Assess your group’s physical abilities and spotting skills as required for this exercise.
Objective: Challenge one person at a time to use their hands and feet to climb the rope ladder from the bottom to the top without it flipping over.
For safety purposes, team members can position themselves as spotters on both sides of the ladder and next to the support structure at the upper end of the ladder.
Alert your group that the ladder may flip rapidly, in which case the:
– Participant must hold onto the ladder tightly and allow their feet and legs to drop to the ground; and
– Spotters must watch for and protect themselves from moving rungs.
Instruct the participant to not lie across the ladder, ie only their hands and feet may be in contact with the ladder.
Allow as many attempts as possible (for each person) within your allotted time frame.
Process your group’s experience at the conclusion of the task.
Inspect the area for unsafe ground cover and other obstructions.
Inspect the ladder for the integrity of the rope, rungs and anchor points.
Plan an appropriate sequence of lead-up activities to prepare your group (physically, emotionally & mentally) for success.
Focus primarily on providing support for the participant’s head and upper torso.
Recognise that when the ladder flips, it usually happens quickly and may occur in any direction.
When the ladder flips, be alert for and protect themselves from the participant’s feet and ladder rungs.
If only two spotters (minimum), they will move their position to keep pace with the traversing participant at all times.
Spotters will provide sufficient space between their spotting stance and the participant to allow room for movement of the participant and the ladder.
The climbing participant will only step onto the ladder after all safety and check-in protocols have been performed.
Practical Leadership Tips
A Fidget Ladder can be strung between two trees or poles or two other sturdy structures, eg door frames or walls.
Typically, a Fidget Ladder is designed as a long diamond shape so that the side ropes that string the rungs together come to a point at the top and bottom of the ladder, ie this is what gives the ladder such volatility.
To assist the start of a climb, two spotters may stabilise the ladder until the participant is ready to begin. Otherwise, instruct the spotters to resist the temptation to hold the ladder to offer support at all other times. When (not if) the participant ‘falls’ simply invite them to have another attempt.
Urge the climbing participant to hang onto the ladder at all times, especially when they flip over. This is the most effective way of reducing the prospect of injury because it keeps the most important parts of their body (head and upper torso) off the ground as much as possible.
To be fair, this is a very difficult activity to spot effectively and safely owing to the dynamic flipping action of the ladder. It is potentially quite dangerous for a spotter to be (a) close enough to offer physical support for the participant and (b) not be hit by the ladder or the participant when a flip occurs. Urge your group to remain vigilant and do your best.
Want to buy a Fidget Ladder? Enquire with your local challenge course vendor check the Resources tab for two recommendations.
You could integrate Fidget Ladder as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour across challenging situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
Given the extremely dynamic nature of this challenge course element, the Fidget Ladder is ideal for exploring and practising resilient strategies and goal-setting. It is rare for most people to be able to complete the task on their first attempt, let alone on their tenth. Therefore, the challenge often pushes people to give up. To this end, I recommend you frame the activity as an opportunity to explore coping mechanisms for dealing with frustration and the characteristics of being resilient in the face of challenge. And, while there is clearly only one person in the activity at any point in time, you may want to focus on the existence (or absence) of the group’s support that may benefit the effort and mental wellbeing of some participants.
Knees Down: Allow the participant to use their knees (or indeed, their whole body) to rest on or touch the ladder to assist their climb. While less challenging as an activity, it may make it more accessible for some participants.
Soft Fall: If installed indoors, position a large gymnasium mat or other cushioning under the ladder to serve as a soft-fall surface. Ideally, this would be in addition to – not a substitute for – the spotting techniques described above.
Vary the Challenge: Some designs of the Fidget Ladder incorporate a short rope tether at the lower end of the ladder that is connected to the anchor point. The tighter the tether, the more difficult the activity will be.
Cargo Net Safety: Position a large (3m x 3m) cargo net under the ladder held securely by at least 8 to 10 spotters. If and when the participant falls, instruct the spotters to step back quickly to catch them in the net. This spotting technique is often preferred because it allows spotters to be positioned well away from the moving ladder.
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Useful Framing Ideas
This next challenge is certain to challenge every person in our group. It is extremely difficult but wonderfully fun at the same time. Are you up for the challenge…?
When you look at surfers and skateboarders, they make the task of balancing look so easy as if they were taking a walk in the park. Do you consider that you have good balance? If so, then I have just the challenge for you…
You should always be careful when climbing a ladder, carefully positioning your feet and hands as you climb and knowing to always hold on. This is especially true for rope ladders because they are so flexible and even more so when there are only two anchor points…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this difficult challenge course activity:
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, how difficult was this challenge to complete?
How much fun was it? Are fun and challenge related?
Were you surprised by how easy it was to flip the ladder?
As a climber, what did you notice about your balance and coordination?
As spotters, what did you notice about the activity?
Did your performance improve with practice?
In what ways could the Fidget Ladder mirror our group dynamic?
The inspiration for the Fidget Ladder is generally unknown but was popularised during the development of Project Adventure‘s Challenge Course curriculum in the early 1970s.