And so I have been fortunate enough to conduct many sessions of abseiling this semester. What used to be my least favourite activity has now changed my perception about it. Interestingly, I actually feel more like a psychologist than an outdoor geek every time I am out conducting abseiling.
Conducting Abseiling? 5 Golden Tips To Get Your Participants to Abseil
It has been a very interesting first 4 months of the year for me. My outdoor education business is slowly growing, ran some programmes to help equip outdoor practitioners with climbing and abseiling skills and been constantly out there conducting outdoor activities for students too.
One of the most common jobs that I’ve been doing these past 4 months is conducting abseiling. Interestingly, conducting abseiling used to be one of my least favourite activities. It felt like a factory machine and me as the operator.
I do not feel adventurous doing at all because it is a very safe activity. Especially if you do it on a building, with everything so stable and rigid, what could possibly go wrong? Is this just another activity to fill the gaps of the programme?
However, in every session, there are countless numbers of participants who are ‘scared to death’ even after showing them how safe the activity is.
These are the common behaviours:
- Some would volunteer to go first but froze when they are on the platform.
- Some would be seen walking backwards away from the team as I arranged the participants in number sequence.
- Some would slowly walk to the edge but mutter ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I’m gonna die’.
- Some would keep telling me in my face that they are scared but constantly look down at the ‘face of Death’.
- Some would be laughing their way down when in fact was about to ‘pee’ up there!
Goodness. I so could go on with the list!
Honestly, I could have chosen the easier route and simply ask them to walk back down once they shared that they are scared. However, despite the factory operator feeling that always crept up, I told myself that the students, as much as possible, should experience the activity.
I’ve changed tacks a few times, tried different strategies to encourage them to try abseiling and came out with my own set of top tips (at least for myself) when conducting the activity.
Focus on a giving a solid briefing
I try not to rush into the activity. Go slow so you can go fast later. If my whole activity brief takes 15 minutes, I will spend 10 minutes sharing about the activity.
But what do I share about? I will share about what the activity is about, give them a glimpse of what to expect and share how the activity relates to the other activities.
Bottomline, I try to infuse the idea that the activity has a purpose for them and that it is not just another activity.
Redefine challenge by choice
Some participants would tell at the start of the activity “Instructor, my teacher say that we have ‘challenge by choice’ in this camp … so can we choose not to the activity?”
How I hate to hear that. Lol.
When that happens, or even before it might, I will explain to my participants that the meaning of the phrase is to still challenge yourself to attempt the activity as much as you can. Not giving up right at the start.
So I’ll tell them to still go up the stairs to meet me at the roof. That by itself is a challenge which they could of course do.
It is about them, not me
I will also emphasize that the activity is for them. Position them before yourself as an instructor. Let them know this activity is specially designed for them to benefit.
I’m here to help you explore, let’s see how far you can go
Once I’ve taken myself out of the equation, I will then share with them that I am just there to help them explore. So I might share with them that every step they make is a challenge by itself and ‘we’ are going to see how far they could go.
Celebrate every step like a big success. And be genuine when you congratulate those who walked to the edge but still could not abseil down. Different people have different ability. You need to respect that.
This is important, I will also tell them that I will not push them or force them. Be true to your words. You need to gain their trust!
At the end of everything, try your best to leave your equipment, quickly go down and meet up with the participants. If you can’t catch the whole group, at least spot the key individuals could use a quick wrap up. If you can get the whole group, the few things you could touch are:
- Congratulate all. Even those who did not abseil, tell them that it is alright because they had at least taken up the challenge to meet you up there.
- Explain to them that they did not remove the fear. It was all about how they manage their fear.
- Link back their own actions of managing their fear to some common challenges back in life.
If I have the opportunity, I might also find time for the participants to pen down their experiences in their journals.
Whenever I am out conducting abseiling, I spend the least time talking about the technicalities. I know that the activity is safe but it is the mind that tells otherwise. If you are trained and equipped, you would be able to assess real vs perceived fear. And there is nothing wrong with injecting perceived fear in outdoor adventure programmes. I’m going to make a bold statement here “Without us realising, we are at times paralysed and held back by our perceptions. Learn to remove them, control them instead of being controlled, and you could do much more in your life”.
How have abseiling have changed my own perception towards it. Conducting abseiling is still a time-consuming activity but it does have its own strengths! Use it properly and your participants could benefit from it.