Each team stands in one straight line with hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them.
The person at the front of the line is team member #1, the person behind them is team member #2, and so on.
Explain that you want each team to respond immediately to a series of three commands:
– “CHANGE” – team member #1 moves to the back of the bobsled (and becomes #4;)
– “SWITCH” – team members #2 and #4 (or last person) switch places; and
– “ROTATE” – every team member rotates their orientation 180 degrees (#4 becomes the new #1.)
All moves must be completed as accurately and as fast as possible.
Introduce and practice one command at a time until everyone is familiar with all three commands.
Play one 30 second round, and then give each team 2 minutes to refine their Change-Switch-Rotate routines.
Play a second round featuring a lot of fast commands to test each team’s ability.
Play a third and final round, introducing a new, fourth command:
– “LOOSE CABOOSE” – everyone scatters and forms a part of a new four-person bobsled team.
Continue play until everyone falls to the ground exhausted.
Video Transcript for Bobsled Teams presented by Mark Collard
Alright, so we have three groups. What I’d like you to first do and I’m going to be situated in this position, is I’m going to ask you to form three straight lines and you’ll all be facing me. So it’s almost like the spokes on a wheel. So I’m in the centre and then there’ll be a spoke off this way, a spoke here and a spoke there.
One person is facing me and the rest of their group stands behind that person, so it’s a straight line. You’re effectively looking into the back of the person in front of you. That’s good. That’s great. Alright, good.
You have an uneven number of people in each of your groups, but it won’t matter, but I would like you to quickly number off, that is you’ve got one at the front, person behind you is number two and so on. Go ahead.
(people numbering themselves)
So a couple of your groups have got a five and one group’s got a four. In either case the fives… in this case over here, group of four, the four, you actually have just the back row. You’re the last person in the group. And the people who are number one, you’re the first person in the group. But the other numbers are relevant, two, three, and four where they matter.
Here’s what’s going to happen. Do you happen to know where the next Winter Olympics are going to be?
It is. It’s in South Korea, in 2018 if I remember rightly. And they have put out a message to the world saying we’re a little desperate, we’re looking for a few extra teams that can help us in one particular competition.
And one of my favourites in the Winter Olympics is actually this, it is the bobsled. It’s that team event where working together, pushing that sled down the slope, that slippery slope, as best as you can.
But you’ll note that there are several roles involved in this exercise, and it’s important that we kind of work out how to do that best as a team. I’m going to give you a chance now to practise some of these highly-refined skills, so I can let the folks know in South Korea that we have a couple of candidates.
So long before we get to the gold medal round, I’ll need to do some practice with you.
So the first thing you need to know is that if you hear and see me do this, “Change!”, that is an indication to everyone at the front of the line to go to the back.
So let’s just practise that a couple of times. Remember, whoever is at the front of the line and hears “Change” needs to go to the back of the line, and then the rest of the line just sort of inches up a little bit. Got the idea? Let’s just check that.
Change! Change! Change! Change! Change!
Alright, good. You may or may not be in the same order, it doesn’t matter, but you’ve always got someone at the front, someone at the back, and then there’s always number two, three, and four perhaps in the centre.
Alright. You need to have another skill because you’ll note on the bobsled there is a change of leadership from time to time. They also sometimes switch, and when you hear and see me do this and I say “Switch!” number two and the last person… So get that clear. It’s number two, the second person in line, and whoever is the last person switch roles, they switch places.
So let’s just practise that for a second. So Switch! Change!
Keep in mind, it doesn’t matter what your number was at the beginning. It’s wherever you are at any point in time. So if you’re at the front, you’re at the front. You’re now number one if you need to call it that. Whoever is behind the front is number two at any point in time. Whoever is at the end is at the end.
So “Switch” is number two and the end person switches places. Let’s try that again.
So first of all, change! Change! Switch! That’s number two and the last person.
Change! Switch! Change! Switch!
Alright, good. Good. Alright. You’re almost there. High level, we’re talking Olympics here folks so I can’t give it away too easily. Some of us don’t even have this level.
Alright. So we now have change of leaderships, switching number two and the last person whoever that person is, and we have one more skill you need to learn, and that is Rotate. And when I do that and also say that, everyone basically turns around 180 degrees to look the other direction. It’s like changing directions 180 degrees.
So you’ve got Change of leadership, Switch number two and the last person, and everybody turns 180 degrees around.
Let’s just practise those gently to begin, but however I will like you to know that you’re actually ready. So when I say are my bobsled teams ready, I want you to grab the sides of your bobsleds and kind of like hunker down and say Ready.
So we’re down to the last three. This is your final round now, folks.
Now when you get to the gold medal round it is clear in the bobsled team world that there’s one extra skill you need to learn, and that is you already know your change, switching, and rotating, however when you see and hear me go “Loose Caboose!”, you jump out of your bobsled, join with any other four or five people and form a new bobsled team to continue to careen down that icy patch.
