Fifteen Minute Patrol Leader Training


Patrol leader training is not an event; it is an ongoing process of coaching and mentoring.  Good coaching comes from a solid, simple, shared understanding of the fundamentals.  To my mind a trained patrol leader knows these fundamentals.

Here’s how I train patrol leaders in fifteen minutes.

I usually conduct this training just before or after a patrol leader’s council meeting. Note that this is based on asking the Scouts questions and teaching them specific answers for them. Since we’ve used this training method for a few years my older Scouts know the answers and usually are able to give them verbatim. Answers other than the ones here are received with something like:’that’s an important part of the answer, but I am looking for something very specific.’

Fifteen minutes? Yes. Avoid commentary and digression – stick to the main ideas and keep it moving. At the end of the first pass through this information go back and repeat each question in sequence to further cement the answers in their minds. I’ll explain why this is important after we walk through the questions and answers.

Finally, don’t distribute printed handouts until the end.  Otherwise Scouts will be looking at the handout rather than engaging in the discussion. Here’s my Fifteen Minute Patrol Leader Training PDF of the questions and answers.

I’d also suggest that you don’t call this training, just have a discussion with your Scouts.

Here’s my notes on the presentation, the questions are bold, the answers in italics:

I want to ask you patrol leaders a few questions,

What is your goal?
To Lead, Train, and Inspire Scouts to become First Class.

We know when Scouts reach First Class that we are keeping our promises to them. They are going camping, working with their patrol and learning the skills of Scouting. So let me ask you this:

How do Scouts become First Class?
By doing things that Scouts do.

It’s a little difficult to understand the difference between completing requirements and doing the things that Scouts do. If we plan and prepare for doing the things Scouts do, then they will complete requirements as a result of  participating,  If we plan to ‘do requirements’ we create a classroom experience where you go over material because you have to rather than doing something because you want to.

We don’t ‘do requirements’ we complete requirements because we do what Scouts do. That may sound a little confusing at first but it will begin to make more sense as you think about it. My next question is:

What do Scouts do?
Scouts go camping, they learn skills and apply them to their activities, they explore hobbies and careers, they serve their community, they are responsible to organize and plan their own activities, they put the Scout oath and law into practice.

Almost all of this happens in the patrol, so the patrol leader’s job is very important. Everything the patrol leader does is centered on serving the Scouts in his patrol by making it possible for them to become First Class, he is entrusted with fulfilling all the promises of Scouting for his patrol.

My next question is

How do Scouts do these things?
By attending and being prepared to participate in the events we plan.

That’s a simple answer, but it’s one we always need to be thinking about. If a Scout isn’t participating we have to ask why. Is he busy with other things? Is our program interesting and engaging? Does he want to be here? Did his patrol leader talk to him? Your example and encouragement is the most important factor in making this happen.

Here’s another easy question;

How do Scouts know about these meetings and events?
We communicate the details they need to know and the preparations they need to make.

Communication only happens when we ‘close the loop’ – that means you are actually speaking to a person and get a reply to what you have said that indicates they understand. Phone messages, text messages, and email does not count as communication until you ‘close the loop’.

[I may demonstrate this by imitating a phone call from a patrol leader to a scout in his patrol, showing how to close the loop by asking teh Scout to tell me what I have told them.]

If we know that communicating is important to getting Scouts here then my next question is:

How are Scouts prepared for these activities and events?
We instruct and train the Scouts so they know the skills and complete the preparations for what they are about to do.

To instruct you must prepare, that means studying and knowing the information that is in the Scout Handbook. Once you agree who is doing what and when they are doing it that’s a plan – but there’s another step that has to follow, and another after that. This leads to my next question:

What are the three steps to making things happen?
Planning, preparation and execution.

Time used 


WHO is responsible, WHAT are they responsible for, and WHEN they are doing it


Developing HOW the task is going to be done and WHAT is needed to do it


Making it happen.

Planning happens in minutes, but it is only the first step. If you do not prepare you are lost. Preparing means reviewing and studying the skill, practicing the skill and rehearsing your demonstration. Demonstrating a skill is not instructing – once the skill is demonstrated it must be practiced so part of the preparation sage is making sure that you have adequate supplies for practice and rehearse how you will lead the practice.

That’s what a patrol leader does. It’s pretty simple. Let’s go over these questions and answers again…

What I am aiming at is simple, succinct ideas that are easy to remember.  Arguably this is a simplistic approach to some complex issues, but the idea is not to unload two tons of information – just the main points. I’ll take advantage of other opportunities to expand on the complexities in subsequent meetings. If the Scouts have this simple ‘catechism’ in their minds I can begin explaining the more complex things by asking the applicable question. That’s why it’s important we all know the questions and the set answers.

