Learning Life’s Lessons as a Facilitator

ErinRose CarrErinRose Carr is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University, double majoring in Marketing Management and Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises in the Whitman School of Management. A native of Northern New Jersey, she hopes to work as a large scale athletic events coordinator. ErinRose has been involved with Recreation Services since her first day on campus. She attended the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (LOOP) and began working as a trip leader that fall. Since then, she has completed her training on the challenge course and has become a supervisor for both outdoor adventure trips and challenge course programs. ErinRose currently supervises a wide array of programs, assists with interviewing and training new student staff members and recently has been working on our marketing campaign. In addition to working at Recreation Services, she currently works as a personal trainer at SU, is the Associate Captain for the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team and works as an intern for a North Jersey based mud run company.



I have been involved with Recreation Services since the day I arrived to Syracuse University. I attended the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (L.O.O.P.) for incoming freshmen, where the orientation leaders told us about all the opportunities for SU students to be involved with Recreation Services. I began working as a trip leader three weeks into my freshman year. That following spring, Scott, the Associate Director of Outdoor Education and Student Development, and Lauren, the Program Coordinator for Outdoor Education, recommended that I be trained to work on the outdoor and indoor ropes course. To be honest, I was a little hesitant. By no means am I afraid of heights or being on a ropes course. However, I was very nervous about learning the skills necessary to become a successful facilitator. With training, time and practice, I began to learn many of the skills that our most successful challenge course facilitators possess both on and off the challenge course.

Cooperation and Teamwork

Though we as staff members are not participants, we still must employ teamwork every time we step onto the course. Whether it be preparing for a program, performing zip exits with another facilitator, or working with our groups, it is vital for us to work together as a team. We work as a well oiled machine because of our constant practice at working as a team. We as individual facilitators all have differing styles in the way we work with groups, which is effected by our personalities, mannerisms and our level of experience. However, though our style is consistent the exact way we facilitate does not stand constant with each group because no two groups of participants on the course are alike. Therefore, we cannot facilitate any two groups the exact same way. For this reason, we often have to adapt the way we explain an element as well as its level of difficulty that we give a group. Different groups, due to their composition and social structure, respond to different things in different ways.

While working with a group on the course, our number one goal as facilitators is to improve the group’s communication. We strive to get them to be more familiar with each other and more comfortable trusting one another. This goes for groups of college students, middle or high school aged students and even corporate groups. We as facilitators, through practice and experience have learned the recipe for ropes course success. With time and patience, facilitators are able to work with groups and help guide them to success. By success, I do not necessarily mean successfully completing an element at its highest difficulty, even though that is an accomplishment within itself. I mean that our groups achieve the goal of communication and teamwork while working through an element.

However, our goal does not simply end when our group leaves the challenge course. Though we are no longer present when they leave us, we want the experience we provided to them on the course to transition into their work or class environment and into their personal lives. We want to better our participants as communicators, team players, and leaders and help them bring the skills that they used on the course to be successful or work as a team, into their day to day lives to benefit themselves and the group they participated with.

Listening and Interpreting

Since I began working on the challenge course, I have realized how important body language is. For example, if a participant is scared of heights, they often do not vocalize their fear. When someone is scared they often fixate on an object located on one of the platforms, the facilitator, another participant or they stare at the ground. We as facilitators have become adept at recognizing these internalized emotions and responding to them by adjusting our method of facilitation.

Listening to our groups and interpreting their body language helps us, as facilitators, to become more aware of a participant’s uneasiness even when they are not vocalizing their feelings. It is important for us to remember that even though a participant may not say “they need help,” they sometimes do need help.  It is important for us to listen to what all our participants communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, as it may have an impact on how the group performs.

Problem Solving

Facilitators must often do some problem solving to determine the best tactics for a particular group. With our various groups, we have to put time and effort into coming up with the best plan for them to achieve their goals. However, we cannot always do it ahead of time because, like I mentioned earlier, no two groups are alike. We as facilitators often guide the dialogue that occurs among the group which can help them to solve problems on the course as a team. We can determine how easy or difficult a task is for them by offering them subtle hints or very specific instructions.


When I first began working on the challenge course, I was under the common misconception that the only purpose was for participants to challenge themselves, whether that be by just getting up on the course or by completing a difficult group task. However, there is more involved in our facilitation strategy. The premise of the way we run the SU challenge course is to have our groups work as a team, whether it be to introduce them to one another, to help them to work together or to help them resolve their differences. Participants often go through the five phases of group development; forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. When a group is going through these phases they often struggle and require extended time to complete a task. Although this is sometimes hard to watch, a group’s struggles can make for a sweeter success. Struggles allow a group more room to talk and discuss a process rather then coming to a quick conclusion and successfully completing an element. When a group struggles they must take time and listen to their group members in order to come up with a solution which is one of the best ways, if not the best way that helps guide a groups growth while being on the course.


Even though I have only been a challenge course facilitator for less then a year, I have already noticed that I have grown both personally and professionally in all of the facets I have discussed in this post. Being a challenge course facilitator allows you to experience moments that you would not experience without this job. It allows you to witness success and struggle and be able to lead a group and aid them. Being a facilitator has by far been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I love being able to throw my facilitator shirt in the laundry when I get home after a program and know that I have helped a group, whether it was just to help them get to know each other better, or to resolve personal or professional differences, but I always leave the course knowing that I have been able to leave a mark on the group that I facilitated.

Written by: ErinRose Carr