We all have that friend who might need a little encouragement to do something they’re a little worried about. Or something that scares them. Like leading an expired pitch, or dropping into a couloir they haven’t been on before, or rowing a rapid with a reputation for flipping boats, or riding a technical trail famous for breaking bikes and bones. And many times we are the friend who needs the encouragement.

Sometimes that encouragement requires a tool called “sandbagging,” where a friend convinces a worried friend to do the thing that scares them by making it seem easier than it really is. Sandbagging isn’t quite a lie, but not quite the truth, and in the end, one friend is satisfied that he/she helped the concerned friend “push their limits,” and the previously apprehensive friend is…well, reactions vary , really.

Sandbagging occurs when two friends have different perceptions of the less experienced friend’s abilities, and the more experienced friend wants the less experienced friend to explore their personal abilities through a formative experience. Sandbagging can be challenging at one end of the spectrum and terrifying and deeply emotionally damaging at the other. This is how it often works:

Phase 1: Doubt
Friend #1 believes that their skill in a sport is not sufficient for a particular goal (example: riding the Portal Trail, leading the center lane of The Naked Edge, rowing Lava Falls). Friend #2 believes that Friend #1’s skills are sufficient and the only thing really lacking is confidence.

Phase 2: Sales pitch
This is where Friend #2 tries to provide the appropriate confidence, using a series of tactics to convince Friend #1 that the impossible is possible. Friend #2 minimizes the danger or uncertainty by saying things like “Just relax,” “There’s a short technical section, but other than that it’s easy,” “You don’t need a #4 Camalot for this pitch,” “If you can follow it, you can lead it,” and many other phrases, usually including the Ultimate Sandbag Axiom, which is “You’ll Be Fine.” The key here is to push the sale, gently but firmly.

Step 3: Engagement
When friend #2 says “You’ll make it,” friend #1 only needs to believe it 51%. Friend #1 just needs enough confidence to do what they need but may not think they will: to gather and tie in the rope, clip his/her pedals and fall in, grab the oars and pull the boat into the rope. present, or purchase the plane tickets, or take the irreversible first step necessary for a memorable and formative experience. Friend #2 either needs a) only a 70-80% belief that Friend #1 can do what they need, but may not believe they will, or b) only a 49% believe they should remain friends with friend #1 .

Phase 4: The result
After friend #1 decides to step into the void, march toward their fears, or plunge into the often terrifying river of personal growth, a number of outcomes are possible, both positive and negative. Unscientific estimates put the success rate of sandbagging in the 75% range, but are only anecdotal. In the case of sandbag failures, negative outcomes such as broken bones, broken bike components, swearing from climbing for the rest of your life, and embarrassing public breaks are possible. (It is important to note here that sandbagging in romantic relationships is extremely risky and often disastrous, and should only be attempted with extreme caution, if at all.) On the positive side, personal boundaries are often shattered, climbing careers are begun, Facebook profile photos are taken and astronomical leaps in personal growth can occur.

Sometimes, but not always, a friendship will survive a sandbag. The odds of this vary greatly based on many factors, including the age of the friendship, the audacity of the sandbagging, the respective emotional stability of the two friends involved, each person’s understanding of the value of intense experiences, and the amount of physical and emotional damage resulting from the fallout of the sandbagging . It’s important to weigh these factors to the best of your ability before actually sandbagging a close friend.

A good rule of thumb is: if your friend can’t survive your sandbag, your friendship won’t survive it either.

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