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Revisiting the Open Enrollment Challenge Course

Last year, I wrote an article about the open enrollment challenge course program. We’ve been through an entire season now of running Discovery Challenge, the open enrollment program for the Bellevue Challenge Course, so I thought it appropriate to do a followup of my thoughts on these programs. Naturally, my view of these programs has morphed as I’ve managed and facilitated our open enrollment program. Last year, I focused on the idea of growth through self discovery. As I’ve experienced a variety of groups and days on the challenge course, I’ve come to recognize several traits of a powerful open enrollment challenge course program.

1. Self Discovery

As I highlighted last year, a key goal for our open enrollment challenge course program comes from the very name: Discovery. Self discovery is a pathway towards individual growth. Growth is a key aspect of the challenge course: growth of the group as well as growth of the individual. The exploration of participants own experience and challenges on the ropes course is a key learning component for them. Through the gateway of self discovery, two more goals become apparent: choice and interaction.

2. The Power of Choice

Last year, I spoke about my motivation to bring out a key value of a healthy ropes course experience: Challenge by Choice. The power of this value is to keep the course safe while also helping grow in regards to the decisions they make on a daily basis. I wrote more extensively about the virtue of Challenge by Choice in an article earlier this year. In that article, I emphasized the importance of choice in relation to empowerment, decision-making, and safety. But, challenge by choice is also a key aspect of self discovery and personal growth. In order to explore your experiences, you must feel free to make choices that make sense for you.

In our corporeal existence, we can only occupy one body, and thus can only know the world through our body. As such, there is inherent danger in trying to coerce the choices of others. By their nature, open enrollment challenge course programs bring together a random group of people. The unique challenges that these groups present give rise to the third goal of an open enrollment program: developing interpersonal interactions.

3. Interpersonal Interaction

There are two unique types of connections that participants can have when they come to Discovery Challenge: those who know each other personally (friends and family) and those who don’t know each other at all (strangers).

Friends and family often come to Discovery Challenge together in small groups. On the surface, it might appear that friends and family would be ideal groups to support and honor each other’s personal growth and choice. However, often times those who are very close are the most susceptible to subtle forms of peer pressure. Small assumptions in language lead us to “encourage” our friends and family to accomplish our own implied goals. This is where participants can learn care in how they communicate with each other. We often include unintentional implications in our language, and this can be a key learning experience for friends and family when they come to the course.

Strangers offer a different challenge to the challenge course. Those who have no tie to each other can find many unique challenges in interacting with others in the group. Sometimes this takes the form of smaller groups forming their own inner circles. Sometimes it results in exuberant participants meeting new friends. This is where the facilitator must bring their own exuberance to make sure everyone is included and to encourage the healthy interaction we want to see among participants.

These three traits offer a foundation of goals upon which to build a powerful open enrollment challenge course experience. Throughout the process, it is key for staff to both model and facilitate the experience we want participants to have.

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