One person (the faller) stands with their feet together, with their back to their partner (spotter.)
The faller stands firm and places their arms across their chest.
The spotter positions themselves with one foot in front of the other, hands-up in ‘ready’ position behind the faller.
Upon issuing a series of agreed ‘Are-you-ready?’ commands, the faller leans back slowly into the hands of the spotter a small distance.
Upon being supported, the spotter returns the faller to the standing position.
Repeat these steps several times, allowing the faller to fall back a little further with each attempt, as far as each person is comfortable.
Swap roles, and then swap partners.
Video Transcript for Trust Leans
presented by Nate Folan
So we’re going to engage in Trust Leans or Trust Rocks, and I want to invite a volunteer just to demonstrate, someone that’s willing to lean into my spot as that’s occurring. So anyone up for that? Hunter? Thanks.
So Hunter if you could just turn side to the group, just like this. We’re not going to go yet because as a reminder for some and maybe new for others that there’s a little bit of communication that needs to occur, a more formal communication.
In this case I’m going to start in my spotting stance right behind Hunter, hands on like the shoulder blades… the scap… is it scapula? Why was I pausing on that? So on the scapula, that’s great, and what’s going to happen here, starting here I’m getting a sense of when Hunter leans how this feels and he’s going to get a sense of how I feel supporting him.
It starts with Hunter saying “Spotter ready?”, and Hunter, I’ll respond with “Ready”, and then Hunter will say “Leaning” and I’ll say “Lean away”.
(Leaning as part of Trust Leans)
Lean away, Hunter. Great. So right now we just have a sense of how that was. I’m going to tap his shoulders to let him know that he’s standing on his own. From here I’m just going to check in real quick with Hunter and say how was that for you?
Okay. And what’ll happen is I’m going to move a few inches back if that’s alright, and each time we’ll check in, maybe not as formally as that but we’ll be sure that we’re clear.
So a few inches away now, Hunter, same commands.
(Leaning as part of Trust Leans)
Lean away. Great. And as I’m doing this I’m trying to get the force of Hunter’s body leaning into mine but then going down into my feet, so articulating all the joints bringing that down.
So a little bit more space, Hunter, if that’s okay with you.
Good. Alright, when you’re ready.
(Leaning as part of Trust Leans)
Lean away, Hunter. Nice. Good. Cool. How did that go?
Cool. So we’re all set. Hunter, thank you. And just a quick check, how many folks have spotted someone before in this particular setup or situation? So some folks, about half and half in our group.
So what I’d invite you to do is simply find someone next to you that… maybe start with someone that’s a similar height right now and then we’ll switch. So experience some Trust Leans with each other, spotting, and checking in between each one.
And the key here is really checking out and determining what’s right for you as you’re leaning. You’re good to go.
(people leaning and spotting as part of Trust Leans)
So if I could pause you all just for a moment… As you’re leaning in this place and you moved into that self-spotting place where a foot kicks back or you might check back and be like I’m not sure, this is your moment to simply check in with your partner and just explore what that was about. And a simple method to go through that is notice what happens, so explore that. What happened, describe it to each other, what did we learn from that moment, and what would we try next time.
And just exploring that and actually trying it if you’re up for that, and that’s both for someone leaning as well as for someone spotting, and have a quick conversation and then give it a retry in that regard. Make sense? Okay, continue.
(people leaning and spotting as part of Trust Leans)
So a quick check, how are we doing?
Thumbs up. Has anyone learned anything about their own spotting?
(I need practise.)
What did you learn?
(I need work.)
You need work, yeah. Like this work, right?
So the good thing with Kevin’s spotting was one, he acknowledged that he needs work, and two, that he had the ability to actually move his feet as a spotter. That’s really key. So you were responsive there and being responsive is important.
At that same time how can we get ourselves grounded and queued up to understand where that person, in this case a lean, is going to go to and use all of our body.
For some… how many made the adjustment that maybe you started here spotting, up tall… there’s not much you can support here, through your arms maybe but we’re not using our lower body.
The moment maybe that you change, you get a little bit lower, so now all of our joints are ready to take this weight on from a person. Is that making sense there? And maybe you made that change and it made a difference.
Anyone else make a change with their spotting?
(Like you were saying, I moved down more.)
Moved down a little bit.
(I had to keep talking to her.)
Great. So this is that relationship aspect, right? Let’s talk about this. What things were you saying as you were talking?
(Just she kept apologising and I was like there’s no need to apologise and we’re just working through this.)
Yeah. How many folks have maybe had this experience of introducing a spotting scenario or a Trust Lean or something like that have had others apologise either to them or have noticed someone else apologising?
I have a great friend and colleague that says you know what, as a spotter it’s such a gift to be there with you. And that moment that you check that relationship there’s that opportunity to explore what is that that’s going on that’s a little more personal and intimate to the group, and at the same time there’s this opportunity to explore how can we be with each other in that moment right then and there.
And that’s the essence of this relationship of Trust Leans in this case…
How To Play Narrative
This is one of those activities that will focus your group on one set of skills (spotting,) whilst secretly developing others (trust, empathy, etc.) The beauty is that most people don’t see it coming, until they reflect back on what they have just done, a discussion of which is totally recommended here.
Start by giving a demonstration of the correct procedures, before breaking your group into pairs to try it out for themselves.
