The Scout-led Troop Blog #8: The Patrol Method Helps Scouts Develop the Confidence to Really Lead

Bill Chapman

Recently, I attended a troop meeting just as an observer. The troop was holding a “shakedown” to make sure all of the Scouts had everything they needed for their summer camp and, hopefully, did not have anything they should not be bringing. The Scoutmaster sat at the front of the room the entire meeting and, although he was asking very good questions of the Scouts to gauge their level of preparedness, I could not even tell who the senior patrol leader was.

Although I am sure they had roles on paper, the Scouts in this troop did not appear to have any leadership roles. Although these Scouts were well prepared for their summer camp, what could be done differently to help them achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood? Is there a better way?

In his recent general conference talk, “Prepare the Way,” Bishop Gérald Caussé shared a story about a big promotion he got because his employer knew about the principles he lived by as a member of the Church. Bishop Caussé attributed much of his success in business to the opportunities for service he had received as a young man in the Church.

Contrary to the attitude in many larger, more cosmopolitan areas, the adults in his branch thought Bishop Caussé was capable of providing significant service at a young age. As he observed, “[n]o one seemed to think I was too young to serve or even to lead. For me, it all seemed normal and natural.” In the example above where the Scoutmaster was running things, he may have made a number of assumptions that caused him to sit at the front of the room during the entire troop meeting.

The Scoutmaster may have assumed that he was the best qualified to prepare the troop for summer camp, that the consequences of not being well prepared were too severe, that time was limited and the senior patrol leader was not capable of efficiently using that time. The Scoutmaster may have felt that it would have taken more time to train the senior patrol leader to do his job than to do it himself. Have you ever seen this happen?

As a Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster or even as a parent, committee member or other adult involved with a troop, we need to continually go back to the fundamentals to understand how to magnify our callings. One of the 10 “Essentials of Scout Leadership” which every adult leader in a Boy Scout troop (or other adult leader of youth groups for that matter) should know, understand and possess is “a willingness to submerge yourself and make youth leaders lead and grow through an effective application of the patrol method.” Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 1, page 82.

Simply put, the “patrol method” means that the Scouts run things as long as they are “doing the things that Scouts do” through the organization of patrols. Although the patrol method has been around since the beginning of Scouting, things have changed a lot since that beginning. In order to help us adapt to the 21st century, Clarke Green has provided “five practical ideas that can help shape a 21st century approach to the patrol method.” Patrol Method in Practice – Making It Happen.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by LDS Scouters is, “[w]hat do I do if I have a troop that is too small to have separate patrols?” I am going to address this important question more fully in a subsequent post, however, just a word on this now. Bryan Wendell has given some great suggestions in his online article, “How to keep your troop out of the ‘death spiral.’” The answer, predictably, is the “patrol method.” Bryan quotes our founder, Lord Baden-Powell, as saying “[t]he Patrol System is the one essential feature in which Scout training differs from that of all other organizations, and where the System is properly applied, it is absolutely bound to bring success, … ‘It cannot help itself!’” Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, Founder of the Boy Scout Movement, Aids to Scoutmastership, A Guidebook for Scoutmasters on The Theory of Scout Training (London: Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1919), p. 22. Why is that?

Young men ages 12-13 are at a point in their lives where they are just beginning to feel ready to take charge instead of just being ordered around. At the same time, they feel insecure because they lack the experience to know that they can actually lead. The patrol method is the perfect laboratory where they can learn by trial and develop confidence in their own abilities to lead, even if it is to lead themselves. And, in my humble experience, they are capable of far more than I had ever imagined before! Now, it’s time to go out there and “Let ‘Em Lead!”

-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.

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