Form one straight line, with one half of the group facing the other half of the group.
Invite a volunteer (the faller) to stand between the the two people facing each other in the middle of the line.
The two people directly facing the ‘faller’ will assume a spotter’s stance, ie one foot forward, hands up, eyes straight ahead.
The volunteer assumes a comfortable ‘faller’ position, ie arms crossed on chest, feet together, body firm.
Upon issuing a series of ‘Are you ready?’ calls, the faller will choose to lean forwards or backwards into the waiting arms of one of the two spotters.
This spotter will absorb the weight of the faller, and then gently return them to their starting position.
With a little momentum, this gentle push will allow the the faller to lean gently into the arms of the other spotter.
After each spotter has returned the faller to their starting position, they will immediately step out of the line to their left and join the end of the line they were facing.
Immediately, the next person in line steps forward and prepares to ‘spot’ the faller when they next lean towards their direction.
The faller aims to rock back and forth many times, supported by a series of new individual spotters with each lean.
Spotters constantly change their position relative to the faller, as much as the line in which they are standing.
Allow this gentle rocking process to continue for 15 to 30 seconds, then stop.
Invite a new volunteer to become the next faller.
Continue until everyone has been given the opportunity to be a faller.
Video Transcript for Trust Line presented by Nate Folan
An activity that’s spotting based in that regard but again it’s understanding that it’s really about building relationships. And when we look at this, this next exercise it’s really about maybe stepping up and being there for another person, as well as letting go.
So what’ll happen just for the setup what we’re going to need is two lines facing one another, and you’ll line up this way but face… So this line over here would be facing this direction, people right behind me. So let’s do about seven people right behind me. Great. Kevin will be there. And then another line right behind me facing Kevin, just like this.
Now what will happen here is I want to invite one person, and it doesn’t need to be either one of you but it could be, to be the actual person that would be in a leaning place, so as we’re doing this in a leaning stance.
(Got it, Jack?)
(I’ll do it if you want.)
(I heard what he said, but I’m waiting for…)
More information, right? Great, so waiting for more information. So right now we have two lines, right? Facing one another. And let’s say Jack and Kevin are deciding like this, so let’s say Jack was deciding to be… to lean in this case.
Jack is going to be in his leaning stance just like we’ve done before, we’ve seen… maybe you’ve experienced in other places. We already see what’s happening here. Each of the lines are going to be spotting Jack in this moment, however whoever is spotting is going to change.
Jack if he decides to go will go through spotting communication. Spotters ready, ready to lean, and Jack will lean on those appropriate commands.
So spotters ready? Ready? Ready to lean? Lean away. And Jack will lean.
Whether he leans to Kevin or Dudley it doesn’t matter. They should be ready in this case.
However at this moment let’s say that Jack leans towards Kevin. Kevin will spot him upfront, and Kevin’s going to now move to his left to the back of this line over here, okay?
And then Dudley as Jack gets sent backwards towards Dudley… And it’s not necessarily a push but you need to provide a little momentum. It’s a back and forth lean. Dudley will bring Jack back up to Britney and then Dudley would move to the left to the back of this line.
So you’re going to be alternating lines after you step up and spot and each person would step up and be there. The person that’s leaning should go back and forth. There should not necessarily be a stop in the middle and waiting. It should be more fluid in that regard. Is that making sense?
(Does everyone understand?)
Does everyone understand?
So just to recap we have spotting communication initiated by Jack. Spotters ready. Ready. Ready to lean. Lean away. Jack will start leaning either direction, be spotted by the front two people, but those people once they’re done with their spotting responsibility are going to step out to their left, move to the back of the line on the opposing side. The next people are going to step up, spot, and continue that flow as we go through.
Ready to try, and Jack, this is a good choice for you?
(Ready to lean.)
(Lean away, Jack, as the Trust Line starts)
Right up on the arms. Forearms can work for spotting. Nice.
Great. So here’s a great teachable moment, right? We had this moment where it was a little bit too much… I can’t hold you. We actually saw… What did you notice?