Okay? So when you hear me go “Loose Caboose!” you jump out immediately from your own team, join with any other four or five people, and get ready because guess what, the commands continue. You’ll be in a new team.
(So everybody is in a Loose Caboose?)
Everybody. All fourteen of you will be in a loose caboose. Just simply jump into any other bobsled and continue to careen down that ice.
Alright? You got it? Fantastic, Frankie. Are you ready?
How To Play Narrative
I learned this energetic, fun game at summer camp many years ago. In a word – simply awesome.
In a large open space, ask your group to form small teams of four people, standing in a line with hands on shoulders of the person in front. As best as possible, ask everyone to face towards you to make it easier to be seen and heard. These are your bobsled teams.
Explain that in the spirit of the Winter Olympic Games, this exercise will test the agility and teamwork of each four-person bobsled team. In a highly competitive environment, each team will be challenged to respond as quickly and as accurately as they can to earn an Olympic medal.
Allowing time to practice each command, tell your group that when you shout one of the following commands, you want each team to respond accordingly:
“CHANGE” – team member #1 moves to the back of the bobsled to become #4, while all other members step closer to the front;)
“SWITCH” – team members #2 and #4 switch places (so, #2 becomes #4, and #4 becomes #2;) and
“ROTATE” – every team member rotates their orientation 180 degrees to face the opposite direction, thereby #1 becomes #4 and vice versa.
Practice each command as you announce them.
Expect confusion to reign in the early stages, but with more time and practice, most teams get better – but remember, the essence of this exercise is in the fun, not in the ‘getting it right.’
Having introduced all three commands, conduct the first round of competition – approx 30 seconds or so. Then, allow each time 2 minutes to discuss and practice their strategies for executing their moves at a higher performance level.
Then play a second round, during which you are encouraged to speed up the pace of your calls, and announce a series of potentially confusing string of commands. For example, “CHANGE, CHANGE, SWITCH, ROTATE, CHANGE, SWITCH, ROTATE, SWITCH, SWITCH, CHANGE….” etc.
Conclude this second round when your group’s energy is still peaking, and then announce a third and final round. But, … not before introducing one crucial ‘gold-medal’ fourth command:
“LOOSE CABOOSE” – everyone leaves their current team, scatters and quickly forms a new four-person bobsled team.
As the last few people jump into their new bobsled team, quickly resume your commands – don’t wait for everyone to be ready, because you will lose a lot of momentum. Some confusion will likely result – and this is okay – it won’t be too long before you call “LOOSE CABOOSE” again.
Continue play until everyone falls to the ground in fits of laughter, or they call ‘time-out’ on account of exhaustion.
Practical Leadership Tips
What if your group does not divide evenly into teams of four? Add a fifth person to a couple of groups, and ensure that your description of the “SWITCH” command means that #2 and the ‘last person’ (not necessarily #4 person) trade places.
This exercise gets very loud and hectic very quickly, so be sure to position yourself so that everyone can hear/see you. Standing atop a stage or a chair will help your voice carry further.
To assist in comprehension, accompany each command with a unique physical gesture, for example:
Change – fingertips meet above head, with arms forming a circle;
Switch – arms crossed on chest;
Rotate – draw large, horizontal circles above your head using a finger; and
Loose Caboose – out-stretch both arms to form a Y with your body.
Generally speaking, rounds of 30 seconds are more than sufficient to totally confuse your group into fits of laughter.
Left, Right, Anyway: Substitute (or add to) the stated directions with “LEFT” and “RIGHT” commands, whereby the groups will be invited to quickly lean to the left or right as if turning their speedy vehicle.
Sound Off: Substitute the commands with a variety of sounds, for example, an umpire’s whistle, air-horn, cow-bell, metal gong, etc. This variation really challenges people to listen carefully and quickly discern their correct response.
Unique Movements: The sky’s the limit when it comes to all of the different types of movements you could invent. Just make it fun, and it will work a charm.
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Useful Framing Ideas
When it comes to high-performance teams, the four-person bobsled may be one of the best examples ever. In this next exercise, we’re going to practice the highly refined skills of an Olympic level bobsled team…
Responding quickly, as an individual, to a series of commands is one thing, but responding uniformly as a team is a completely different beast altogether. In this exercise, your team will be challenged to respond super quickly to a series of commands. Good luck…
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 playing this highly-interactive energiser:
What helped you respond successfully to the series of commands?
What obstacles did you encounter which made it difficult to respond accurately?
Was the exercise fun? Why?
What leadership lessons could we learn from this exercise?
The inspiration for Bobsled Teams was first sourced during my many years at Blue Star Camps, NC, USA working as a camp leader. Jim Cain also presents a fun version of this terrific energiser in the following publication: