Resist the temptation to be the first person to fall.
Consider all of the notes described in the Leadership Tips tab.
Assume spotting role in key catching area if required.
Be an active and vigilant spotter at all times.
Offer support to all group members both physically (spotting) and emotionally (supporting and contributing.)
Agree to adhere to all safety guidelines (see below for details) including communication protocols (click here for a suggested series of calls.)
Remove all jewellery, sunglasses, watches, chunky rings, belt buckles, caps and all items from the faller’s pockets.
Form two lines facing each other directly in front of the platform.
Stand shoulder to shoulder with feet shoulder-width apart, ie this prevents gaps and involves more people in the actual catch.
Orient the plane of one’s shoulders/body to face the falling participant, eg spotters facing faller to their right will put left foot forward.
Stand with knees flexed, and arms extended and bent at the elbows with palms up.
Create a zipper-like formation of arms alternating with the spotters opposite with fingertips aligned close to their spotter’s elbows.
Keep attention focused on the faller at all times, ie before and during the fall.
Do not allow catchers facing one another to hold hands. Knocked heads will result.
Note, even when properly prepared, fallers will not always fall backwards perfectly in alignment with their spotters. Hence, it is critical that spotters adjust their position as necessary.
Ask for spotters while mounting the platform.
Agree not to fall until the spotters have communicated that they are ready.
Maintain a rigid position with head slightly forward (chin on chest) at all times during the fall. This does not mean that the faller should be as stiff as a board, but fallers are much easier to catch when a straight body position is maintained.
Keep arms and hands out of harm by fixing them to the chest. A common strategy is to interlock one’s fingers and folds arms up close to the chest. Note, this technique does not prevent arms from flailing but it is helpful to many participants.
Start with heels (or back of shoes) slightly past the edge of the platform, ie to ensure feet and legs clear the platform during the fall.
Fall without bending in the middle.
Practical Leadership Tips
For most groups, a fall from the height of approx 12. to 1.5 metres will be appropriate. Only those groups which have developed highly competent spotting skills should attempt catches at or above 1.5 metres. Falls from heights above 1.5 metres are not recommended because it can be possible for the faller to drop past a horizontal position making them much harder to catch.
Generally speaking, it is recommended that you start by catching smaller or lighter members of your group. Ask for volunteers and deliberately choose those who are smaller and/or lighter to go first. With practice, your group will develop the necessary skills and confidence to support taller/heavier members of the group safely.
Groups that comprise very large or heavy people clearly face a different level of challenge in this exercise. To this end, you should consider these issues before choosing to undertake this activity:
Ask yourself, is the group ready to perform the Trust Fall? No activity should be done just because it’s on the schedule.
Can you gradually build the competence and confidence of the group to catch progressively heavier people?
Size and weight can be potentially sensitive issues for some people. Honour choice on both the part of the faller and the group. The more time and effort you invest to create an environment in which they will make appropriate choices, the more likely your group will manage these decisions with respect and maturity.
Teams that successfully catch their largest members often experience a great sense of accomplishment. However, the potential loss of trust or injury that could occur means that if you are not reasonably certain that your group can catch everyone, then choosing a different activity may be the better choice.
To reiterate, if the falling person bends at the waist, it concentrates the force of the fall in one area (mainly the buttocks) and makes the spotting catch more difficult.
As the facilitator, do not succumb to the temptation of being the first volunteer to fall. Your role is more valuable in the beginning when you ensure that all safety protocols are being followed and help to align the faller with the spotting team. Some facilitators choose to stand on the platform to prepare the faller and offer them encouragement and support (if required.)
Before any fall occurs, establish a series of communication protocols between spotters and fallers (click here for an example.) This will prevent a nervous participant from initiating a fall before the spotters are ready.
Try to have the spotters change their positions in the spotting line as things progress so that all can experience the responsibility of being a spotter.
While size and strength are obvious factors, good spotting (catching) is really more a matter of technique and teamwork. To this end, it is not necessary to place the strongest or most confident people in the middle of the spotting line. It is best to randomly mix participants by size and strength – and rotate these positions regularly – so everyone has the opportunity to learn good spotting techniques.
Yes, you may choose to use a gymnastic-style mat under the spotter’s arms. However, the importance of catching participants should not be diminished by the presence of the mat, ie the mat should only ever be considered as a back-up.
The trust fall is one of the all-time classic adventure-based learning activities. However, my preference in recent years has been to call it the Fall from Height activity because this label more truly reflects what the activity is about. That is to say, the traditional label of “trust fall” may imply that it will build trust but this does not always occur. In my opinion, I am wary of using activity names that ‘telegraph’ an uncertain outcome to my group.
You could integrate the Trust Fall as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample 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
As a dedicated, purposeful exercise that builds trust – among many other emotional intelligence competencies – the Trust Fall is an ideal vehicle to discuss a range of behaviours that support the development of positive and healthy behaviours. For example, and in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you may wish to invite your group to reflect on these questions:
Describe one or more social cues you observed and what you interpreted them to mean?
How did each participant and the group manage their decision to fall or not?
In what ways did we offer support, empathy and compassion for each participant?
In what ways did the group support or not support each attempt?
Did leadership – or the lack thereof – make a difference? How?
Why is trust important? Give an example.
Describe the impact of developing trusting relationships in our group. How does it make a difference?
Blind Trust Fall: To increase the level of commitment, challenge each faller to make an attempt with their eyes closed (yep, all the way.) Or, if they are more comfortable with their eyes closed, challenge them to keep their eyes open as they fall.
Large Group Trust Fall: For large groups of 20 to 40 people, form two very long lines of spotters (as described above.) Ask the faller to continue holding their body rigid after being caught so that they can be passed hand to hand down the entire line of spotters. When the faller reaches the end of the line make sure that the person is lowered to the ground feet first.
Take a look at the Teaching Effective Spotting Skills article to provide you with a useful sequence of activities that could be undertaken to prepare your group for the Trust Fall.
Powerful trust-building exercise to support small groups.
Classic swing rope group initiative with multiple variations.
Classic group initiative that inspires collaboration.
Useful Framing Ideas
Now that we have successfully completed a series of activities that have developed our collective spotting skills, I am excited to bring you to the pinnacle of the spotting skills genre…
Trust is one of the most precious and yet most fragile ingredients of any relationship. It often takes a long time to build trust but can be destroyed in a thoughtless or careless moment. There are many forms of trust and today we are going to explore what it means to trust someone physically and emotionally…
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 powerful trust-building exercise:
Describe the range of emotions you experienced during this activity.
What stands out in your memory the most? Why?
Did you sense a shift of anything during our experience?
What changed, if anything?
What did it take to choose to fall?
What did it take to choose to be a key spotter?
Metaphorically speaking, where else in our lives are we the faller or spotter?
The inspiration for the Trust Fall is generally unknown but was popularised during the development of Project Adventure‘s adventure-based curriculum in the early 1970s.