(People come to the rescue as part of Trust Line)
People came in, stepped up. This is what our focus was about stepping up and being there. We also saw Jack go with it, go with it, and then at some point saying okay… at this point… you had this moment, is that right? Is that what was going on for you?
(That’s what was going on.)
Okay. And you’re going to reset. Is that where you’re going? Okay. So resetting… Give it a go.
(people playing Trust Line)
Nice. A few more Jack and then when you’re ready you can stand still and let us know that you’re done.
(One more lean as part of Trust Line)
Nice. Did you catch that moment, “I’m ready for you,” and then one more for you, I’m ready for you and there was this… yeah.
Anyone else want to try? It doesn’t have to be the front two people, but if anyone wants this experience… we may not have every single person going through, but we want to provide a few opportunities for folks that might want to try this.
Anyone up for it? Kevin?
And just to remind you with the spotting as you’re in it is really getting sunk down into it, and also if you feel like you know what, based on my experience with spotting it’s better if I step up. That might be a better thing so the person that’s leaning doesn’t go as far. Does that make sense?
And this is the dynamics of spotting and what this activity Trust Line can provide is this responsiveness to who’s in front of us and how do we support anyone that’s in front of us.
(Lean away as the Trust Line starts)
Remember, get a little bit lower with your spotting. Sink down, Caroline. A little bit lower. Nice. There you go. Great.
(people playing Trust Line)
How To Play Narrative
When I first experienced this variation of the classic Trust Leans or spotting sequence, it refreshed my enthusiasm for this rather tired, old exercise to develop critical trust and empathy skills in my groups.
First up, it is necessary you have introduced a series of preparatory experiences which invite your group to practice their spotting skills before presenting this exercise. Certainly, do not jump into this exercise until you have developed these essential skills.
Presuming your group is appropriately prepared, I think the hardest part of the exercise is the set-up.
Honestly, it’s not difficult, but putting it in words is rather cumbersome. To this end, I recommend viewing the Video Tutorial tab because, as you know, a picture tells a thousand words.
In essence, the set-up requires your group to form one straight line, whereby one half of the group faces the other half of the group. Given this structure, you should have two people in the middle of the line directly facing one another.
Next, either choose to ask one of these people to volunteer to assume what will be known as the ‘faller’ position or simply ask another person to volunteer to take on this role and stand between the two people facing one another.
To frame your group’s experience, it’s helpful to explain that, unlike most other activities which practice spotting skills, this exercise actively involves a lot more people while the faller enjoys a longer ride (if you could call it that.)
Remind your group about the essential elements of effective spotting skills, eg one foot forward of the other for balance, knees slightly bent, eyes looking straight ahead with hands up in the bumper’s up position to support the faller’s weight.
Also, ask the faller to assume an effective and safe falling position, eg firm body, arms crossed over their chest, pivot at their ankles.
Next, ask your whole group – not just those closest to the faller – to repeat a series of calls, such as:
[faller] ARE MY SPOTTERS READY?
[spotters] SPOTTERS READY.
[faller] I’M READY TO FALL.
[spotters] FALL AWAY.
The actual words and sequence of these calls are not as important as the fact that your group is communicating with one another to ensure that everyone is ready before the faller starts to fall.
Upon completing the calls, invite the faller to lean forwards or backwards into the arms of one of their two spotters. Naturally – given their prior experience with spotting skills – the weight of the faller is absorbed by the spotter and then gently pushed back towards their starting position, such that this momentum will cause the faller to fall towards the other spotter.
Now, what happens next is the most critical element of this exercise.
Explain to your group that as soon as a spotter has returned the faller to their starting position, they must step out of the line to their left and join the back of the line they were once facing.
Left or right, it does not matter but stress that whichever direction you command, everyone must step out of the line the same way, otherwise, collisions may occur.
And, importantly, as soon as an individual steps out of the line, the person standing directly behind them must immediately step forward, and prepare to support the weight of the faller when they fall towards their direction again.
