Challenge by Choice


Challenge is an integral part of a ropes course experience. It gives participants an opportunity to explore new territory, deal with fear and accept help and support from others. I should also be remembered that while challenge presents an opportunity for change and success, it also lays bare the issues we are all afraid of: losing face, failure and injury.  Where there is opportunity for growth there is also the opportunity of overstepping the mark, of pushing too far and thereby retarding the opportunities for growth.

Karl Rohnke devised "Challenge by Choice" after his personal experience and observations showed him how a non-directive, non-competitive approach produced far more effective and satisfying results. He said "What a revelation that the simple affording of choice could achieve more toward growth of self awareness and image than what used to require large doses of performance pressure. What a relief!" Challenge by choice offers a participant:

  • The chance to try a potentially difficult and/or frightening challenge in an atmosphere of support and caring.
  • The opportunity to "back off" when performance pressures or self doubt become too strong, knowing that an opportunity for a future attempt will always be available.
  • The chance to try difficult tasks, recognising that the attempt is more significant than performance results.
  • Respect for individuals ideas and choices.

Respecting an individual's right to choose doesn’t mean participants cannot be challenged.  As leaders it is necessary continually to find ways to offer challenges that can be accepted by individuals so they can maintain their right to make choices. It should be remembered that whenever an instructor makes choices for individuals it can have the effect of stripping away their own decision making powers and hinder any potential learning opportunities which may result.

Some ways we present Challenge by Choice.

  • Using the analogy of climbing a ladder - some people make it to the top and want more, others get three rugs up and that’s enough for them. The important thing is to push yourself further than you previously thought possible - it doesn't matter how high you go! Always remind groups that they can always have another go later on.
  • Explain that everyone has fears – heights, spiders, snakes, public speaking, etc.  Someone who can climb to the top of a ladder might never want to hold a spider or get in a boat. Encourage, but don't use peer pressure to make others go further. Don't judge others by the standards you set. Everyone is different - respect the difference.

Challenge by Choice encourages the student to consistently try (performance level is not key), but also allows occasional time outs if that individual, for whatever reasons, does not feel comfortable with the activity. Consistent malingering is another matter, but knowing that "your turn" does not always mean “your try" is comforting knowledge to a shy, inept, unprepared or hesitating participant.