need the right balance and a custom made routine. Not everyone functions the same way. For me, it has always been very important to keep my discipline. It helps me focus and keeps me on track. Discipline gives me structure. But there are also times in which you need to let go. It’s important to differentiate between the phases where discipline is crucial and the phase where it’s not so important and the general motivation will guide you to do the right things.

You have studied sports and psychology: could you share with us some more general advice on how to find mental strength and keep motivation high even in professional contexts?

There is a basic formula for the structure, the function of the person and the environment.

Motivation arises from the interaction of factors that lie within the person (motives, needs, interests, goals) and factors that lie in the environment (opportunities, requirements, incentives). This means, for me to keep my motivation high, I need to know, why I want to do this and get involved in decision making and with that also take responsibility.

In addition, there are other factors, such as intensity (especially for concentration), as well as affective and cognitive processes. This includes, for example, the subjectively perceived environment. Therefore, each person will act differently.

As we all know, it is not enough to set a goal. Breaking habits requires willpower, energy. Personally, it helps me to write down a clear plan - to be aware of what I must do to reach the goal and to make it more tangible.

Another aspect that is of great importance, is the basic attitude to tackle a project or goal. If you aim for achievement you will have to channel more energy.

  • Success Oriented Approach: Optimistic and Open-Minded
  • Failure Oriented Approach: Apprehension and Doubt (failure in front of eyes)

If we always make ourselves aware of what our goal is and where we stand, we create structural tension. The tension between the current state and goal state helps us maintain motivation. Because to reduce the tension the distance must be shortened.

 

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