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Thoughtful Thursday#2: Mock Leading

Posted Thursday, September 19, 2019

Feedback...or Just Noise?: Mock Leading

In light of some recent incidents involving new leaders, I was talking with a friend about best practices for learning to lead. He suggested mock leading was an essential part of the process. I quickly agreed. During our climbing day, I reflected on that “trad trope” and I now feel it may be true only if it includes real falls on placed gear. Short of that, the feedback aspiring leaders think they're receiving is simply noise.

Avi science has devoted a lot of thought to a problem endemic in snow travel: Sliders enter into terrain, don't get avalanched on, and conclude they are making good decisions, when in fact they have no idea how close they may have been to disaster.

The same is true of mock leaders who place gear but never actually fall on it. Because they don't fall, their gear never pulls, and they may therefore conclude that they are placing gear effectively...when in fact they may have been disastrously close to a ground fall.

In research, there is the concept of “Type I & Type II Error”. Type II Error occurs when there's an effect (the placed gear is worthless) but it isn't detected, due to a fault in the testing process or other reason (no one falls on it). Mock leading is a useful exercise. Having a highly-skilled second cleaning the gear and offering feedback is another valuable addition (but before you consider anyone a “highly-skilled second”, ask them to honestly estimate how many times they've fallen on gear in the last year). But, without actually taking falls on your mock leads, you may be mistaking noise for feedback.


If you've read this far, you're definitely the target audience! TTH is meant as a counterweight (but not a criticism of) the oh-so-popular climbing Tech Tuesday posts. See my Sept 5th post for more background.