In the month of June I am looking to take my lead climbing from indoors into the outdoors. To bridge the gap between my gym skills and whats required in the "wild", I've decided to go on Youtube and look up some training videos. However most videos begin with something like:

No article or video can replace qualified instruction and experience

Climbing isn't even the worst example as there's tons of high quality instructional videos from experienced climbers. If you try to look up videos on avoiding avalanches, most of them will be teasers of the real thing and you can only get the actual content by signing up for their class. And its not a question of (rightfully) wanting people to pay for content - as far as I can tell there's not a single high-quality AIARE training available online.

Why is this the case? Are there examples of skills that are truly impossible to learn without an experienced outdoorsman teaching it in person?

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    You can watch videos, but videos can't watch you. Jun 1 at 21:56
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    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 4 at 12:47

I was a tennis instructor for about 10 years. Here are a few things from my experience that can become problems for you with learning through videos.

1). You have to retain everything that you watched on a video. If you forget something you won't be able to call yourself out on it. And being a beginner you won't have an experienced eye for noticing mistakes. And do you really think you're going to absorb ALL of the knowledge of a sport over a couple hours?

2). You have no idea if the video(s) are missing anything important (as you would have to have the knowledge to realize there is a gap in knowledge). I've personally seen tennis instructional videos that are horrible, and there are tons of quacks out there in every field. Sure a coach might not be perfect either but it's also much easier to verify how good a coach is (did they have professional experience, many successful students, etc?) there are tons of videos with high positive likes/views/comments but how confident are you of the quality of the teaching?

3). Even if you had perfect recollection and a perfect knowledge base being a beginner means that you cannot focus on everything. Focusing on one task will have you mess up another usually because all the skills are not ingrained and automatic yet. Any distraction will probably cause you to mess up as well. And often times because you're focused on something you probably won't even notice you're messing something else up, making it insanely difficult for a beginner to self-correct/critique.

4). It's difficult for people to have perfect body coordination/awareness to even realize you're making a mistake in the moment. With years of muscle memory/experience you might be able to tell when you're not doing something right because it feels different, but if you haven't done something a lot you don't know what it feels like to do it right. It's very frequent that i've had students who have been practicing for 1-3 years that will sometimes buck criticism and say "I'm not doing X!" i'll continue to correct them, they will continue to deny it until I ask if we can video tape them to show them, and when they see the tape they realize they were making the mistake. And even if you video tape yourself... do you have an experienced eye that can actually tell if you're doing it close enough, or will you even catch all the mistakes (see point #1-2.)? Especially with climbing you could seriously hurt yourself.

5). Adding onto number 4, it is SIGNIFICANTLY easier/more affective to learn/make corrections in the moment than it is to make them retroactively (such as by video taping yourself). It is very suboptimal to practice something wrong for 10 minutes then learning about it and maybe trying to remember for next time rather than immediately being corrected and practicing correctly from there.

TLDR: The emphasis on in person coaching is that a trained experience professional has more knowledge, can give better feedback and give feedback in real time, has a better viewpoint of watching you, they are more experienced at looking for mistakes. And in many sports (especially climbing), doing things wrong can cause serious or even permanent damage (even tennis there are many common mistakes that over time can cause permanent damage to your shoulder or elbow to the point where you cannot play tennis ever again.) That is why coaches are usually recommended, but those perks are why it costs money so it's a trade off. But if you want to get good at something as efficiently and safely then an experienced teacher is the best choice.

Mitch Hedberg - "I play the guitar. I taught myself how to play the guitar, which was a bad decision... because I didn't know how to play it, so I was a shitty teacher. I would never have went to me."

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    As for point 1), people have an extremely bad memory of what they see on videos.
    – Taladris
    Jun 4 at 4:33

I can answer only from experience from learning ice-skating, swimming and tennis.

No video can tell you what you are doing wrong. For that, you need an experienced instructor. And not all instructors are equal. Some are geniuses at focussing in on your particular mistakes and deficits, and telling you -- repeat you, not some statistically average person -- how to improve. Many instructors do only an OK job on this crucial aspect.

As for observing yourself, or having your friends observe you, you can't see everything, and you will probably miss some important things, however many videos you have watched. Ditto for your friends, assuming they are not the equivalent of very good instructors.

World champion athletes are constantly coached by pros. Federer does not depend on a wide angle camera. Nor does Serena. However much they know, however much their muscle memory is ingrained, however much they monitor themselves, they need their coaches to prevent a bad habit from creeping in unnoticed, and to incorporate any tweaks in technique that will keep them at peak performance.

And, if tennis players or figure skaters do something wrong, they may pull a muscle, but they won'thave a fatal accident as a result. How much more vital to have an instructor in a sport such as climbing where even some of the best have gotten killed. Case in point: Marty Hoey.

Credit and Thanks to @Lawnmower Man for his climbing comment, which I enter here:

"When climbing, there are often usable holds that an experienced coach can see from the ground which the climber might not notice or think to use. A video cannot teach you to spot those, because they are as varied as the terrain and also somewhat specific to the climber's particular biomechanics (range, strength, flexibility, etc.)"

