One of my assistant Scoutmasters told me that it used to be like “pulling teeth” to get his twin boys to get on their uniform and get ready for our troop meeting each week. Then, when the Scouts started running things, he came home from work one night and his sons were already in their uniform and ready to go. He asked them what happened and they said, “Scouting is fun!”
What made the difference? The genius of Scouting is that it taps into the innate desire of every boy to try out new things, test his skills, and become independent. Baden Powell knew that boys by nature wanted to hang out in “gangs,” or small groups of boys around their own age. Think of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn building a raft and floating down the Mississippi River. Think of young boys all over America wanting to build a tree house and have their own club. Independence and having fun were at the heart of things.
Instead of seeing the evils in this “gang” mentality, Baden Powell saw in it a way of developing character. Scouting takes these natural tendencies and gives them a purpose for good that, at times, goes almost unnoticed by the boys. Even young men who may not have yet caught the vision of the Scout Oath and Scout Law are attracted to Scouting because it offers them the resources to do things they want to do with their friends.
There is no doubt that Scouts are attracted to pure forms of entertainment such as video games and even the adrenaline rush of doing something they know they are not supposed to do. But at its core, it is not evil they are attracted to. They love a challenge, an adventure, and learning new things. They are beginning to “feel their oats.”
I remember asking one of my Scouts once why he liked to go on our campouts. His response was: “Because my parents aren’t here.” This is no criticism of this Scout’s parents. This young man came from a wonderful family with loving and caring parents and he loved them. What he was expressing was not a dislike of his parents but a desire to be on his own. He was not old enough to be totally on his own, but he was old enough to begin to learn what it will be like to be on his own, while still under the gentle supervision of adults (other than his parents). A Boy Scout campout is the ideal setting for him to begin learning what it will be like to be on his own.
Before he realizes it, this young man will leave his parents and family for a mission, then college, a temple marriage, and raising a family of his own. When he walks out the door on one of these serious adventures, when he is truly on his own, it is too late for us to teach him how to be independent.
As a bishop, I remember speaking with another bishop at a BYU ward about some of my former priests who were in this bishop’s ward. All of them were preparing to go on missions. The BYU bishop informed me that some of these young men, who all came from fine families, were not regularly attending their Church meetings on Sunday. I don’t think they were delinquent because of a rebellious spirit, they just had never really learned what it was like to be independent before they left home.
As adults, our job is to train Scouts in the rules of the game of Scouting. Then we must have the humility and trust them enough to get out of their way and let them play their game. And it really is their game, not our game. The sooner we learn that one simple lesson, the better. We need to avoid the temptation to step in, take control, and make it our game.
To avoid this temptation, I suggest we carefully read, ponder, and pray about how this priesthood principle might apply to us in our callings in Scouting: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).
To align ourselves with the few who are “chosen,” we need to resist this temptation. When we exercise too much control over our Scouts, we deprive them of opportunities of learning how to solve problems and become responsible citizens.
Of course, there are numerous situations where an adult must intervene such as when there is a safety concern or where there is a behavior problem that must be dealt with by an adult. However, in my experience, when we train our Scouts in their duties and let them play the game, the circumstances that require adult intervention, other than for training, guiding, and mentoring, are few and far between.
“Scout-led” does not mean the Scoutmaster plays no role. Some Scoutmasters feel that Scout-led means that the Scouts do whatever they want to do. The Scoutmaster who does not properly train his Scouts and lets the troop play basketball every weeknight and run wild on their campouts does not have a Scout-led troop. The Scouts lead their troop within the boundaries of the Scout Law and Oath, Church and BSA policies, and gospel principles. Scouts “do the things that Scouts do,” of which there are many examples in the Boy Scout Handbook, Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews (Volume I, Volume II and Volume III), and Troop Program Resources. Within those boundaries, the Scouts are “free to choose.”
Part of our job as adult leaders is to ensure that the Scouts play by the rules. In teaching this principle, Clarke Green uses the analogy of how we teach a boy how to play a sport. “Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; ‘the players all decided they’d rather play this way.’ Can you still call that game ‘basketball’?”
Likewise, in Scouting, we teach our Scouts the rules and give them time to practice, but when it is game time, we get out of their way and let them play the game. While the ball is in play, the coach is not allowed to go out on the field and certainly cannot advance the ball or score. At a troop meeting, campout, or other Scout activity, it is game time and the adults should be on the sidelines, observing and at times cheering on the team. When we have properly trained our Scouts, trust them with gentle oversight, and let them “do the things Scouts do,” we will see our Scouts prepare themselves to be future great missionaries, husbands, fathers, priesthood leaders, and leaders in their communities.
-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.