Growing through “COPE”ing

On Saturday, November 9th, six youth members and two adults traveled to Camp Lewis in IMGP6832Rockaway Township, NJ.

Setting up camp after sunset proved interesting with headlamps, flashlights and lanterns, but we soon had a fire going to cut the increasing chill of the evening. Dinner was quickly prepared over the fire in a “dutch oven” where chili and large biscuits filled everyone with a hot meal. Dessert included an eclectic mix of pudding cups, fruit cups, apples and hot cocoa.

Our Senior Patrol Leader arrived by special delivery and we helped him stow his gear.

IMGP6829 IMGP6841Soon, all were camped in their tents with extra blankets and liners to combat the forecasted low of 34 degrees at sunrise.

Morning reveille came early for our troop at 0600 since we needed to break camp, eat breakfast, make lunches and get our gear stowed before 0745.

Breakfast consisted of yogurt, applesauce, bagels, OJ and hot cocoa. Lunch was “make your own” turkey and cheese sandwiches, granola bars, chocolate bars, fruit cups, pudding cups, and apples.

We got our gear stowed and the car moved to the public parking lot just in time to get to the COPE course – the main event of our trip.

IMGP6852COPE is an acronym for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. It consists of group initiative games, trust events, low-course events, and high-course events. Some activities involve a group challenge, while others develop individual skills and agility. Participants climb, swing, balance, jump, rappel, and devise solutions to a variety of problems.

IMGP6920The COPE program emphasizes eight major principles: communication, planning, trust, teamwork, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-esteem.

The concept of ‘challenge by choice’ encourages each person to participate fully while maintaining the right to ‘opt-out’ of any individual part of the program.

Games introduce teamwork concepts while also serving as warm-up exercises. Trust events further the teamwork development while also developing risk-taking from low to higher levels.

Low elements can include a wall, spider web, and other cable and rope combinations that involve teamwork relatively close to the ground. High elements are generally individual events involving climbing to heights of 20-30 feet, IMGP6900crossing cables, etc. Each element — low or high — is carefully spotted or belayed to minimize danger while still challenging the individuals to challenge personal levels of risk-taking.

When we arrived at the course, we started with a safety briefing and got into a ‘name game’ to break the ice between instructors and participants. Wayne Neyman, a COPE director and Dennis Ng, a COPE instructor were our guides through the program. Both scouters were fantastic to work with and provided clear direction and patient support of the team.

After the name game, we moved to the “Trolley Exercise”. The “trolley” was a pair of wood beams with rope straps. Seven scouts needed to use the trolley to cross an imaginary river. If they fell off the trolley, they’d have to start from stratch. It’s not easy to coordinate seven people trying to walk in unison. However, it’s more difficult when no one can speak – only whistle, grunt (IGGA!) or use hand gestures. Here’s a video of a five person trolley (that we randomly discovered on Youtube)

Our team managed to get halfway across when they were given permission for one, then a second scout to talk. This helped until two people fell into the river! Those two had to continue the exercise facing the opposite direction from the rest of the team – now trying to shout “left foot” or “right foot” became confusing since some of the team were walking backwards.

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Of course, they made it across; however, the point wasn’t to frustrate, but to set the stage for a very energetic conversation about what went well and what could have gone much better IF the eight principles of COPE had been more effectively used.

IMGP6858Next up, we had four scouts stand on a balance beam facing the distant end, and three at the opposite end facing the first four scouts – they have to move forward and pass each other to get to their respective finish points. How? It was very interesting since anyone who steps off the balance beam must start over at the back of the pack. Again, the point was to learn from the exercise how to better apply the principles of COPE — communication, planning, trust, teamwork, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-esteem – to get a stronger result on future challenges.

IMGP6865We continued into the woods and found the porthole exercise – getting all team members through the porthole without resting on it or using it for leverage (we pretended that it was ripped/jagged metal that would cut us).

Our team did well until we realized that we had left our shortest member alone on the sinking ship and no mechanism to easily lift him through the opening. Ooops. Sorry, Josiah!

IMGP6874Next came the most challenging event of the day – island hopping in a pool of lava. SPL Tristan was quick to figure out some of the tricks to conquering the challenge, but was bitten by a hypothetical “tse-tse fly” and couldn’t speak anymore (except to grunt the word “IGGA”) – this put the leadership burden on the rest of the team.

IMGP6882So, the entire team needs to be rescued from the pool of lava, but the helicopters can only get us from the far island. We can’t jump from one to the other island, but can use two boards to connect islands or put us close enough to step from the board to the island. Oh, two little details – the final islands are too far apart for the beam to reach, and the last island is only ten inches square and has to support all seven team members. Hmmm. It’s a secret (IGGA!)

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Moving to the Whale Watch exercise, our team struggled to get everyone across a see-saw IMGP6886platform without banging the platform into the ground. Again, a lack of pre-planning, limited teamwork and such made the exercise frustrating. During the debriefing, one of the instructors challenged the team – do you think you could do better if you tried again right now? The team felt they could (IGGA!) and managed to do the same exercise in a minimum of time and without the problems they had previously encountered. The main difference was a discussion prior to anyone mounting the platform, and getting everyone involved in the process from start to finish.

Re-doing this exercise changed everyone’s attitude and made for a much more fun and productive set of events that followed.

IMGP6895Next up, we had to cross over the water wheel – a freely turning cable spool that was mounted well up off the ground. We had to devise a way to pass team members up onto the spool, keep it from turning, and let them get turned around to drop (or be lowered) to the ground feet-first. All went well until the celebratory “high-fives” were interrupted by the instructors with this question “Why do you think you’re done? You’ve left your scoutmaster behind! You need to get him over the water wheel, too!” With a wink and a nod, I had suddenly become a new challenge IMGP6891to our team. Fortunately, I managed to get over the wheel with the help of our team (I had been on the sidelines up til now to take pictures and cheer support of the younger scouts.)

Down the hill and across the field was the “giant’s finger and ring” – a 12 foot tall phone pole stuck in the ground with a truck tire around its base. The team needed to get the tire off of the pole (aka ring off of the finger) and then put it back. Naturally, it called for planning, trust, teamwork, and strong backs.

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IMGP6918After a series of trust exercises, we were led to the ultimate trust exercise – the backwards free fall from a platform into the waiting hands and arms of our teammates. One by one, each scout got to take the dreaded plunge. At the end we even did a “double trust fall” where one scout laid on the ground under our hands/arms as another scout plunged from above – a failure would mean both boys got smushed! (IGGA!)

A quick drive through the “traffic jam” game got us to our lunches while the COPE instructors got the climbing tower prepared for our high ropes course.

IMGP6938Of course, as soon as we were geared up and ready for climbing and belay duty, it started raining! Scouting is an all-weather adventure so we climbed in the rain, but the cold wind took the energy out of us quickly and for those standing around waiting for a turn it was a little boring. Ultimately, everyone had a chance to climb and rappel. By the time the gear was put away, the sun came out!

To finish the day we did a spider web challenge and simple “get the team across the high bar” exercise (including Scoutmaster Farrell on both of those!)

At our final debriefing of the day, we got to work with the IMGP6944“helium stick” as a group, and while it was cold and damp, we had a blast. I can’t recommend COPE for team building enough!

There are over 130 pictures at our troop photo share site — lots of action shots!

Sadly, this was likely our last overnight-er as a BSA-branded unit since most of our families are committed to moving to Trail Life USA sometime in the New Year.

Oh, we made a new “friend” during the event, too:

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About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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