The Scout-Led Troop Blog #5 – Part 1: Do You Trust Your Scouts Enough to Let Them Lead?

Bill Chapman

When I sat down with our new senior patrol leader and told him that we had decided that the adults were no longer going to run the troop and that he would now be in charge and make decisions, he looked at me like a “deer in headlights.” Like most 13 year-old young men, I believe his life experience was more of a follower than a leader. Each morning his Mom would give gentle reminders like, “get ready for school, brush your teeth, get dressed, don’t forget your lunch, etc.” At school, he would sit and listen to lectures, take notes, get homework assignments, take tests, etc. He would come home and Mom would say, “do your homework, take out the trash, clean your room, etc.” In sports, he was told what position he would play, techniques for hitting, fielding, shooting a basketball, throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball, etc. Scouting is different.

Sitting with our new senior patrol leader, I told him that with the other members of the patrol leaders’ council he was in charge of planning our troop meetings, campouts, and other activities. I opened up the three volumes ofProgram Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews, Vols. 1, 2, 3,” and asked him to flip through the pages and let me know if he saw anything that looked interesting to him. As he turned the pages, his eyes got big and he stopped several times but finally ended on the chapter titled “Wilderness Survival.” He asked, “Can we do this one?” I said, “Is that the one you want to do?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Then, let’s do it!”

We spent about a half-hour looking at the chapter which gave an outline of wilderness survival skills, activities, and sample agendas for troop meetings and a weekend campout testing out the Scouts’ wilderness survival skills. He decided that he wanted to do the skill instruction himself for the next troop meeting and teach the Scouts how to make a bracelet out of parachute cord, a skill that he had learned somewhere else and was anxious to share with the troop. He said he would get all of the materials and bring enough for each of the Scouts to make his own bracelet.

The next Tuesday night, sitting with my assistants up against the back wall of the room, we anxiously watched while the meeting unfolded. We were amazed at what a good job he did in teaching the skills and going around and helping each Scout learn the skills and make their bracelets. Not a single adult got out of his seat or interfered in any way. It was a beautiful sight and guess what? The Scouts enjoyed this activity far more than they did the ones planned by the adults! Why? Because we don’t think like at 12-13 year old and they would rather follow their peers than an adult any day of the week.

Before I caught the vision of the “Scout-led troop,” I never thought of relinquishing that much responsibility to a 13-year-old young man. In the past, if I had let one of our Scouts lead the meeting, I would have micromanaged him. It takes a lot of trust to “let go,” and really trust our scouts. We are so worried about them failing that we have not learned to really trust them. But if we don’t trust them, how can we expect them to live the first point of the Scout Law, “a Scout is trustworthy”?

I never would have thought of this activity on my own and if I had taught them it would have been a different experience. There seemed to be a greater level of enthusiasm among the Scouts learning from one of their peers instead of an adult. They seemed to be getting the feeling that this was their “troop,” not the adults’ troop. When they saw that we trusted them and were willing to “take a chance” on them, a boring adult-led troop suddenly became fun. This small and simple change was transformational.

 

-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.

  1. Robert says:

    My experience with youth run troops is that the adults don’t have the “patience” or “tolerance” to watch the young man in charge flounder a little. They want to “rush in and save him.” Typically, once the change is made to let the youth run the troop, by the time the 2nd or 3rd “generation” of leaders is running the troop, the younger boys will have seen how it works and will be more comfortable with running the show.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Robert, you are exactly right! It takes a lot of patience and “trust,” to watch these young men flounder but I can only imagine the extent to which Our Heavenly Father will has to have patience with us. If we can use Him as our example, we will be headed in the right direction. Thank you for reading this post and sharing your thoughts. By the way, what is your current position in scouting and where do you live?

  2. J. Mick Epperson says:

    Hooray for Bill. Your example is both courageous and so worthwhile. Shadow, I really mean shadow leadership is where we allow the future leaders to learn and return and report.
    The manual part 1, 2 & 3 is a great tool to open THEIR minds as to what they might want to do.
    YIS,
    J. Mick Epperson
    Crew 359
    Spring Valley CA
    LDS/BSA RELATIONSHIPS Committee

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Mick, thanks for reading this post and sharing your thoughts and support! So often I see Scoutmasters and other adults focusing their time and energy on “producing” as many merit badges and as much advancement as they possibly can. Those are great activities for our Scouts to be involved in and they will undoubtedly learn, grow and progress under that kind of system. However, having seen both, I am convinced that letting the Scouts struggle with the real weight of leadership on their shoulders is the “greater good.” And yes, the “Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews, Vols. 1, 2, 3,” is a great resource.

