Articles about experiential learning & group facilitation skills, by playmeo

Teaching Effective Spotting Skills

Spotting is a term used to describe an activity which aims to secure and protect the physical well-being of a person engaged in an activity. In practice, it may look like breaking or catching a person’s fall, but it may also be as simple as being alert for potentially harmful events or objects.

As a program develops, the momentum to assume bigger challenges – that is, greater perceived and actual risks – often increases. This may attract an individual or group to assume some more physically demanding and harmful activities.

Naturally, as program leaders, were are called to facilitate a safe outcome on these occasions, but there is enormous value in empowering our groups to partner this responsibility. And this is where spotting skills come in.

 

Essential Spotting Skills Tips

 

Spotting is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks to teach because, in most cases, people do not recognise the importance of being a spotter until it’s too late, ie someone falls or is hurt. It’s a bit like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

No matter your approach, here are some key points to remember when teaching effective spotting skills to your group:

  • A safe spotting stance will require the spotter to be balanced with one foot in front of the other, knees flexed to absorb impact, eyes forward and their hands up in a ready position.
  • Introduce a carefully planned sequence of activities to help your group practice their spotting skills.
  • When ready, a series of common safety or check-in protocols/commands are recommended to prepare everybody before action. This communication is critical because it means that both the participant and the spotters share responsibility for a good outcome. A typical check-in protocol may sound like this:

“ARE MY SPOTTERS READY?”
“READY.”
“I’M READY TO… [WALK, RUN, FALL, etc]”
“[WALK, RUN, FALL, etc] AWAY.”

  • Spotters will follow and mimic the movements of the participant at all times and remain with them until the activity concludes, ie they have stepped off the activity.
  • Spotting should focus on ‘breaking’ or supporting a fall, not catching a person. Even if both people end up on the ground, the spotter has performed their role responsibly.
  • The spotter’s eyes must focus on the participant at all times.
  • Protecting or supporting the head, neck and upper torso of the participant is the highest priority for a spotter.
  • Spotting should not be confused with helping or assisting the participant to complete their task.
  • The spotter’s position relative to the participant will vary depending on the type of element, eg traversing, swinging, balancing, etc.
Illustration of man on Tension Traverse challenge course element

Spotting Traversing Elements

 

A traversing element challenges the participant(s) to move from one point to another across a taut cable or wood.

Good examples of traversing activities include Tension Traverse, Criss Crotch, TP Shuffle and Swinging Log.

  • Spotters must move along the traverse parallel with the participant.
  • Require a minimum of two spotters per traversing participant, more if your group is inexperienced or the element is particularly difficult.
  • Traversing longer and more difficult spans will require more vigilant spotting.
  • As your group becomes more experienced and participants have demonstrated that they are capable of stepping down (rather than fall) from their traverse, less spotting may be required.
Illustration of group participating in Nitro Crossing challenge course element

Spotting Swinging Elements

 

A swinging element uses a swing (usually a rope) as part of the challenge. Typically, the role of the spotter during a participant’s swing is limited owing to the design of the activity.

Good examples of swinging activities include Nitro Crossing and Swinging Tyres.

To keep swinging elements as safe as possible, consider three key variables:

  • Readiness of the participant to swing & ability to hold their own weight. If possible, invite everyone to test their ability to hold their own weight before the activity starts.
  • Does the swing rope have a foot loop? A foot loop (spliced into the bottom of the rope) will make the swing easier for those who can not hold their own weight. Always assist the participant to remove their foot from the loop at the end of the swing, ie before they let go of the rope.
  • Availability of spotters. Ordinarily, spotters can assist at the start & finish of a participant’s swing. During the arc of the swing, it is considered good practice for the facilitator to serve as a spotter if possible.

Assessing Spotting Skills

 

As the facilitator or program leader, it is (ultimately) your responsibility to prepare your group physically, emotionally and mentally for the task ahead. Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to decide if your group is ready:

  • Is your group physically able to manage the role of being spotters?
  • Is your group emotionally mature enough to manage spotting responsibilities?
  • Has your group demonstrated an understanding of and proficiency in spotting skills, eg stance, positioning, performing safety protocols, etc?

Note, if you decide that your group is not ready, it may still be possible for your group to undertake your planned activity if you are prepared to do the spotting.

 

Useful Spotting Skills Sequence

 

The following activities will introduce a bunch of fun and fully functional activities to help you teach safe and effective spotting skills.

Here are some other fun activities that you may find useful, too: