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Open Enrollment Ropes Course

I think I, like many of my colleagues, had a preconception of what an open enrollment ropes courses would be like. I spent one summer working with an open enrollment zip line, and the customers we got were oft focused on “fun” and nothing else. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when talking about the rules and goals for the day, fun is always among the top three. But a program solely founded on fun seems to lack a depth that I feel obligated to deliver. So, when presented with the opportunity to manage Discovery Challenge: an open enrollment ropes course experience at the Bellevue Challenge Course, I tried to get my head around what I was here to offer that would give this program the relaxed fun nature it needed while taking it beyond just a recreational activity.

To say a day on the course is a recreational day is not a bad thing. Sometimes just getting to play on the course is valuable all on its own, especially in a society that has dramatically less leisure time than ever before. And with the ongoing challenge with drug abuse in our nation, learning to have fun in a safe, constructive environment is a worthy skill on its own. So my reasoning in wanting Discovery Challenge to be more than just a recreational day was not out of some feeling that recreational was lesser. I wanted people to come and learn that they can have fun on the course, but I wanted them to get something more. I wanted people to get introduced to the ropes course in the same way that I was, as an opportunity with the potential to have a transformative effect.

When you have a group that comes to the course, there are all kinds of shared purpose to be found. The purpose of the group being together in the first place, their purpose in seeking group development opportunities, and their purpose in choosing the ropes course for that. But when you have a random mix from open enrollment, you no longer have that shared purpose to drive your program. And here is where I made my first assumption: programs derive their goals from the shared purpose alone. As I sit here writing this, reflecting on my thought process, I am struck by how easy it was to make that assumption despite all the evidence we have that individual purposes impact every aspect of a group. In fact, one of the most common lessons that comes out in a day on the course is about how cross purposes within the group can derail them from being able to complete a task.

The question then became, what would the purposes of people coming to the course on a day like this be? It seemed to me that there would be three main reasons: having fun, facing a fear, and because someone else persuaded them to. Of course, for every comprehensive list of purposes I tried to create here, there would be just one other purpose that I had not thought of, but it seemed to me that 75% of participants would fit into one of those three groups (and the subsequent days we’ve had seem to support that thus far).

So, what ties those things together? Or do you need to tie them together? How do you run a program that is both recreational and yet somehow deeper? How do you ensure that participants will have fun, and get the chance to grow? Well, in the question, I found my answer: growth. In the end, the ropes course is about growing: as individuals as well as teams. And the entry point towards growth could be pulled straight from the title of the program: Discovery Challenge. This program was about participants discovering their challenges.

Fun and safety were obvious goals for the day, so my third and final goal would be self discovery. I wanted to bring out a key component of a healthy ropes course experience: Challenge by Choice. The golden rule where people making decisions for themselves and only themselves. So I emphasized this discovery as self discovery: where your mission for the day is to explore your own being, which means making choices for yourself, not making choices for others, and not allowing others to make choices for you.

As I write this, I have now taken 4 groups through the Discovery Challenge ropes course program, and have seen the impact we had. The programs were not weighted in group development and debriefing, and yet, they had a depth of experience to them. Participants walk away with smiles, laughter, and a little something more. A new sense of empowerment and challenge. And that, is a good day.

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