Leahy Associates, Inc.

Each time she stepped away from the pole, she returned without even taking a breath. Start...stop...start...stop. Participants on the ground shouted up words of encouragement: "You can do it! Just take a step...look at the goal...don't look down...you just need to..."

I don't think she could even hear them. And her face; it looked different, distant…in pain.
I just didn't know what to do, how to help her or whether she was in any real danger?
When she finally came down, all she could talk about was her failure.

All I could think of was my own.

The Element of Choice©

An experiential journey into the incredible complexity of choice

Learning on a challenge course is a metaphor about the incredible complexity of choice. It is about finding a voice in the midst of a challenge and team. It is about discovering the transformative meaning and deep complexity of all those words we throw around so freely: trust, confidence, success, choice, participation, encourage, support...and a few words we seem to avoid at all costs: fear, failure, coercion, force, embarrassment and humiliation.

Elements of Choice

The Element of Choice© is a journey to discover how we make choices and when we let others or situations choose for us. This 20-hour workshop explores the complexity of choice, goal setting, communication and supportive team relationships. Together we will explore a model for teaching choice and goal setting experientially and the real implications of the lack of true choice in our programs.

The philosophy of "participation by choice" has been used for years in the challenge course industry in an attempt to remove the external pressure for participants to perform in the midst of perceived or imposed expectations. Often, in these situations, participants do not perceive they have a choice and inadvertently go beyond their own real physical and emotional limitations. This has resulted in great physiological / emotional exposure for the participant. The failure of programs to teach the concept of choice results in an incredible lost opportunity to greatly impact the lives of so many people. Simply promising choice as a disclaimer during a program is not enough. Adapting our approach to low and high elements may well ensure that every participant leaves our programs feeling not only successful, but also equipped with tools that actually work effectively in real life.

The Element of Choice© coaches facilitators and therapists to the depths of facilitation of risk elements and encourages them to see beyond the all too often ineffective promises of "participation by choice". It brings them to the wisdom that the learning is not just in the climbing, in reaching the top or in getting to the end. Learning is internal for each participant and it must respond to the very real challenges that they face in life.

The Element of Choice© is a powerful experiential lesson that provides facilitators with an incredible set of tools to work with a range of participants. From the timid and non-physical to bold and over powering peers. This material is a collection of 25 years of lessons around my failures and successes in using the low and high challenge course as a tool for growth.

The Element of Choice© will forever change your view of challenge, choice, setting goals and encouraging others.

The Element of Choice© Content

Setting Goals:

  • a demonstration of three types of goals at work in the minds and hearts of participants
  • the relationship between and effective balance of task vs. process
  • develop the skill of choice for the individual and the team
  • develop voice as a tool for choice
  • develop boundaries and permission for participant experience
  • build a conscious path to confidence

Team and Participant Interactions:

  • involve non-climbing participants in more than just holding the rope and ladder
  • help participants to see the validity of the very different choices made by others
  • prevent mis-assessments of the goals of others from creating coercive coaching

Teaching Choice Experientially:

  • a meaningful transition from low elements to high elements
  • a powerful yet simple experiential model for teaching choice
  • a process that celebrates the choice of each participant and leaves them feeling successful
  • create a simple facilitated ceremony that engages participants in the choices of others
  • bring choice to a number of traditionally low elements that have become "elements of failure" for certain types of participants
  • wonderful real-life stories about individuals learning to choose

Dealing With Fear:

  • coaching techniques that provide clear encouragement and avoid well intended coercion
  • when and how to allow a participant to "retreat" while moving towards success
  • the Four F's of when fear is a block to a goal

Recognizing Trouble:

  • body and mind in conflict
  • effective and simple medical screening than non-medical people can conduct that will tremendously reduce the possibility of a tragedy on your course
  • develop accurate assessment skills and tools for "in the moment" facilitation


  • the emotional rescue
  • convert the "victim" into a self-rescuer
  • slay the dragons of self doubt and perceived failure

Please Note: Physical rescues are NOT covered in this workshop. However, this workshop will make the occurrence of physical rescues drop significantly.

20 Hours
Trainer: Tom Leahy
Workshop Fee: $425 (does not include meals or lodging)
Early Bird: $325 (with 30-day advanced purchase)

"Opens your mind to higher level thinking and self-reflection." —J.B., Missouri

"I see application everywhere…not just on a challenge course. I can empower others to consider their own choices and decisions." —S.L., Washington

"I will honor the importance of choice and the various stages a group goes through to achieve individual choice." —B.B., Missouri

"A challenge course offers more than just a physical challenge." —L.L., Oregon

"You have to learn about yourself and learn who you are before you can help others learnand grow. THIS workshop will help you learn about YOU." —C.H., Missouri

Leahy & Associates, Inc. • 7013 Roaring Fork Trail • Boulder, Colorado 80301 USA
phone: 303-673-9832 • fax: 303-604-1901      © 2017 Leahy & Associates, Inc.
Photo credits: Michael Peterson, Jeff Chow, Rick Thompson, Paul Cummings, and Tom Leahy.