top of page

Understanding the Scoring System in Competitive Rock Climbing

Updated: Apr 28

With under a year until the 2024 Paris Olympics, the world of rock climbing is gearing up for its second exhibition on the massive international stage, the Summer Olympic Games. While the Olympic climbing events are likely to garner a huge audience, many competitive rock climbing competitions are held year-round for all levels and ages of climbers, from USAC youth climbers to Stone Masters (40+) in local competitions. Many of these competitions are easy to watch via live streams on YouTube or as uploads after the event. 

This article breaks down the competitive rock climbing scoring system to help you prepare for cheering on the U.S.A. athletes at the Olympics, World Cups, or local crushers from your climbing gym. However, instead of not writing a book on the subject, the focus is on professional and national-level competition scoring. While aspects of this scoring trickle down to lower levels of competition, the scoring system is usually modified to suit a larger pool of competitors and fewer administrative resources. Generally, the local-level competitions, with modified rules, are streamlined and more straightforward to understand than the competitive rules. 

Competitive Rock Climbing: The Scoring System

Understanding the Scoring System in Competitive Rock Climbing

General Rules 

These are important to understand because if you don’t know the basics of competition setups, then grasping the scoring is extra complicated. 

● Competitive rock climbing competitions are on-sight competitions, meaning the climbers must attempt the climbs without previous knowledge of the climb and without watching anyone else try it. 

● With that, the climbers are allotted a preview period with other climbers before heading into the isolation area (read the next bullet point for more on isolation). During the preview period, the climbers all see the boulder problems or route for the first time and are allowed to talk to each other about the beta. The only rule is they cannot touch any of the holds on the wall. 

● After the preview period, usually a few minutes, officials will issue all the climbers back into isolation, an area secluded from the crowd and without a view of the climbing wall. Each climber waits in this area until it is their turn to climb.

● After each boulder or route, the climbers will return to isolation or a post-competition area. They cannot discuss climbs with other climbers until the post-climb area. 


● There are four boulders per round of competition, and each climber has 4 minutes (sometimes 5) to try and top the climb.  

● There are marked holds worth a scoring value. They are the start hold, zone hold, and top. 

● The scorecard denotes each attempt at the climb and how far you make it. An attempt means establishing the start hold (all limbs off the ground). The zone hold is usually about halfway up the climb and is denoted on a scorecard as Z if the climber gets to the zone but doesn’t finish the climb. However, if the climber makes it to the Top hold, they have a T on their scorecard. 

● The climber with the best-combined score (most tops in the fewest attempts) wins. So, for example, the highest score would be 4 Tops (T) in 4 attempts (flashed each climb). Likewise, the lowest score would be 0 Tops (T) in X attempts (many attempts but did not make it high enough to receive a score). 


● Unlike in boulder, there is one sport route per round of climbing in a competition. 

● Each climber has one chance at the climb, and when they fall, the belayer lowers them immediately, and their turn ends for that round of competition.

● Each hold/move on the route is worth a point. For example, if there are 42 hand holds marked on the climb, then sending the climb is worth 42 points. 

● A competitor earns a point for each hold they control. 

● Additionally, the climber can earn a “+” on the current point value for forward/upward movement on the current hold (judge discretion) but fails to control the next hold. The purpose of the plus points is to determine a winner in the event of a tie. 

● The highest score/points on the route is the winner, but if there is a tie (even with the “+, then there is a countback to the previous round. Whoever had the higher score in the earlier round wins. 


● You guessed it! Who goes the fastest is the winner. It's the simplest type of climbing in terms of rules and maybe the most exhilarating to watch. But sport climbing and bouldering are epic to watch, too!

Suppose you were able to follow along with every rule of the scoring system, fantastic job! If not, no worries. Many rock-climbing announcers and commentators do a thorough job of explaining the scoring system at some point during the competition, and the on-screen scoring visuals are self-explanatory. Please comment below if you have any lingering questions or comments regarding the topic! And, if you have a favorite U.S.A Climbing Team competitor to watch, share who it is! We'd love to hear from you!


bottom of page