The one about the risking instructor…



Interesting article about how we prove or disprove something quick and dirty at the gym. Sometimes as an instructor, i find it hard to demonstrate “accidents”. We learn best when we do, but how exactly do we let our trainees experience failures or mistakes if the mistakes might lead to physical harm?

The anecdote shared reminded me of one particular incident when i was working at an Adventure Centre. I was walking pass the centre one day when i saw two of my younger colleagues lead climbing at the wall. One guy was lead belaying whilst the other was climbing up to each bolt, fix the rope and take a lead fall. He repeated the process a few times. I said a quick hi and asked what they were up to? (Most people have to work in the middle of the work day you know…) They cheerfully informed me that they found this old dynamic rope in the store and there were no visible tags on it so they could not ascertain its age. So they did the next best thing and decided they will test it to see whether it was still ok to be used at the centre.

I replied, “And what if you discover that the rope snaps?”

Suddenly it dawned on the lead climber that if his experiment was effective enough and the rope really turns out ot be defective, there was nothing really holding him up. He would be proud that his carefully designed test worked, but at the same time he would be a very sorry tester…. They sheepishly lowered off , glad to live and climb another day. This time perhaps with a back up rope…

How can instructors design effective “mistakes” for our trainees to experience? How can we ensure safety? Where do we draw the line?

In my SNCS L1 courses, i find that my participants often need to see the consequences of their actions before they can thoroughly understand why they need to do a certain procedure of steps. 
Ome problem i face is when new belayers give too much slack at the start of the climb which might cause the climbers to deck.  I often struggle with myself whether i should demonstrate the consequences of this mistake because it would put myself at risk. I seldom (if not never) get my assistants to demonstrate this part of the course because of the risk involved. Usually to show the effects of a slack belay at the start, it involves climbing up to the 3m mark, making sure that my belayer gives me a bit of slack before i “slip” and deliberately and dramatically deck onto the ground. I tend to exaggerate the fall and the crash so as to get my participants’ attention. And often the ground is padded so i do not really hurt from the “controlled crash”. But there may come a day when i mistime it and land awkwardly twisting an ankle or something, you never know…

Hence the dilemma an instructor might face. To demonstrate or not to demonstrate. I have tried nagging, explaining, getting them to visualise but the same mistakes will keep occurring especially when they do not see the impact of their mistakes. One way is to just do rote learning where you drill and drill but participants might go away without understanding the “why” behind it which might cause them to forget the whole point in the long run. It’s a problem i face and something i have no solution for at the moment. But it helps to have an experienced assistant to help me with this part and it helps to talk to him clearly before the demo what exactly you are going to do and what he is to expect. (One assistant didn’t expect me to exaggerate the decking that much that she really thought i broke my ankle…) These can help facilitate the demonstration but again, i question whether it is safe. Would you do it? In the name of learning? Should an instructor “sacrifice” that much to do his job? Are there any other ways we can achieve the objective in a safer manner? Somethings to think about.

Oh and yah…watch the video on how to use a grigri properly….

Time to confront the bear in outdoor program safety; aligning what we now know with what we’re currently doing. One practitioner’s call to action.

A very good discussion on how we approach an accident when it happens. Is it always “human error” or the instructor to be blamed or is it just a convenient excuse? Should we relook at how we approach accidents or risk management? What were you thinking at that point in time?



“Curriculum development, and our collective approach to facilitating learning in the outdoors has evolved significantly in the past few decades. However, in my opinion, the same cannot be said about how we manage risk. If we are honest, we’ll see that we are still teaching, promoting and defending positions relating to predicting and managing risk that were developed and advocated several decades ago. We still largely and wholeheartedly, hold onto the perspective that a well-trained individual, the instructor, is the determining factor in the safety outcomes of a program or activity.

For us, as outdoor education managers and leaders, our questions and intentions following an incident should not be to find out, why on earth our staff did what they did, but rather attempt to understand, why did it make sense for them at that time, to do what they did”.

Are we now willing, as a profession, to consider…

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