Authored by Ricky Vigil, Youth Services Afterschool Coordinator
Life presents us with an array challenges each and every day. Many of the challenges are low-key, but others can be drastic and life-changing. Think back in your life to some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced. Do you think you were sufficiently prepared? Did you understand the risks and the rewards? Did you have someone to help you through the challenge? Throughout the summer, the Summer Blast programs at Matheson Jr. High and Kearns Jr. High have been asking participants these same questions, while helping the youth build self-confidence as well as communication and teamwork skills.
While leading the activities available to participants at our Ropes Course, we emphasize the principle of “Challenge by Choice.” A lot of these activities can be scary for someone who hasn’t participated in a ropes course before, or for someone who may have physical disabilities or even if someone has lower self-confidence. Balancing on a swinging log is inherently dangerous (regardless of what a gaggle of twelve-year-olds might tell you), but by emphasizing teamwork, the vast majority of our programs’ participants take part in the activities we present them in the challenge course. After seeing their peers attempt the different elements of the course, it can inspire confidence in the kids who might be off to the side. Even if those who are not initially interested in participating don’t, they are still building their teamwork skills by acting as a spotter for those brave enough to test their balance.
When Youth Services staff were trained on facilitating the challenge course activities, one of the things I noticed our instructor doing was taking a step back and letting the challenge course participants formulate their own plans. In communicating with each other in this way, we learned about some of our own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of our teammates. It was interesting to see who would take charge, who would be the first to tackle a challenge, and who would remain a spotter. In approaching these activities with our Summer Blast participants, I tried to emulate the “less is more” approach, and it was fun to watch the kids figure out how to communicate with each other. Most of the time, they were all able to stand on the log as a team and count to ten while maintaining their balance—sometimes it took 20 or so minutes, but the feeling of accomplishment the teens felt afterward was palpable!
We also make it a point to reflect on each activity, talking about our communication styles, what worked, what didn’t worked, and what we might change if we tried again. In talking about communication, teamwork and support, we are able to tie those concepts back into the lives of our programs’ participants and strengthen their bonds with their peers. It’s important to learn these skills, and by incorporating physical activity into our communication styles, we have been able to get many of our participants to think about challenges and teamwork in a whole new way.