Debriefing Climbing Activities

Debriefing Climbing Activities
By Adam Chan

There are various climbing activities commonly used in adventure learning programs. The classic High Elements like postman walk, balancing beam, etc and some other innovative climbing apparatus that have evolved over years of adventure programming for example the Peak Ascent of Outward Bound Singapore and the Team Challenge Pyramid of Focus Adventure. Both are unique in their design and operating principles however both offer participants unforgettable learning experiences in various value related aspects like increasing self-efficacy, the significance of teamwork, etc.
Conducting climbing activities are not difficult; perfection in covering the safety aspects in the form of briefing can be attained through rehearsal and practices. After all, the value of any adventure learning activities hinges on the reflections from the participants a.k.a. debriefing. The following sections discuss in depth the different debriefing methods applied on climbing activities.

The Classic High Elements

The High Elements have a founding place in adventure programming. Conceived at the pioneering stages of adventure programming, it has a profound effect on the evolvement such programs.

pic1 Facilitators should determine the method of conducting for it will bear direct effects on the impending debrief methods to be applied. Group size is certainly one major influencing factor too. The following debriefing methods are effective up to 30 participants and they were divided into 4 to 6 smaller groups for the High Elements.

Just One Word

Upon completion of the High Elements, organize them into their climbing teams and when each is seated in a circle in a quiet environment, draw a picture that has strong connections to the High Elements and any impending learning. If appropriate, the facilitator could solicit for metaphors using the drawn picture

It is always wise to take a progressive approach to opening up the emotional banks of each participant. The classic question of “What did you feel during the activity?” is like casting a huge fishing net into the ocean, in hope to capture something from the attempt. A common pitfall to this question is its generalness or vagueness. Participants may not be able to verbally describe the emotions they have felt effectively, especially before their own colleagues. Making the correct connections between their emotions and insights are not to be taken for granted. Simply put it, not everyone can appreciate Picasso art.

Facilitator could start off with sharing inspiring stories related to climbing. For example, mountaineering stories, natural rock climbing, sports climbing, etc what ever that may prime their thoughts in making connection between emotions and insights.

Sensing their readiness to share is paramount to a well facilitated session. Once the facilitator deems they are “ready”, get them to be seated in a circle and commence the sharing process.

Facilitator: Let’s take turns to share our insights we have got from the experience. Going in a circle, each person think of a word or a short phrase to describe the experience you have just received.

Using a word or short phrase makes it simple for everyone to start of sharing. Once everyone shared, the facilitator could go back to the start of the circle for the next sharing.

Facilitator: There should be meanings for the phrase or word you have mentioned. Let’s take turns to expound on the word or phrase you have used in the initial round.

Usually, the sharing would come naturally, with less difficulty than starting off with “How did you feel?”

Facilitator should be alert of their sharing, latching on to any relevant insights, expounding on it and making a strong and visible tie-back to the role they play in their organization.

Unexpected, Marveled and Wonderful

The process if gathering the participants is the same as “Just One Word”.

Facilitator: The rope protects you here, what is protecting you at workplace? The belay team is providing protection for the climbing remotely; is it easy for the climber to forget/overlook this discreet relationship?

Obtaining responses from participants are not necessary however it would be a bonus.

Facilitator can now introduce the debrief structure to them. In their own group, each participant should talk about the followings;

  • What did you observed as unexpected? (focus on behaviors, decisions made, interactions)
  • What marveled you?
  • What leaves you with a wonderful feeling?

For a group size up to 30, they can be divided into 4 small groups or organize them according to the number of climbing teams. The discussion should be relating the climbing experiences to the three questions. Each participant should take turns to share their insights. Allow up to 10 minutes for the initial round of sharing.

After the initial round, select from each group, one representative to summarize their individual group sharing to the rest if the members. Facilitators should record the key words on the flipchart (see photo for sample). Visually, this will capture the essence of their insights.

Paradigms, Memories and Insights

Frontload the climbing activity by asking them; “Why climb?” History has numerous anecdotes that show the benefits from going through any adventurous experiences. There is a saying of “Let the Mountain speaks for itself” from people who have experienced a trip in the mountains. Climbing mountains itself is an adventurous trip and many thoughts can be evoked from it. Facilitator can start sharing with the following dialogue.

Facilitator: Why do we climb? (wait for responses)

Usually there will be witty inputs like,

  • Because it is there
  • Challenge oneself
  • On holiday

Such inputs are important as they evoke others to think about the word adventure, what are the adventures in our lives?

Facilitator: Climbing evokes paradigms, memories and insights. Is that right? (wait for responses). What is paradigm? (pause for a while)

Facilitator: Paradigms are like cognitive maps in our heads. These maps are formed in accordance to the social norms. They are the “must be”, “ought to be”, “shall be”, “should be”, etc of our lives. They are closely related to our fundamental beliefs but it is not as core as our belief systems.

Facilitator: Memories, anyone would like to define it? Any external stimulus that has significant meanings will be etched into our minds as memories. Last but not least, Insights.

Facilitator: What do think that is? (pause for a while) When you are able comprehend the essence of climbing, making the connection to your life, you have gained insights. It is a deep understanding of things through experiences, observation, analysis or intuition.