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12 Steps to Climbing Confidence

Emily Pitts provides an insight into her "12 Steps to Climbing Confidence" training program that is delivered completely online. 

Rock climbing is my passion, but what I discovered for myself as I moved from indoor to outdoor climbing, was that my confidence indoors did not match up with outdoors. My interest in sports psychology arose from this, and from my work with young people who quite often have challenging lives and challenging behaviours.

Last year, under the banner of my business, Womenclimb, I did some research, through an online questionnaire of 220 climbers (50% male, 50% female). What became clear was that women were much more likely to report themselves as having low confidence than men. Coupled with this, women were three times more likely to report that they were worried about people judging them on their appearance. This has led to me developing an online training to help individuals develop the confidence they want for their climbing, in a positive and safe learning environment. It is called 12 Steps to Climbing Confidence.

How is the training structured?

The confidence training is a 12-module training that is delivered completely online.  The modules are structured around Robin Vealey's brilliant Sources of Sports Confidence Questionnaire (SSCQ), which helps participants to identify where they get their confidence from in sport.  The SSCQ is based around the nine key areas where individuals gain their confidence.  It includes things like mastery, physical and mental preparation, environmental comfort and social support. Robin's work in this field is incredible and I have so much respect for the ground-breaking research she has and continues to undertake in the field of sports confidence.

Why 12 modules?

Our training is twelve modules in length, as we have chosen to use each of Vealey's nine key areas as individual modules, with the addition of two modules at the start – Introduction & Assessment and Goal Setting, and one module at the end – Planning for the future.  All of the content we wanted to include fits fairly neatly into these modules, plus we have bonus content where we can direct participants toward additional resources.   

The content of the training uses evidence-based practice, using sources such as Richard Cox's Sport Psychology Concepts and Applications. We have taken the theory and adapted the examples and applied the theory specifically to rock climbing so that the programme focusses on the specific to the needs of the activities we undertake as climbers.

How do you train confidence for climbing?

There are fundamental foundations to building confidence in any sport and it starts with goal setting and assessing where you are at from the beginning. We are using a basic format of assessment, planning, implementation and review as a cyclical process. Using the theory of marginal gains, we aim for participants to make small improvements in each exercise that they complete. Although the improvements may feel imperceptible week on week, each additional step forward adds to the total, so that overall, they see a larger gain over the full period of the training.

We use the nine categories from Vealey's SSCQ and bring in training around mindfulness, goal setting, visualisation and self-talk. When we couple this with things like physical preparation and finding the right climbing partner, these things come together to manage anxiety in the individual and then onto building confidence.

How does online work for mental skills training?

With the development of technology, online does not mean sitting and reading reams of resources.  Most exercises on the programme take under 15 minutes to complete and there is a mixture of activity types to suit different learner types – visual, auditory & kinaesthetic.  We have narrated presentations, screencasts, downloads, self-assessments and comment fields so that we can get a discussion going in the same way that we would in a classroom.  When you get down to it, it is not so different.  

An important part of this training is helping participants to develop intrinsic motivation and reflective skills within the supportive online environment, so that by the end of the programme they have practised and built the skills they need to continue independently, being able to continue to reflect, learn and develop.

You opted for single-sex training, why is that?

At the very start in module 2, we look at Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. I make it clear that I want to see mistakes and people challenging themselves, as this is where the learning and development really happens. It really has to be a safe environment for us to really feel comfortable to make mistakes and be vulnerable. This time around, I felt that given the results of the surveys and the newness of this type of training as an online programme, a single-sex environment would be better. As it happens, no guys signed up, so we are only running the women's programme, but next time, who knows, it could be different.

Which research has been most influential in developing the training?

We look at a lot of aspects of sports psychology.  As I mentioned earlier, Robing Vealey is the key sports scientist whose research has had a significant impact on the training.  Her work is prolific and covers many aspects of what we cover in our training.

We also look at Hardy, Grimmage and Hall and their work on self-talk, Endler's work on anxiety has been crucial and Steve Peters' chimp paradox, which is something I have used in my work supporting people in academic and learning achievements in recent years.

So, what will people actually get from the training – what is the goal?

To become more confident!  The aim is for participants to become more self-aware, to know and be able to assess their own anxiety levels and to have access to the theory behind the strategies such as self-talk, mindfulness, goal setting, imagery and relaxation that we work through on the training. It is exciting. We know that women want to find other women to climb with and that they sometimes struggle with this aspect, so if we can help with that too, we will be happy.

Need more information?

If you want to find out more about the "12 Steps to Climbing Confidence" course or sign up to the training, you can do so at

Go to: for training, support and connection to the Womenclimb community.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • PITTS, E. (2017) 12 Steps to Climbing Confidence [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Emily Pitts is the Founder and Editor in Chief of, a UK based climbing business aimed at training, supporting and connecting female climbers.  Emily is a qualified rock-climbing instructor who loves the outdoors and facilitating people to achieve their goals.  Since 2001, she has worked with hard-to-help young people, helping them to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.  She works full time while devoting most of her spare time to Womenclimb.

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