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    When climbing, there are often usable holds that an experienced coach can see from the ground which the climber might not notice or think to use. A video cannot teach you to spot those, because they are as varied as the terrain and also somewhat specific to the climber's particular biomechanics (range, strength, flexibility, etc.). Jun 2 at 20:25
  • @Lawnmower Man If you want to change your comment to an answer, go ahead! Ping me and I will then remove the material I quoted from you.
    – ab2
    Jun 2 at 20:39

@AnoE's answer is pretty much bang on, but there are two main elements that you can't learn by watching videos; stress management and improvisation.

I've taught numerous people to climb outside, and one thing I've always tried to install in them is that, at some point, things will go wrong.

It might be a route you can't finish because it's too tough, you might have miscounted the bolts on the route, you might drop a carabiner, hell, you might drop the actual rope at the top of the climb when you're trying to rethread it.

I've seen all of these happen, and in some cases, had to go up and rescue the person involved.

Experience teaches you to improvise, and it's a skill you only learn with experience.

Along the same lines, stress is a real problem when things do go wrong. When you're hanging from your fingertips 30m above the ground, you do not want to panic if something goes wrong. Even if you're fairly certain you won't panic, what if you're belaying and your climber panics, and you can't do anything to help besides hold the rope?

I would argue that "qualified instruction" isn't necessary, I was taught to climb by someone who had no climbing qualifications, but had been climbing and teaching local climbers for over 20 years.

Essentially it comes down to this; things will go wrong, and when they do you need someone with enough experience to handle them in a calm manner.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 7 at 12:43
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    I suspect that "qualified" in "qualified instructor" is backside-covering to some extent. For context, I have in the past coached some kayaking, but now can't because I'm qualified to lead and not coach; club insurance and governing body policies demand coaches are qualified as coaches
    – Chris H
    Jun 8 at 9:06

Specifically for your example of rock climbing:

You should really have personal oversight on your first real rock climbs because the stakes are much higher. In the climbing gym, the safe points are in a straight vertical line; everything is colorful and trivial to see and use. If you fall past the 3rd or 4th carabiner, very little can go wrong; due to the straight line it is highly unlikely that the rope snaps out of a carabiner.

In a real rock scenario, this is not the case at all. Your carabiners will be all over the place, and it is really important that you orient them the right way; that you don't forget to place them, that you don't place them where they can bend over a ridge; and so on. It is very easy to place them in a way that they are completely nonfunctional; or to forget one or two completely; or to misjudge distances. It's also not only about falling to the ground; even a moderate fall where you scrape along the vertical rock face can have serious consequences. There will be sideways falls which you never experienced in the gym.

I know from my own experiences that it is very tempting to throw the advice of having personal guides to the wind. I have done it in many outdoor activities myself, when I decided that I have the risk under control. Rock climbing is not one of these cases, even if you are climbing 8+ in the gym, your first 5 rock climb will be an eye opener and a serious risk, which you can easily manage by having an experienced guide with you.

Finally, I'm shamelessly stealing one aspect from @DarkHippo's answer - sometimes things go wrong and a quick rescue is required. This can be as simple as a newbie freezing up while re-working the rope at the top; or being able to take all quickdraws back home, and such, not even to speak of true emergencies. Having a highly experienced, or even professional person there can be the difference between a healthy adventure and a real crisis...

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 7 at 12:42

Learning can be supervised or unsupervised.

What you're doing with watching videos is unsupervised. (It works well for a lot of things, no doubt)

The difference between supervised and unsupervised is feedback. Someone telling you what you're doing well, and what mistakes you're making.

In climbing in particular, a lot of the mistakes you can make (incorrect figure-8 knot, belaying with your arm above the device, back-clipping, giving too much slack, setting a single point anchor, ... the list goes on and on) won't do any harm until you fall.

Feedback is someone checking what you're doing, pointing out your mistakes, and making sure that you're not repeating them.

Without feedback, realizing your mistakes is a lot harder. And often a lot more painful.

edit: addition on avalanche

Avalanche training is very different from climbing. You learn to evaluate a risk, and to decide if you want to take that risk.

Part of it is straightforward (what's the slope angle, the sun exposition, the current and past temperatures, the obstacles...).

Part of it is evaluating and putting it all together (is this sun sufficient compared to the temperature, did the wind create a sufficient cornice that can break, is this slope actually supported), and the way we do that is by making an evaluation and comparing it with a "good" evaluation, one made by someone who really knows what they are doing.

Until you've done that a few times in real conditions, there's no way you can know how good your risk assessment is.


These are physical activities that you need to learn by doing. A high-quality avalanche class will have to bring you into contact with snow. A high-quality climbing class that teaches skills like ascending the rope or placing trad gear can't possibly teach those skills without having you actually do those things under the supervision of a qualified instructor.


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