Effectively, the faller will rock back and forth many times over the course of 20 to 30 seconds, while a steady stream of individual spotters – who rotate their position in both halves of the line – step forward to support their fall.
Got it? If not, check the Video Tutorial tab for a vivid demonstration.
This is often such a delightful experience, many fallers are quite happy for this rocking motion to continue for a long time. However, in the interests of time, 30 seconds is normally sufficient, before you may choose to call for the action to stop.
Quickly check in with the faller to describe their experience, and then invite a new person to become the next faller.
Repeat this process until everyone has had the opportunity to have a go, or continue for as long as time permits.
Given the delight and intimacy involved, you are strongly advised to invite your group to reflect on their experience, both during and at the end of the exercise (see the Reflection Tips tab for a few ideas.)
Practical Leadership Tips
May I stress once again, it is essential that you have introduced a series of spotting skills exercises before you present this activity. Take a look at Trust Leans and The Gauntlet as useful examples.
If you have a large group, I strongly recommend that you divide them into smaller groups of 8 to 15 people, lest you risk some people disengaging from the process while they wait (a long time) for their turn.
It’s not critical to have an equal number of people on both sides of the trust line, but you will need a minimum of three people on a side to keep it safe.
A faller need not communicate which way they will initially fall because, as the series of calls suggest, everyone is ready. However, there is no harm to instruct a faller to commence their initial fall in one particular direction if you prefer.
The rocking motion is pretty fun, but even more so if you invite the fallers to close their eyes during the experience. To this end, I strongly recommend that the person stepping in to assume the (next) spotting position announces that they are ready to support the faller when they lean towards them. A conspicuous “I’M HERE” from the new next-in-line spotter is rather comforting for the faller to hear.
You could ask each ‘retiring’ spotter to step out of the trust line and join the back of the same (half of the) line they just left. However, inviting spotters to join the back of the other half of the line provides opportunities for them to support the weight of the faller from a different perspective (front v back.)
If only the person filming this video had known about the Trust Line, he could have avoided this epic fail.
You could integrate Trust Line 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 trust-building exercise, ie some may not wish to be the faller or a spotter.
As a dedicated, purposeful exercise that builds trust – among many other emotional intelligence competencies – Trust Lines 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 well did the group manage to support each person’s fall?
In what ways were support, empathy and compassion offered for the falling participant?
Did you observe any interactions that may have mitigated the development of support and trust in the group?
Did leadership – or the lack thereof – make a difference? How?
In what ways did you or the group need to adapt?
Why is trust important? Give an example.
Describe the impact of developing trusting relationships in our group. How does it make a difference?
Random Challenge: Invite any individual spotter to remain in an active spotting position, supporting the weight of the faller several times, before stepping out of the line. Naturally, the randomness of this routine heightens the need for the next-in-line to be ready at any moment’s notice.
Very dynamic trust-building & spotting skills exercise.
Group Compass Walk
Fun, trust-building navigation exercise for small groups.
Classic group initiative to strengthen communication skills.
Useful Framing Ideas
Most people report that a gentle rocking motion is one of the most comforting experiences they can imagine. It is for this reason, many parents choose to rock their babies because it helps them to calm and fall asleep. Well, we do not expect, nor want you to fall asleep in this next exercise, but it is a very pleasant experience nonetheless…
Many of you will have seen and/or experienced the classic two or three person trust rock or lean. It’s a wonderful experience and works very well to hone essential spotting skills. Now, I am excited to introduce a whole new way of developing these skills, in a whole new exercise which not only ramps up the challenge but the pleasure as well…
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 innovative trust-building exercise:
How did it feel to be the faller? Why?
As a faller, what helped you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
As a spotter, what did you observe or feel?
What skills do you think this exercise developed within the group?
What might our experience in this exercise teach us about how to look after one another?
The inspiration for Trust Line, and many more terrific trust-building games, was sourced from the following publication: