How climber Phoebe Troup-Galligan hones a mindset for success

photo of a woman doing indoor rock climbing
Phoebe Yun/Courtesy

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When Phoebe Troup-Galligan started rock climbing the summer before seventh grade, it was only because her dad happened to have a Groupon coupon for Bridges Rock Gym in El Cerrito. By the time Troup-Galligan ran out of discounted sessions, she was hooked. After trying a slew of traditional sports — softball, tennis, volleyball, swimming, soccer — climbing was what clicked.

Troup-Galligan grew up in Berkeley and was able to seamlessly transition from high school to college when she started at Cal — a conscious decision allowing her to maximize her training. Now a junior, she follows a relentless training regime, carefully balanced with the rigor of UC Berkeley academics.

She climbs five days a week and typically trains two sessions per day, including strength and cardio workouts, rotating between Berkeley Ironworks, Bridges Rock Gym and San Francisco’s Dogpatch Boulders and Mission Cliffs. Her climbing has even taken her to Ecuador, where she competed in the Youth Pan-American Championships.

“I like training a lot,” Troup-Galligan said. “I really just enjoy … pushing myself just as much as I can.”

But according to Troup-Galligan, the difference between a good climber and a great climber is made outside of the gym. She credits this realization to a “mentality shift” she had near the end of high school after a severely disappointing competition sent her back to the drawing board.

Only a month later, in a competition against a highly talented field, her performance improved astronomically. Between these two competitions, her training regimen remained virtually the same. She credits her improvement to a series of sports psychology books on mindset and flow state.

“I wasn’t stronger. I just read books,” Troup-Galligan said.

The best climbers might not be those with the strongest grip or agile feet — instead, it may be those who’ve honed the strongest mentality for maneuvering up the wall.

“I’m training hard year-round. But I don’t think those are the things that make a difference. ’Cause everyone’s training really hard. And everyone is really strong, Troup-Galligan said. “At a certain point, it’s not how strong you are. It’s your mentality.”

Practice allows athletes to foster confidence in their abilities so that they don’t doubt their skills under pressure. To hone her competitive edge, Troup-Galligan has discovered an additional tactic: journaling.

She regularly writes positive affirmations in her journal, reading and rereading them before making her competition attempt.

“If you can believe it, you’re more likely to do it,” Troup-Galligan said. “My best competitions, I was just reading notes that I’d written myself that were just hyping me up.”

Sports psychology echoes this sentiment: The most competitive athletes are often those who can enter the “flow state” — a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and content.

Troup-Galligan is also a student of meditation. She took the “Meditation and Mindfulness” DeCal last spring and tries to implement these practices daily.

Harnessing tools such as journaling and meditation allows athletes to reach the flow state. In the sport of climbing, this can mean the difference between success and failure, literally topping out or falling off the wall.

“It’s mostly a mindset thing,” Troup-Galligan said. “If you think you’re going to fall, you probably will.”

Throughout the fall semester, Troup-Galligan will continue to pursue a degree in computer science — piecing together bits of code is not too different from puzzling through a challenging boulder problem.

“You can be really creative with (climbing),” Troup-Galligan said. “There’s not always one way to do something. I feel like I can always figure out my own way.”

Troup-Galligan recently became the vice president of Cal Climbing, UC Berkeley’s student climbing organization, and she plans to continue to work toward her long-term dream of making an international U.S. climbing team. Without the glory that comes with being a Cal Division I athlete, Troup-Galligan relies on a love for climbing and competition to keep her motivated through the slog of being a student and a competitive athlete at UC Berkeley.

“Most days, I’m enjoying myself,” she said.

Sarah Siegel is the deputy sports editor. Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].