As you are dealing with many fragile issues here, be very particular and intentional in your instruction, but not overly serious. This is meant to be fun, but it is possible for someone to get hurt – both physically and emotionally – so consider your sequence carefully.
Ask for a volunteer (the ‘faller’) to stand with their feet together and their back towards you (the designated ‘spotter.’)
Explain that they will shortly be invited to lean backwards into your arms, so they should keep their body firm, and try to pivot from their ankles as they lean back, ie not bend at their butt, because this is not a good look. Also, advise them to cross their arms in front of their chest to keep their arms and elbows out of harm’s way.
Assume the correct spotter’s position – one foot in front of the other, knees bent slightly, hands up in ready position, eyes forward – call out the agreed ‘Are you ready?’ commands, and then when finally prepared, the faller will lean slowly back into the arms of their spotter.
Ideally, the spotter should start with their hands on the back of the faller to build confidence and to gauge for the first time the momentum and weight of the person they are supporting.
Once comfortably received, return the faller to their original standing position.
You may now repeat the calls, this time allowing the faller to lean back a little further, perhaps providing a little more space between the faller’s back and the spotter’s ready hands.
It is possible for the faller to lean a long way back, but the fall should only go as far as the faller and/or spotter feel comfortable. Indeed, the process will continue until either the spotter or the faller chooses to stop.
However, encourage people where possible to take a step beyond their comfort zone, because this is where growth and learning really occurs.
When ready, switch roles and repeat.
Then, invite people to find one or more new partners. Not only does this reinforce their newly-acquired skills, but they get to expand their support and trust to and of others.
Practical Leadership Tips
Remember, the focus of this exercise is to practice spotting skills – it is not about practicing the fine art of falling. To this end, focus your dialogue on teaching effective spotting techniques, rather than how far can a person ‘fall.’
Emphasise the spirit of Challenge by Choice here. Regardless of how willing and able the spotter is, a faller should only lean back as far as they feel comfortable. And vice versa.
In the beginning, you may wish to start by pairing off like-sized partners. However, this is not critical, and indeed, there is terrific value in people spotting others who are a different shape or size to them. Remember, Challenge by Choice applies here, so for example, a small person should only be expected to support a very large person as far as they feel comfortable.
Even though it may get tedious, always, always, always insist that the pairs commit to a series of ‘Are-you-ready?’ commands BEFORE someone starts leaning. This routine not only sharpens people’s attention but will pay dividends later in your program, especially if you plan on embarking on higher-level adventures.
Instruct spotters to focus their hands on the ‘meaty’ part of the faller’s back, often around the upper torso and shoulder blades. If their hands venture too far apart, or too high, the spotter is likely to slip off the faller’s back.
As your group is practising their spotting skills, wander in and out of the pairs providing useful feedback. If you observe any shenanigans or un-trustworthy moves, interrupt the activity and immediately process the impact of such behaviour.
You could integrate Trust Leans as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
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
The physical demands of this activity are obvious in regards to the potential for harm, but you may wish to invite your group to reflect on the many dimensions of emotional and mental safety, too. For example, invite your group to consider how the absence of a ‘safe’ space to participate could impact the outcomes of this game, ie some may not wish to play while others may hold back, ie not want to lean so far back.
As a dedicated, purposeful exercise that builds trust – among many other emotional intelligence competencies – Trust Leans are 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 their partner manage their decision to fall (or not) and how far?
In what ways were support, empathy and compassion offered for the falling participant?
In what ways did your partner 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?
Forward Falls: Invite the faller to lean forward towards their spotter. The skills required to spot the front of a person are similar to their back, but the forward spotter is advised to use the faller’s crossed upper-arms to catch their lean, ie to avoid embarrassing hands-on-chest issues.
Back & Forth: Start with three people, two spotters each facing a third person – the faller – standing between them. This time, the faller may lean backwards or forwards, and at any time. Generally, as the spotters support each lean, they return the faller to the centre and this momentum causes them to develop a rocking, back-and-forth motion. Be sure to describe this as a gentle rocking motion, and not a tennis match!
Small Teams: Consider presenting Trust Line next to involve more people for a higher-level challenge.
Fun trust-building exercise with a communication focus.
Collaborative & colourful energiser for small groups.
Useful Framing Ideas
We’re going to move into a series of activities that will prepare our group to learn what is necessary to support one another in later, more physically demanding activities. On its own, this first exercise is ideally suited to develop what we call ‘spotting’ skills, but you may discover something else develops too…
Very shortly, we’re going to participate in a series of activities that will see the feet of some people leave the ground. This next series of activities will help you develop the necessary skills to keep these people safe, not to mention, everyone else. But, note, these exercises are all about learning the fine art of ‘spotting’ or protecting the physical welfare of others, and not how to fall. In fact, what you will observe as ‘falling’ is not what actually occurs in ‘real-life’…
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 classic partner, trust-building exercise:
What emotions came up for you during this experience?
How did it feel to lean back and trust your spotting partner? Did you commit fully? What was the evidence?
In what areas were you vulnerable during this activity? Why?
What did it take to trust your partner?
What might this exercise teach us about the development of significant relationships in our lives?
The inspiration for Trust Leans, and many more valuable group, trust-building exercises, was sourced from the following publication: