COPE training

Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience

This weekend, Matt and I went through the COPE facilitator course. Some of you may be wondering what COPE is. It stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. It’s one of the many programs run by the BSA, (Boy Scouts of America) and it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s the official explanation.

What is A C.O.P.E. Course?
C.O.P.E. is an acronym for “Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience.” a COPE Course is a custom built challenge course or ropes course designed to meet the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)Project C.O.P.E. installation and operation procedures. COPE Programs are based on attaining seven goals outlined by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

The seven C.O.P.E. goals are summarized as

Teamwork Teamwork is the key that allows a group to navigate a C.O.P.E. challenge course successfully. The C.O.P.E. challenge ropes course experience makes it clear that each individual can accomplish more as a member of a team than by  going it alone.
Communication A C.O.P.E. challenge course encourage in the moment active learning of critical listening and discussion skills important for any group, troop or individual attempting to accomplish a difficult task.
Trust Participants completing difficult tasks on a C.O.P.E. challenge course develop trust in the C.O.P.E. staff members, their fellow troop members and themselves.
Leadership Team members attempting to solve problems on a cope course have abundant opportunities to develop and exercise leadership skills in small and large groups.
Decision Making Project C.O.P.E. requires groups and troops to make decisions by developing one or more solutions to a  the specific obstacle, problem, or initiative. Teams must consider all the available resources and alternatives, and evaluate the probable results before moving forward.
Problem Solving Project C.O.P.E. challenges groups and individual to develop solutions to interesting problems. Participants must step outside of the box and frequently use creative ideas. Participants can then test their solutions and evaluate the results.
Self-Esteem Meeting the challenges of a C.O.P.E. challenge course allows individuals and groups to develop self-esteem  and encourages them to set challenging yet attainable goals.

If you’ve ever seen some of those high adventure courses that companies like to send their executives on for team building, it’s the same kind of thing.

sarah on belay
Here's me on belay. We're showing even the smallest in the group can belay a bigger person, by using an anchor.

On Friday night we started off with some trust exercises. These vary from the one on one where you have to fall backwards and trust the other person to catch you, standing in the middle with your eyes closed while you get pushed around the circle, having everyone join hands and pass through a hula hoop plus several other mind games. Most of these are designed to create communication and trust in the group.

Saturday we started off on some of the low courses. These are mentally challenging and really focus on problem solving and teamwork. Then, in the afternoon, we got to my favourite, and Matt’s dreaded, the High course.

I have no fear of heights. None. Never have. I have more issues with the low trust exercises than I do with the high course. Which comes in handy when you’re also the smallest person in the group. I have no problem with being used to show rescue techniques. I was a little more nervous when they asked me to be on belay a much bigger person, but that was just because I didn’t want to screw up and get them hurt.

Climbing the pole at the start of the high course

Turns out a smaller person can belay a bigger one, you just need another person behind you to hold on to make sure you don’t go flying up in the air. I got about a foot in the air, but it was all good. I got him down on the ground safe and sound.

When it was my turn to go through the high course, they used me to demonstrate a rescue technique. On the first wire, which has ropes hanging down that are each spaced further apart they had me let go and fall so they could show that if a person wanted to stay on the wire and complete the course, you could hoist them back up onto it. It just takes a few people puling really hard.

After I got back up onto the wire and got to the first crows nest, it was onto the Burma wire. We had to hook onto the second line and let the first line go. Since we were the facilitators, we were doing all our own hooking and unhooking. The Burma wire has a central highwire, with two other wires that you hold onto to make it across to the second crowsnest.

reaching for the first vine

From there, it’s on to most people’s favourite, the zip line.

On Sunday, they had a team of athletes come out from the local university and we had out first day as official facilitators. We put them through some of the team building exercises. Then, they went to the high course. I stayed up on the crowsnest between Burma and the zip line. My job was to get them across Burma and re-hook them onto zip and talk them over the edge. I was surprised how comfortable most of the girls were. Only one of them was terrified. We’re not supposed to push people off the edge, as tempting as it is, because it’s challenge by choice. But I did ask her if she wanted to be pushed, and she said no. One of her team mates made it over to the nest, and we kept talking her through her fear. After about 10 minutes, I asked her again if she wanted a push. As soon as she started to say yes, I pushed before she could change her mind. Everyone heard her scream and they all looked at me. Her teammate yelled down it was ok, she heard her say yes to the push. She was still shaking when she got off the line, but after a few minutes she came back to encourage her teammates and let them know she was really glad she had done it. Sometimes in life the fear can be too great to do something, even though you rationally you know it’s safe. Sometimes you need a push, and there’s no shame is asking for it.

hanging on the wire waiting to be "rescued"
Hanging on the belay rope, getting "rescued"

After the team left, we went and did one last exercise, which unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of. It’s called the Leap of Faith. Basically, there’s 3 poles set up in a triangle. You have to climb one of them, and then basically jump off and try to tap a hanging rope between the other two poles. It’s called the Leap of Faith because you have to have faith that the person down below will hold the rope and not let you fall. I was good climbing up the pole, but trying to get both feet on top so I could stand to take the leap was hard. The pole wobbles, and trying to hoist yourself up with nothing to hold onto is hard. Its a telegraph pole, so the top isn’t that big. Just enough room for two small feet. It was the first high challenge that really pushed my boundaries and got my heart pounding. I finally got up there. Stood for a few seconds, eyeballed the rope to tap, and leaped out to hit it before plummeting to the ground. Obviously, since I’m writing this, I didn’t really plummet.

Almost to the end on the Burma wire

It was pretty awesome. My group had the rope and I swung back and forth a bit. The only real danger was swinging back and hitting the pole. They lowered me to the ground. Then, I got to belay for the others going up there.

We had a great weekend. Poor Matt is terrified of heights and he couldn’t bring himself to get up on the wire while a bunch of newbies were holding his belay. So he was in charge of the camera. 😉

Next I’d like to go do the COPE Director course. It’s a week long course out at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

Flying down the zip line. The Leap of Faith poles are to the left of me. You jump off one towards the middle of the other two.

If you ever get a chance to try a COPE course, go do it. It’s an awesome personal challenge.

You’ll find that you’re much stronger and braver than you think you are.