Facilitating Abseiling: Challenge By Choice Re-Explained

Facilitating Abseiling: Challenge By Choice Re-Explained

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Recently, there seemed to have a re-emphasis of correct usage of the concept “challenge by choice” when conducting abseiling. I wasn’t so surprised because the conveyor belt concept did put a lot of stress on the meagerly paid instructors such that they would pounce on the slightest opportunity to turn a participant back down.

This article zoomed in on the briefing portion of an abseiling activity.


“So are you scared? If you think you cannot abseil, then you can go back down,” that was a common line. Some would even sound personal, “Don’t waste my time.” Although I’d be shaking my head, I totally understand that these instructors would not want to handle a frozen participant. They would need to crank up 101 scripts and be a mentalist playing with the psyche of the trembling participant. In a cohort of hundred participants, the odds are high for the instructor to switch into a psychologist.

So, I am motivated to share a bit of my personal approach when facilitating abseiling. In fact, I focused more energy during the activity briefing, re-explaining the concepts “challenge by choice” and transferring the learning responsibility back to the participants.

Facilitating Abseiling: Challenge By Choice Re-Explained

“Instructor, are we playing abseiling?” an excited participant asked.

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“Err, nope. You will be abseiling but you will not be playing. This is an activity”, I explained using my old taglines.

I continued. “Hi guys! Welcome to the abseiling station. It is the simplest activity here. Look behind you. You will be going down that white abseil rope. Err, you do not need much strength. The main thing you will need is the COURAGE to get yourself out from the platform.”

I pointed to the abseil station up on the rooftop.

“Wow, that is so high!” someone said.

“Oh my God, I’m going to die!” said another.

“Do we have to do the activity, Instructor?” a question came from the group. Just as I had expected. I smiled.

“Nope you do not have to do the activity,” I replied and noticed the group trainer’s and teacher’s eyebrows rose.

I explained further, “Remember the challenge by choice concept told to you at the start of the camp? Well, that is why you do not have to do this activity. Nobody is going to force you to go down the rope.” I sensed an air of relief.

“But what exactly is challenge by choice? Does it mean that you choose not to do the activity right from the start? Challenge by choice basically means that you will still attempt the activity but you set yourself how much you would like to challenge yourself.”

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“Now, if you could challenge yourself to attempt the whole activity that will be great! But if you feel that you could only brave yourself to touch the rope up there and that is it, so be it. Now I’m sure walking up the staircase to meet me up at the rooftop is not even a challenge right? It is something you could easily do.”

“So could I expect to meet everyone on top when it is your turn?”

“Yes Instructor!” Instructor – 1: Participant – 0.

“Once you are on top, then we will see how far you could challenge yourself. You can trust me that I will not be pushing you down the rooftop. I do not get any benefit from doing it at all. This activity is all about you and for you. So you will have to do the job. I’ll only be guiding you. Is that fair enough?”

“Yes Instructor!” Instructor – 2: Participant – 0.

When I first started, I made it a point to ensure all participants descended the rope much like a scorecard. It took me some time to learn that I was just there to facilitate their experience. Hence, I should not take it personally if anyone was not able to abseil. But I made sure that my participants were aware that the whole activity belonged to them and they were the ones deciding their actions. To do that, as I shared above, I spent a great deal of energy to moodset the participants, making sure they understood the phrase challenge by choice and the need to be responsible for their own decisions.

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How differently would you brief your participants? We could surely learn something from you too!

(This is a curated article from my other website theoutdoorpreneur.com which I plan to shut down for personal reasons. The articles are still valuable though))

Follow Ahmad Bahktiar:

Outdoor Educator

I'm an outdoor educator and blogger. Outdoors, I teach both technical and experiential courses. Indoors, I blog about the outdoors, environment, health and life! Contact me if you'd like to explore opportunities together, whatever they might be.

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