How to Fix Scout Patrol Problems

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Scout Patrol ProblemsHere’s a question I recently received asking how to fix Scout patrol problems:

 I’m a Scoutmaster with less than a year under my belt and I’m faced with a ‘good problem’ ; we’re growing. We currently have 4 patrols and we anticipate that we will get about 7 Scouts from the Pack in February; they would be the 5th patrol.

Currently, we have one ‘first year’ patrol, two second year patrols, and one patrol made up of the remaining older boys. This particular patrol is usually woefully understaffed during outings as those Scouts are either committed to other obligations or working.

I think the patrols need to be re-worked a bit, but I don’t want to break up any close friends or turn the patrols into popularity contests. What I’m considering is splitting up the oldest patrol and putting those scouts into the other three patrols. Based on your experience, is this a good idea, bad idea, is there a better way?

I must admit I haven’t asked the Scouts yet, but I would anticipate that the older boys would not really want to be split up. I should add that there is a two year age difference between the ‘older boy’ patrol and the next oldest patrol. Plus I really like the idea of keeping the new Scouts together in their own patrol for the first year at least. Any suggestions are welcome.

My answer starts with the basics:

Why do we have patrols? Is it just so we have an efficient system to mange Scouts or is it something more?

Does what a Scout thinks is a “good” patrol look different to an adult ?

Boys volunteer to be Scouts because their friends are involved. If they don’t get to do Scouting with their friends why would they stay?

We have patrols because there’s no Scouting without them. Scouts working together encounter challenges and learn all kinds of things. 99% of the aims of Scouting are met in the context of the patrol. When Scouts go camping they go by patrol, at meetings they are preparing to go camping by patrol. Everything is about the patrol.

Once you understand this you’ll agree that Scouts should be able to freely choose their patrol, they know who they get along with and who their friends are.

To understand how Scouts view adults stepping in to make changes in their patrols imagine I am given the opportunity to evaluate your troop and the one next door. After studying both troops I am going to make a few changes to optimize the combination of adult volunteers.

Both troops have adults with differing levels of experience. I am going to change some of them around so both troops have equally experienced adults. Some adults in each troop have a busy schedule that means they can’t be there at times. This leaves things woefully understaffed – we’ll need to change them around to even things out.

It’s a poor use of resources for you to have twenty Scouts and the other troop to have forty, so we’ll even it out so both have thirty. Changes will be made to assure we have a consistent adult-to scout ratio. Your troop has ten Assistant Scoutmasters but only needs seven, three need to go to the other troop.

Finally I’ll be assigning the Webelos crossing over this spring between the two troops. It’s only fair right? After all we don’t want this to be a popularity contest.

Would you appreciate these changes? Of course not. Even though they make perfect sense on paper I am taking away your friends and breaking up your team.

When we ‘fix’ patrols, when we try to even out numbers, ranks, ages, and experience we are usually breaking up friends and teams. Scouts find this just as disheartening as you would if I made the changes in the scenario I imagined above.

About a year ago when something went wrong it usually led back to three of our Scouts we dubbed ‘the terrible trio’.

One senior patrol leader tried to break them up and put each in different patrols. The terrible trio were fast friends and gravitated to each other no matter what patrol they were in. This caused their patrol leaders no end of aggravation. The next senior patrol leader decided that if they wanted to be together it was useless to fight with them, so he let them form their own patrol.

None of the other Scouts wanted to be in that patrol, so we had a patrol of three. Once these three friends were together they all showed up at nearly every meeting and campout. Soon they stopped being the terrible trio and became a competent, well-behaved patrol.

When it comes to patrols let the Scouts choose, accept their choices and help them solve any problems their choices create. It’s not nice and neat but Scouting is about the processes involved in making choices and the alchemy of working together with your peers to meet challenges and solve problems.

Talk to your senior patrol leader, ask him some questions. Do you think our patrols are set up the right way? Would you change anything if you could? How would you go abut changing things? Can you be sure that everyone is happy with whatever changes you make?

You may end up with patrols of ten or twelve, patrols of three or four, and everything in between. You may have patrols with mixed ages, or all the same age. It may look inefficient and messy, you’ll wonder if it’s a mistake! But be patient and work with the patrol leaders council and watch what happens. It will take some practice and patience but soon you’ll see that those patrols are full of happy, advancing Scouts having the time of their lives.

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