do your athletes have good expedition behavior?

written by Erica Quam

I just got back from a trip with N.O.L.S. (National Outdoor Leadership School) in the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington State. I was one of two instructors for what NOLS calls a 'Trip Leader Seminar'. We had a group of 10 students who ranged in age from 19 to 62. There were 4 women plus me, and 6 men plus our course leader, Dalio.

The thing I love about these trip leader courses is that most of the students genuinely want to lead an outdoor trip of some kind. Maybe it's for their university outdoor education program, for another outdoor school, for their church group, or even for their family and friends. As instructors, we're there to teach...but on this course we're also there to facilitate valuable conversations, share tips and ideas, and be open and transparent in what we're doing and why we're doing it so that they can soak everything up for their future trips.

This particular group was an outstanding group of students. I'm amazed at how quickly we get to know one another when we lock our cellphones away and go out into the woods. Lessons are learned much faster out there. Barriers are broken down more quickly. Life gets real pretty fast.

For this particular course, we were in the midst of some terrible wildfires that have been sweeping the west. We were even on our way to our trailhead when we were turned around by a sheriff - the highway ahead had just been closed and towns being evacuated. We went back to the branch to reroute the course to a safer location.

NOLS teaches a leadership framework that covers 4 key leadership roles, 7 main leadership skills, & 1 unique signature leadership style. One of the 7 skills we talk about within the leadership curriculum is expedition behavior (E.B.). For a backpacking course there are countless ways that you can demonstrate good E.B. 

Here are just a few:

  • Filling up water bottles for your hiking or cooking group when you go to fill yours
  • Packing up a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag for your teammate who went to go get breakfast started for you 
  • Having the tent set up and some hot water ready when the second group rolls into camp 
  • Offering to carry some weight for a hiking group member who is struggling on the uphill

Not everyone knows the term expedition behavior when they come on a NOLS course. To teach the skill, instructors model it - so students can see it. Then, we talk about it - so they can become more aware of it. Next, we have them practice it - so they can experience it. Finally, we teach how to give and receive feedback - so that people can improve it. Just like any other technical skill - expedition behavior is something that can be learned, developed, and improved upon for the overall health of your expedition.

Can you think of any examples of good expedition behavior from your team and your athletes in the front country?? Share what comes to mind for you in the comments below.

As you are about to embark on your seasons, you also have an expedition ahead of you. Do you have what you need to survive and thrive this year? Your goals may include getting everyone on the same page, working together towards common goals and a shared vision. You won't be traveling a predictable path to get to the end of the year. You'll have detours, challenges, obstacles, and hardships that you'll face along the way. You'll learn a lot. You'll get to know one another through the good times and you'll find some things to laugh about (hopefully) during the bad.

I hope you have an amazing journey this year!