  3. Brendan says:

    I see way too few units led by the boys! I think we need to start early letting cubs vote on their electives and stuff so they’re used to having a say. I love watching young men grow capable as we let them be

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Brendan, great ideas on starting them early! My experience is when we “train, trust and let them lead,” youth will always surprise us with their capacity beyond our expectations. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Alvin says:

    It must be Boy-Led or it is daycare not Scouting.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Alvin, as our founders said, “The patrol system is not one method in which Scouting for boys can be carried on. It is the only method.”
      —Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting’s founder

    2. Bill Chapman says:

      Alvin, as our founder said, “The patrol system is not one method in which Scouting for boys can be carried on. It is the only method.”
      —Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting’s founder

  5. Brian says:

    My ward has not done the boy-lead troop in a very long time.
    How long are your Scout nights?
    I’m trying to push for 90 minutes but getting some resistance from parents.

    BTW, don’t forget ILST training.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Brian, thanks for reading the post and commenting. In my last troop where I was scoutmaster, we found a major change in participation and enthusiasm once we trained the Scouts to run their own program and let them lead. Once they found out it was their program and their responsibility to make things happen but they also got to do the things they wanted to do (within Scouting), they started showing up not only on time for a troop meeting at 7:00 PM but showing up for the preopening which started at 6:30 PM and Scouts would drop in whenever their parents could get there. It amazed me that most were there by 6:45 PM-6:50 PM. We had to help them watch the clock so that they would finish on time by 8:30 PM. (You will notice that I said we had to watch the clock and “help them” because it truly was their program, not ours.) The PLC decided to hold their PLC meetings after each troop meeting from 8:30 PM-9:00 PM. Occasionally parents would pick up their son from PLC before it was finished but that was rare. I got the feeling that the Scouts told their parents they had an important responsibility to fulfill and wanted to fulfill it and the parents were excited to see their sons actually doing something. It just kind of snowballed and got better and better. Of course, there were ups and downs and mistakes and problems but overall a lot of enthusiasm and progression. And thanks for the plug for ILST. No way to have an outdoor program and do scouting unless the adults are trained in ILST.

      1. brian says:

        wow. 2.5 hour commitment. I can’t even get YM leaders to agree to having a long program. Claiming they want to be home to put their kids to bed. *facepalm. so much for magnifying their calling.

        I doubt the parents will buy into that to. Young women have their mutual on the same night as the YM which only lasts an hour and many have daughters as well. Oh and cubscouts meet on the same night too.

        Any thoughts on how I can get a longer scout night?
        One hour is really not cutting it IMHO.

        Thanks.

        ILST- intro to leadership skill for the troop.

        1. Bill Chapman says:

          Brian, it all starts with training these scouts on how to run their own program, giving them the resources, believing in them and being patient when they make mistakes. Once you develop trust with them and they start running their own program, they will have ownership and I think the other problems will solve themselves. However, I will admit I did it the wrong way for many years and only did it the right way the last time with one troop so maybe it will not work as well in other areas or with other individuals. But I think it is the only way to go and is worth a try.

          Everyone wants to be a part of a successful program. My assistants caught the vision, too, and were as excited (almost) as I was to see each adventure unfold. It evolved from the old system of showing up late and wanting to leave early to them coming early and wanting to stay late. Again, I do not doubt that you are very blessed and if I tried this again in another area, maybe… However, everywhere I go I am going to preach the patrol method because it worked so well for us and it seems to be what Baden Powell, Green Bar Bill and so many other enlightened Scouters are trying to teach us. I also hear the brethren saying the same things but they just teach correct principles and let us govern ourselves.

          1. brian says:

            Thanks for the word of encouragement and actually replying.
            I’m a convert to the church. my 1st two years in the family ward I was in charge of EYO and definitely did not follow the boy lead.

            I thought it would be very difficult to get my EYOs to first class before they turned 12 and it would be a disservice to the YM to have to receive scouts still working towards first class. I did let them plan a few things but I was mostly running the show.

            I’m almost at the end of my 3rd year but now as a SM. Spent a great deal of time reading the thick SM manuals so I can run the troop properly.

            We’re only a few months into the boy-lead after training the boys with the ILST. I’m sending a few boys to NYLT this summer so the troop can benefit further. I’m starting to see some of the boys take an invested interest but time will only tell. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how the next few months would go with upcoming disruptions from the Tucson temple cultural celebration preps.

            Looking forward to attending a little Philmont in an adjacent stake. Hopefully, I can get more pointers.

            One thing I would wish for is that the church implement/integrate the scouting program better, i.e. length of patrol meetings, when to have it, when to have PLC. None of that in the LDS scouting handbook. Heck, even just emphasize the patrol method/boy lead.

            Thanks again and look forward to your future insightful blog posts.

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