Refreshing skills (12/01/2021)

Refreshing skills

Lockdown fatigue is a real and genuine issue facing many people who have had to change working practises that have been part of their lives for many years.

To those of us working in the outdoors, the restrictions that have been placed upon us and the limitations on accessing our physical workplace - the outdoors, has meant that "skill fade" can creep up quickly and perhaps silently.

We assume that these personal core skills such as navigation, decision making, teaching/guiding/instructing are things that can never leave us but the truth is that the old saying "use it or lose it" is relevant today as much as any time in the past!

Fitness can also decline, and mountain fitness is something that is gained by the hard miles outdoors, sometimes in challenging weather and certainly from regular mountain journeys.

My first outing after the first lockdown in 2020 was to Crib Lem on the Carneddau. During the day I was determined to re activate my scrambling technique, gauge my fitness level and practise navigation. It’s fair to say that the first half of the day involved in a lot of cobwebs being blown away!! By the end of the journey things had returned to normal but the experience reaffirmed to me the need for maintaining my personal skills.

How can we manage to maintain core personal skills whilst on a seemingly never-ending loop of lockdown, restrictions, guidelines and ever-present worry?

Not everyone has access to mountains from their doorstep. Not everyone has the physical ability to walk 12 miles in order to get a worthwhile mountain journey under their belts.

Here’s my take on how we can all keep our core skills refreshed and manage lockdown periods as best we can:

1 Have a plan! Identify what you need to refresh or keep current. Work out a realistic weekly timetable that will enable you to do this. Don’t even consider using the “I don’t have time for this” – you do!

2 Friends and family – get them onboard and part of the process. They can help in many ways from helping you get time to do the things you need to do, helping in the activities themselves or even marking you out of ten for how fast you can get your gloves, goggles and helmet on with your eyes closed! You’ll probably find that one of your friends will also be glad to keep their skills refreshed.

3 Refresh your clothing and equipment – not washed your Paramo jacket for months? Still got that cracked or faded compass? Still using that map from 2002? Get your gear and give it some TLC. You don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds but giving your gear a once over will pay dividends in the long run.

4 Get organised – what do you want to do, where, with who and when? Have ambitions, wishes and dreams. It doesn’t matter if they don’t all come true but having ambition is a very positive mindset when applied correctly. Then prioritise the things that you can do, have support in doing, are accessible and within your budget and put them in a bullet list, print it off and stick it on the fridge door to remind you of what you can do.

5 Navigation – if you have access to hills and mountains and can access them within the current guidelines etc then use them. Start small, get all the basics back up and running before heading into challenging weather and terrain. If you haven’t got access to the hills then even low level walks around your local area, parks, town etc can provide opportunities for techniques such as pacing, timing, feature recognition, contour lines, symbols, grid references and many more simple but important skills that we take for granted when enjoying outdoor activities. Get a map of your local area, find your house and see what symbols surround where you live. I’m sure you’ll find something new! Send a fellow mountain friend some grid references and get them to work out the route and vice versa. Use different maps of different areas, share or swap maps with friends and family. Look at maps of European mountain areas and work out routes including height gain and total distance etc. Wherever possible try and use paper versions as anything online will surely bring you to hours lost in the world of You Tube!!

6 Decision making – this one can be challenging when not on the hills or mountains but why not revisit memories of great days out, epic days out or days that provided little special moments that you treasure? There will certainly be times where decision making was part of the day including route choice, weather, navigation, people etc. By looking back, we can revisit and learn where we can improve for the future.

7 Fitness – stay active! Whatever it is you do, keep doing it but perhaps think about trying something new such as a yoga stretch, upper body circuit such as press ups or even get competitive and make a household challenge just for you or involve all the family. Make sure you are fit and able to do any activity and if unsure then avoid for the time being and seek medical advice before starting.

8 Knowledge – I believe strongly that everyday can be a school day with the opportunity to learn something new. Find those outdoor related books that are lying forgotten on the shelf and see what information was left when you last read them. I regularly revisit the Mountain Leader Training handbooks such as Hillwalking, Winter Skills and Rock Climbing. Remember that no one knows everything, but everyone knows something!

9 Motivation – Covid has affected all of us and will no doubt impact us for many years to come. Keep in mind that it may be a while before we can resume normality. We all have periods of doubt, anxiety, worry and with these comes lack of motivation. Try and stay engaged, seek reasons and objectives for making the best of the day. Talk with others, limit the negatives in your life and increase the positives.

10 Behaviour – if you work in the outdoor industry or engage with people as part of your work then think about what you could change or improve about your teaching or instructing style? Have you been too engrossed in ticking boxes rather than concentrating on the individual person? Do you observe your clients and see where an element of coaching could help them improve? Do you listen to them when they explain their personal stories, their outdoor tales and what they would like to do and more importantly that moment when an encouraging word or comment from you can help make the day memorable?

The above are simply ideas for you to consider and hopefully will inspire you to stay positive and motivated in readiness for when we can return proper to the outdoor activities we all know and love.