Patrols are much more than a convenient way to divide a large group of Scouts into smaller, more manageable groups. Patrols are the single unique feature of Scouting and the indispensable method for achieving the aims of Scouting.
Most of us became Scouters as Cub Leaders. During the Cub Scout years the program depends on a lot of adult involvement and leadership in response to the age of the Cubs. We often mistakenly carry these habits and ideas into Scout troops. Scouting is a progressive journey of development, our role as adults changes in response to the age of the Scouts.
Once a Cub Scout reaches the age they enter a Scout Troop our response changes, it’s time for them to take on responsibility and time for us to step aside.
Baden-Powell said ‘the unit of Scouting is the natural gang of the boy, led by its own boy leader.” We are often guilty of complicating this simple principle and getting in it’s way.
Here’s five patrol method fundamentals that must be present for our Scouts to achieve the aims of Scouting:
B.P. say ‘six to eight’ and that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. We Scouters have fallen into the habit of assigning Scouts to patrols according to our idea of what best serves our concerns, almost to the exclusion of what a Scout wants. Scouts ought to choose their patrol. When adults make these decisions Scouts are managed like so many widgets instead of being individuals with the power to choose.
Real Free-Handed Responsibility
Patrol leaders must have actual, ‘free-handed’ responsibility. They must be allowed to think and plan for their patrol. This is a delicate business. Too much training, mentoring and oversight will smother the flame of initiative; feed the fire slowly! Partial responsibility will only bring partial results.
Independent, Distinct and Autonomous Patrols
Patrols need to stand on their own. They need their own identity. This extends to every aspect of the program. When camping each patrol has their own area, their own food, their own leadership and their own program.
Emulation and Competition between Patrols
Spirited, good-natured competition among the Patrols helps patrol Spirit grow and flourish. Games and contests among patrols build individual as well as group character. Scouts realize that their individual contribution adds to his patrol’s honor and spirit.
The Patrol Leader’s Council
Everything the patrol does is driven by the patrol leader’s council exercising real authority and decision making in choosing and preparing for activities based on the goals of Scouting.
Is it really that simple? Yes. Is it easy? No, and that’s the best thing about it!
John Thurman, Camp Chief of Gilwell Park from 1943 to 1969, and author of many books and articles on Scouting wrote this in ‘ The Patrol Leader’s handbook‘
The Patrol System is a system made up of ‘a lot of littles’. This is why there are difficulties about it; why there are problems; why it is not too easy to understand
I’ve always been glad it isn’t too easy. If all we had to do was to write ‘Patrol System’ over the entrance to every Troop Headquarters and a sort of miracle resulted it would really be too simple to bother with, but fortunately, and I mean fortunately, it isn’t as easy as that. It does not get any easier as the years go by, and perhaps in that lies its secret, its charm and its possibilities. It always needs and always will need two special qualities – the one common sense, the other effort.
It takes study, practice and resolve to apply the patrol method – but what a wonderful challenge it is!
Burk Hufnagel says
I like the article and greatly appreciate your site. Last May a friend told me about it and I finished listening to all the archived pod casts in late September.
In the spirit of helpfulness, I think you’re missing the word “us” in the first sentence of the second paragraph, and that you meant to say, “Most of us became Scouters as Cub Leaders.”
Thank you for taking the time to share your hard earned wisdom with us.
James Andre says
I don’t agree with the first point. As the SPL of my troop, I feel that we should assign a new scout a patrol, instead of them picking their own. If they picked their own, you would end up with a lot of younger guys in one patrol, due to the fact that when they first join, it can be intimidating! They will just want to stick with their friends or other kids their age. I feel you have to get them separate so that way, they start learning to communicate with people who are not there age. It should be the troop’s job to not let new scouts feel left our or abandoned. And they can’t do that if all the new scouts just stick together and don’t join in!
Clarke Green says
Nope, Scouts get to choose. We don’t have any problem with our younger Scouts joining in or communicating, or the older Scouts getting long with them and our patrols are almost always end up based on age because that’s who your friends are. It’s all about the attitude of the older Scouts.
Daniel Desjardins says
As a new scoutmaster, following these will not be easy because of how things have been done in our troop in the past. Do I look forward to challenges? Yes. Am I crazy in taking this position? Yes. Am I hopeful the program will work by following these simple but effective fundamentals? Absolutely.