As an example suppose you are observing the patrol leader’s council before a meeting. They are just milling around not doing much of anything. I ask the senior patrol leader; ‘what are the three steps to making things happen?’

He answers: “Planning, preparation, and execution.”

I ask; “What step are you doing right now?”

He replies, “Preparation.”

I ask,”So everything is prepared, you can start the meeting right now?’

He replies, “well, I guess so…”

I say, “What do you need to do to answer that question a little more certainly?”

You get the idea. Because we have a shared understanding and rote memory of these things my coaching takes a few seconds and the Scouts feel confident in their responses. I get the opportunity to help them discover the more complex ideas as we go along without interfering or having to explain everything on the spot.



  1. says

    Will be using this tonight at a Scout event. We have a new SPL ASPL and 1 PL all new to thier positions and the PL is a Scout rank that just crossed over from Webelos. Natural leader type in his den and his patrol elected him….. some of our older boys were absent at the election night meeting. It will be an adventure for sure and all parties will learn tons…including myself. Trust the system, its proven to work!

  2. S. Dawn Heyse says

    Any ideas on how to adapt this for Sea Scouts? I’ve been working for the past nine months to get our Skipper to let go and let the Scouts lead, but he’s stuck in the adult-led paradigm that he came up through in the 1960s….

  3. george (ty) tempel says

    Nice article. Your PDF looks a little mangled…black/grey boxes for the text. Can you upload a new copy?

  4. Don Peterson says

    This is great. We are implementing ILST on a regular basis in a campout format that I hope will get better participation than we have in the past, but I strongly agree that training is a process rather than an event (the events are not unimportant though). I’ll use this going forward in a more informal manner to reinforce these key elements of leadership.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  5. says

    Here in our District we have a weekend of camping in April for Bears and Webelos 1 (most Web 2s have already crossed over) called Webelos Woods. It is “family camping” style but only for the Scouts and a minimum contingent of leaders.

    The basic goal of Webelos Woods is to introduce the Patrol Method to not only the Scouts, but the parents as well. Often we find “sticker shock”, as it were, when parents get to Boy Scouts and they find that a) they’re not wanted to do much unlike Cubs where they did everything and b) the “controlled chaos” of a Troop meeting where it slowly dawns on them that this is a boy-led troop.

    Unless a Cub leader has some experience from an older Scout, the Patrol method is a foreign concept to them. So starting in January, we have overview classes of Webelos Woods, it’s goals and how to begin to prep the boys for the weekend: forming a patrol, picking menus, lists of what to bring, etc.

    Granted, this weekend is fully like a Troop/Patrol camping because they are still 3rd and 4th graders. They may prepare the meals, but under heavy supervision by an adult. Still, it’s a step in the direction they’ll eventually take after they cross over.

    On the flip side we have the parents to deal with. We provide games during the weekend that are led and run by visiting Boy Scouts. We try to make sure that the Scouts are at least Star Scout and really seek out NYLT trained boys. Den Chiefs are a plus.

    The difficult part is getting the parents to “sit far away” from their cubbies. The first 2 games we have to remind the parents to “sit over there” and watch. The Boy Scouts are running the show. And the parents are reluctant because all they’ve done for 3 years is right there with them.

    The other hard part is dealing with parents’ reaction to games that are run as well as an adult might run them. They see ill-run games, errors, unfairness, and all kinds of issues and this is not what they want for their kids….which is reasonable.

    So we have to educate them that we are fully aware of this and that this is one of the points of the weekend. Boys need practice leading, messing up, learning from their mistakes, etc. Is they way they and we grow. And the young Cubbies need to see older boys to well and make mistakes … and that that’s okay. Because one day they, too, might be here leading a game.

    I’d like to see more education in the Web-to-Scout transition for everyone. I think it’ll make understanding Troop operations better and keep retention higher.

    Whew, that was a lot. Hope I didn’t bore you.

    • Allan Green says

      Mike, In my district, I have met Cub scout parents who did not know there was anything beyond Arrow of Light for their sons. They did not know what a cross over was, and after the AOL was presented, the pack never saw them again. I have also met parents who would not let their newly crossed over boy scouts go camping with the troop, because they could not get the weekend off to go on the campout with their scouts (which they thought was still required.)

  6. John Collins says

    Thank you Clarke for another great lesson, I will put this in to practice tonight at our Troop meeting. My Scouts usually roll their eyes when they hear me say this stuff and wonder where I get it. Now I am looking forward to making the Patrol Leaders understand how it all fits together.

    Troop 25
    Shenandoah Area Council