During his lifetime Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, wrote many books and articles directed to Scouters.
Each Sunday I’ll publish a selection from his writings in the hope that you’ll draw inspiration and understanding from his timeless ideas.
God didn’t invent physical “jerks.” The Zulu warrior, splendid specimen though he is, never went through Swedish drill. Even the ordinary well-to-do British boy, who has played football and hockey, or who has run his paper chases regularly and has kept himself fit by training exercises between whiles, seldom needs physical drill to develop him afterwards. It is good open-air games and sport which bring to the boy health and strength in a natural and not an artificial way. Nobody will disagree with this. It is quite simple in theory, but in its practice we find some few difficulties to overcome.
Your city boy or the factory hand who is at work all day cannot get out to play games in the open. The outdoor workers and country boy should by right have a better chance since he lives more in the open air, but it is seldom that even a country boy knows how to play a game or even how to run!
When inspecting Scouts, Commissioners make a point of seeing them run in single file, when time and space allow in addition to merely walking down the line themselves to look at the boys’ faces and their dress.
They do this in order to judge to what extent the lads have been physically trained by their Scoutmaster. The running tells its own tale. It is perfectly astonishing to see how few boys are able to run.
The natural easy light step comes only with the practice of running. Without it the poor boy develops either the slow heavy plod of the clod-hopper or the shuffling paddle of the city man (and what a lot of character is conveyed in the gait of a man!). The practice of running is best inculcated through games and sport.
Physical exercises or “jerks” are an intensive form of development where you cannot get good or frequent opportunity of games, and may well be used in addition to games, provided that:
- They are not made entirely a drill, but something that each boy can really understand and want to practise for himself because of the good that he knows it does him.
- The instructor has some knowledge of anatomy and the possible harm of many physical-drill movements on the young unformed body.
We should do everything to get the boy to interest himself in steadily exercising his body and limbs, and in practising difficult feats with pluck and patience until he masters them. Then a team uniform of sorts is an attraction to the boy, promotes esprit de corps in his athletic work, and incidentally involves changing his clothes before and after playing, encourages a rub down — a wash — cleanliness.
“How to keep fit” soon becomes a subject in which the athletic boy takes a dose personal interest, and can be formed the basis of valuable instruction in self-care, food values, hygiene, continence, temperance, etc., etc. All this means physical education.
Oxygen for Ox’s Strength
I saw some very smart physical drill by a Scout Troop quite recently in their club headquarters. It was very fresh and good, but, my wig, the air was not! It was to say the least, “niffy.” There was no ventilation. The boys were working like engines, but actually undoing their work all the time by sucking in poison instead of strengthening their blood. Fresh air is half the battle towards producing results in physical exercises, and it may advantageously be taken through the skin as well as through the nose when possible. Yes — that open air is the secret of success. It is what Scouting is for — viz., to develop the out-of-doors habit as much as possible.
I asked a Scoutmaster not long ago, in a great city, how he managed his Saturday hikes, whether in the park or in the country? He did not have them at all. Why not? Because his boys did not care about them. They preferred to come into the club room on Saturday afternoons! Of course they preferred it, poor little beggars; they are accustomed to being indoors. But that is what we are out to prevent in the Scouts — our object is to wean them from indoors and to make the outdoors attractive to them.
We want open-air space, grounds of our own, preferably permanent camp grounds easily accessible for the use of Scouts. As the Movement grows these should form regular institutions at all centres of Scouting.
Besides serving this great purpose such camps would have a double value. They could form centres of instruction for officers, where they could receive training in camp craft and Nature lore, and above all could imbibe the spirit of the out-of-doors — he Brotherhood of the Backwoods.
This is the real objective of Scouting, and the key to its success.
With too much town life we are apt to undertook our aims and to revert to type. We are not a brigade — or a Sunday School — but a school of the woods. We must get more into the open for the health, whether of the body or the soul, of Scout and of Scoutmaster.