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Inside CSULB
Vol 57 No. 19 : December, 2005
Vol 57 No. 19 | December, 2005
OutBAC Tests Trust, Builds Teamwork

The OutBAC

Members of CSULB’s Student Life and Development office on the OutBAC course.

Jeff Kress visits The OutBAC just about every day. Of course, it’s not the one in Australia, but rather the one that exists on the north side of the CSULB campus.
To the casual observer, The Outdoor Beach Adventure Course (OutBAC) may look like just a bunch of ropes and treated logs strung together for kids to play on.

To Kress, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, it’s much more than that. He hesitates to liken it to an obstacle course, but the comparison is inevitable. After all, it does have “obstacles” with challenging names such as the Spider Web, the Nito Crossing and the Wall. And even though it can be fun, The OutBAC, is designed to offer a variety of challenging activities to develop teamwork, as well as problem-solving and leadership skills.

“This course is used really for work development, for cohesion, for developing trust, leadership skills and cooperation skills,” said Kress, who oversees The OutBAC and facilitates group activities. “We really work on developing a lot of empathy out there, where we try to put participants in each other’s shoes.”

The OutBAC’s main thrust is to aid in the development of leaders and to promote personal growth through experiential education, not just at CSULB, but surrounding communities as well. It’s perfect for serving athletic teams, but Kress says it is an ideal way for corporations to team build, which in turn can benefit their bottom line.

As a graduate student at the University of Kansas, Kress was in charge of a similar course. That course, however, covered approximately 220 acres, while at CSULB he is limited to approximately four.

“At Kansas we had athletic teams, fraternities, sororities, church groups, local clubs, business groups come out and we had about 22 initiatives (tasks) to work with,” he said. “Here, we have less space, but we can do more. There are literally a myriad of activities we can do out there.”

Kress noted that by taking individuals away from their comfortable surroundings, often times there is a role reversal where those who are normally followers become leaders and visa versa.

“What this does is takes them out of their natural space,” said Kress. “It’s quite different than being in an office environment, a basketball court or a football or baseball field. What we found is that people, who are normally followers tend to step up more and as a result of this experience, they all have more respect for one another other.”

Right now, The OutBAC is what is called a “low ropes” course, meaning it is set up relatively close to the ground. A “high ropes” course, which Kress hopes to develop, is typically 20-60 feet off the ground and though it sounds dangerous, he says statistics prove otherwise.

“It’s fascinating because you’d think there would be a high risk involved,” said Kress, “but they’ve done 20-year safety studies on this and it’s far safer than soccer, if you look at incidents per capita. It’s just amazing at how few incidents there are using this versus your traditional sports.”

That is not to say that there can’t be an occasional problem. “The problem with the high ropes, specifically, is when there is a problem, a malfunction, it is generally catastrophic,” said Kress. “When you are 20 feet up or higher, there is very little forgiving of the ground.”

He added, however, that participants are securely harnessed and the industry has really monitored itself in such a way that everybody is extremely safety conscious and very aware of what’s going on.

Those interested in securing The OutBAC for group outings can contact Kress at 562/985-8762, by e-mail at jkress@csulb.edu or by visiting its Web site at www.csulb.edu/projects/outbac/.

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