Friday Lesson: Balance Challenge Activity

Courtesy of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez|

One of the great things about teaching is that sometimes your students present you with an unexpected gift. That is exactly the case with Balance Challenge. We were teaching a class at the University of Hawaii School of Social Work when one of our students, Warren, invented this activity. His intent was to use it to help a classmate explore the stress she was experiencing from “balancing” so many tasks every single day of her life. It has become a welcome addition to our repertoire of adventure-based family activities but is also useful with groups of any kind. We hope you enjoy it as well.

Activity: Balance Challenge

General Purpose: identifying strengths/resources, providing support

• Setting: Large indoor space (20- by 20-foot room or larger would be ideal) or outdoors
• Number of people: accommodates any size family: larger group = larger space needed
• Supplies: A 30-foot piece of rope or webbing to make an inner circle, a longer rope to make an outer circle, one 12- to 18-inch piece of wooden molding or PVC tubing cut in half for each participant, an assortment of balls (at least 1 per participant), 1 long piece of webbing/rope per participant, paper and pens/pencils.

Balance Challenge Diagram

Balance Challenge Diagram

Set two concentric circles on the floor using rope or webbing – generally about 12 feet apart. Invite participants to write down family strengths or resources on pieces of paper or note cards and then place these papers between the two concentric circles. Once completed, create “designated paths” with lengths of different colored webbing laid in-between the pieces of paper stretching from the outer to the inner concentric circle (see diagram). Some of the paths may go straight through the outer circle to the inner circle; while other paths may meander around the in-between space crossing other paths requiring interaction with other participants to negotiate successfully. Challenge the participants to collect all the strengths and resources and bring them into the inner circle as they walk along the designated paths while balancing a ball (marble, tennis ball, ping pong ball, or yarn ball) on a transport tube (12-24 inch piece of PVC tubing cut in half lengthwise, or equivalent). They can do this one at a time or all at the same time. Discuss and agree on what the consequences will be if a ball falls off or if people step off their designated path (e.g., moving back to the outer boundary, loosing a resource, having to walk backwards).

Potential Themes or Metaphors for Learning
• Pathways: This activity seems to elicit a great deal of information related to the “path” that individual family members utilize as well as how the pattern of the pathways creates a metaphor of functioning within the family system. Potential questions: How were the paths chosen or assigned to individuals? How did this influence your experience or success? How was this pathway similar to or different from what is typical for you? …to expectations by other family members?
• Support: Who, what, where, why, and how family members received support are all useful questions in this activity. Don’t forget to attend to the issue of whether family members were willing to accept support that was offered along the way.
• Sabotage: We have had very meaningful discussions of situations involving one family member deliberately interfering with someone’s progress toward the inner circle. It usually starts as “goofing around” and morphs into something more dynamic and relevant to the family’s initial request for services.

Clinical and Activity Specific Considerations
• Age Range: Accommodations for family members’ ability to read and write may need to be made in this activity. Using family members to assist non-readers/writers is a nice touch.
• Cultural Considerations: The framing of this activity around utilizing family strengths is a central aspect of the facilitation. It is the family’s perspective of what constitutes a strength and resource that matters, opposed to what the therapist thinks the family “should” value.
• Personal Space: In general, this activity does not infringe on the personal space of individual family members. Setting up the “designated paths” so that family members have to cross one another and interact physically increases the level of interaction required and may involve some issues related to family members’ awareness of personal space and boundaries.
• Emotional and Physical Safety: Physical risk is low in this activity. However, frustration at one person dropping his/her ball and the resulting tendency to blame or ridicule that individual is something that the therapist may need to manage.
• Skills: This activity requires fairly good communication skills to create a comprehensive set of family strengths and resources. It also requires a great deal of physical coordination and overall motor skills to walk on the webbing paths while balancing the ball and bending down to pick up the family resources along the way.
• Family Engagement: The introduction of the activity involving identification of strengths and resources requires that most of the family members have engaged positively in the overall concept of family treatment and the need to reflect on the functioning of their family unit. The activity itself is engaging and tends to easily pull resistant family members into the experience.
• Sequencing: Generally this activity is useful in the middle to later phases of treatment after there has been some exposure to experiential activities and they are able to identify and own their strengths or resources. If the facilitator assists the family in naming their strengths, it is most effective to remind them of previous activities where strengths were demonstrated and encourage them to come up with the words themselves opposed to telling them directly.
• Multi-Family Adaptation: This activity adapts extremely well to multi family use. The larger the group; the larger the circles and space in-between. The adaptation of some sort of tagging (described in the section below) has been very effective in this context.
• Additional Adaptation Ideas:
• Introduce an element of “getting tagged” or obstacles. Place objects over the “designated paths” that family have to travel, and/or allow one family member to throw foam pieces (“hamburgers”) at other family members. This adaptation invariably seems to give rise to issues of how easy it is to focus completely on the problems in life rather than the solutions. Some family members have literally stated that they were more focused on avoiding the obstacle than they were on reaching their goal. The application to everyday family functioning from these experiences has been rich.
• Allow individuals to set their own pathway or ask the parents to set the pathways. This adds to the credibility family members give to issues that arise during the action.
• Try the activity more than once with different adaptations. For example, first have Mom sets the pathways; second, attempt everyone setting their own pathways; and third, attempt the family setting up the ideal pathway system.
• To increase or decrease the level of difficulty (as well as frustration), change the type of ball to be used. Ping Pong balls will bounce around EVERYWHERE and interfere with everyone’s progress, marbles will drop and stay in one general area, while yarn balls are easier to maintain on the balance sticks.

This lesson is compliments of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez. To find more information and to contact the authors, please visit:

Thanks for joining us in February, 2010 for Friday Lessons. Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez are the coauthors of The Power of One.

One Response to “Friday Lesson: Balance Challenge Activity”

  1. bill iannuzzi says:

    i work at a camp specifically design for low-income, at risk kids. we typically operate 9 weeks of camp at no charge to the kids and no charge to the church that sponsors the kids. our philosophy is trying to get the church to get outside the 4 walls and embrace culture. we use experiential learning techniques everyday with the teens fro0m 2-3 hours in the morning. I am always looking for ways, ideas to engage people in intentional conversation. I appreciate these tidbits to instill other ideas that i am not presently using. thanks for that. if you have other free resourses or resourses in general that could help me be a better facilitator I am all ears. thanks for your time. sincerely, bill iannuzzi

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