Which skills do Club bushwalk leaders sometimes lack? Why is there often a Club "anti-training" culture?Over the years I have walked with many different bushwalk leaders and from each I have learnt new bushwalking skills. Sometimes I have noticed contradictions, but there is rarely the opportunity to question and if there is, it is sometimes difficult not to offend, appear to challenge the status quo or appear critical.
Formal bushwalk training, undertaken through organisations such as Bushwalking Leadership SA, actually encourages and expects participants to ask questions. The presenters welcome people challenging their ideas and because of their active involvement in leadership training are aware of differences in techniques and are able to offer alternatives, based on their own experience and that of others.
In my experience, many Club leaders sometimes have limited skills in group management and don't see there is any need to develop them. They often believe that they are leading a group of peers who are able to look after themselves. They fail to recognise that most Club walks have new members who need to be made welcome and integrated into the group if they are to remain Club members. They fail to recognise that often walks have "dependents", who despite their maturity, are inexperienced in terms of bushwalking skills and need to be actively "supported". They often fail to accept, that as the "leader", their personal needs become subservient to the group as a whole.
Have you ever walked in a group where the leader is at the front, sometimes a long way in front, and is oblivious to the needs of the unfit "newbies" struggling at the back, with their overweight packs? If they are aware, have they offered to redistribute equipment so the group as a whole can make more rapid progress? Have you often worried, as "tail-end-charlie", which way the group has gone at the intersection and wondered why the leader didn't wait until everyone had arrived before moving off. Have you ever arrived last at a group break and found that instead of the 10 minutes everyone else got, that you got just 3 mins?
Have you ever watched an inexperienced or unskilled leader waiting for the group to assemble at the predetermined start time? How do they treat the "new member" who has failed to allocate sufficient time in the morning to get gear packed, have breakfast and attend to personal hygiene? Do they offer to help personally, assign someone who is already packed to help or do they stand there impatiently and then make comments about the "regrettable" late start?
Risk management skills are often intuitive among bushwalk leaders. They have often learnt over many years, usually by trial-and-error, what dangers there are in particular locations and at particular times of the year. This works fine provided they don't venture outside of their "known world", but do they have the knowledge and skills to cope if the circumstances fall outside their personal experience?
Some Club bushwalk leaders would see any attempt to encourage them to attend training courses as a criticism of their leadership credentials and therefore a personal attack. Some are blissfully unaware of the potential risks of their leadership style while others would see their attendance at a training course as an admission that they have something still to learn and a reflection on their status as a "Club elder".
Fortunately, there are many others who see their bushwalking "careers" as a continual learning experience, who are open to new ideas and are aware of their role and obligations as bushwalk leaders.
The task is to convince the less enthusiastic leaders that there are still things to learn which will make Club walks more enjoyable for everyone.
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