Gone Outdoors

How to Design Obstacle Courses

by Jacob Reis

The thrill of using various problem solving methods combined with a test of physical endurance has thrilled toddlers and soldiers alike since obstacle courses were invented. Obstacle courses have been used to help children develop motor skills and to help police officers and military personnel build strength and courage. Whatever your audience or motivation, the design of the obstacle course is always an integral part of the activity. Designing an obstacle course yourself is inexpensive and can be fun.

Decide on an area that you want to use for the obstacle course. The area does not have to be large. Different terrain can add unique benefits and challenges.

Note the dimensions of the area that you've chosen on your paper. Make sure to design everything on a scale so that you don't encounter spacing issues down the road.

Draw in obstacles on your sheet. Keep in mind the age and ability of the people who will be running the course. A toddler will require obstacles very different from those of a teenager or a physically trained adult. Good obstacles should test the person physically and/or mentally. Something that can be done easily/mindlessly should not be included.

Design each obstacle to be different from the previous one. A good rule is to have one obstacle for each type of training you want to accomplish. Children should have stations that test different areas of development, such as spatial awareness, putting objects in order, etc. whereas adults may need one station to work each muscle group.

Eliminate any overtly dangerous obstacles from the course design. The obstacles should test a person, not hurt them. Many obstacles can be physically challenging without being dangerous. When in doubt, go with the safer choice.

Put the obstacles in such an order that there is never a question as to where the person should go next. Add in rope barriers or use a number system to denote the location of the next obstacle if needed.

Save the hardest obstacle for last. This will create a more rewarding experience for the person finishing the course, and will really test physical and/or mental endurance.

Build your obstacles out of sturdy, safe material. Insure that any rising structure is properly anchored. Test each obstacle yourself to affirm the safety. If the course is designed for kids, look out for choking hazards or sharp corners that they could fall on. If it's for older kids or adults, watch for falling hazards.

Paint the number of the obstacle on each new station, if necessary. This will help a person move more quickly through the course. You can also paint other designs, such as camouflage or superheroes on the designs to motivate your audience.

Have people run the course. Don't let the next person start until the previous first person is a few stations in. However, if you are doing timed laps, let one person run the course to completion before the next person is allowed to go. Make sure to specify exactly when to begin and when the timer will stop.

Change the design of the course before the next time people run it. This will add an element of adventure or interest and prevent your child or group from learning the course by rote.

Items you will need
  • Paper and pen
  • Building materials, depending on obstacles
  • Stopwatch

Tips

  • Use your creativity and imagination when designing.
  • Use themes like "Escape from Alcatraz" or "Chase the Leprechaun" or something to make it more interesting.

Warnings

  • Make sure you have the proper building permits for your area if you plan to construct any large obstacles.
  • If a dangerous situation occurs with the equipment, stop the course immediately and repair the damage before anyone is allowed to continue.

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