At our council camporee in December I walked around the entire camp and saw only two troops that had identifiable patrols. Most troops were set up as one unit, with all the tents lined up and no discernible internal division into patrols.
Because our site was so small, our tents were all jumbled up and crammed into the site. Only our senior patrol leader and his patrol leaders really knew where the individual patrol boundaries began and ended. This wasn’t the optimal setup for patrols functioning well and but that’s not really what the campsite inspectors were looking for anyway.
Why don’t we value and emphasize patrols as much as our founder indicated we should?
The 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!
The formation of the boys into Patrols of from six to eight and training them as separate units each under its own responsible leader is the key to a good Troop.
The Patrol is the unit of Scouting always, whether for work or for play, for discipline or for duty.
What has happened to the patrol?
While we may talk a good game about the patrol method many adult leaders simply don’t understand or trust it. As a result our Scouts don’t really associate their identity with a patrol but with a troop. We haven’t trained them to think of themselves as a patrol member first.
The issue of Patrol formation and organization is a constant topic amongst adult Scout leaders because they think it is their responsibility to meddle with the patrols in their troop. They want to assign Scouts to patrols and manipulate when and how patrols are formed and reorganized. This kind of management drains the life out of patrols to the point that they are merely a way to organize larger groups of Scouts instead of being the one essential feature at the heart of the movement.
Ok, (now I’ve set things off with a blast) how come we are called “leaders” and and Scout”masters”? Aren’t we supposed to be making these sorts of decisions, aren’t we supposed to “lead”?
Well, yes and no.
To understand this you need to understand Larry Philosophy 101 on adult leadership in Scouting;
Don’t; don’t do it. Don’t ‘lead’!
Are you still with me? I am still talking about patrols but the way we look at things as adults is very important to this. Years of experience have taught me that the Scouting model of adult leadership is hard for many of us to understand. because the common leadership models we know well are diametrically opposed to the model of Scouting leadership.
Scouting organization charts normally have the Scoutmaster and the committee at the top with their leadership filtering down to the Scout. We look at that and think that everything funnels down from the top; instruction, authority, responsibility, discipline, character development, etc.
I made a chart with the Patrol Leader at the top to reflect that he is the most important person in the troop. Everyone else (SPL, SM, Committee, Council, BSA) is supporting him as he delivers the program to his Scouts. (Some of the district leaders used to shudder when I used this chart!)
Top down leadership models used in the military, corporations, government agencies and (perhaps most importantly) the student/teacher model our Scouts experience in school are fundamentally different than Scouting leadership.
One model that particularly gets in our way is parenting; specifically that sort of over-involvement I call ‘mommying’. I’ve probably stepped on on a few toes with that but let me explain – mothers are a very good thing – a very necessary in a young mans life – but they need to start letting go in many ways when he’s 10 or 11 years old so he can grow up.
Once we better understand the adult leadership role in Scouting it informs the central role of patrols, the choices that form them and the way patrols work.
Scouting is a nation-wide organization of patrols arranged into troops. Patrols are more important than troops – troops are just a handy way for patrols to share resources.
1. Scouts register with the BSA.
2. These Scouts form patrols select their own leaders and plan their own activities.
3. These patrols associate themselves with a troop chartered to a local community organization.
Patrols are the organizing principle, the basic unit, the one essential feature at the heart of Scouting. We need to understand them, how they are formed and how we relate to them to understand Scouting.
Scouts create their own Patrols. They form their Patrols as they would a neighborhood play group or sandlot ball team. Like these informal groups patrols are formed without outside interference. Patrols are not formed by adult leaders, or youth leaders. Scouts are given clear instruction (usually by an older Scout ), based on Scouting literature (Boy Scout Handbook, Patrol Leaders Handbook, etc) in Patrol organization and function.
Does the Scouting literature specify a mandatory method for creating Patrols? No.
Should adults leaders choose who is in a particular patrol? No.
Should troop level youth leaders choose who is in a particular patrol? No.
What is the role of the adult leader in patrol organization?
Insuring Scouts (particularly the older ones) have been properly trained and informed about the Scouting program, . Adult leaders most commonly work directly with the older Scouts within a troop so they can properly instruct younger Scouts. Older Scouts may attain this knowledge in classroom sessions, mentoring/coaching interactions or by reading the literature produced by the BSA.
Once a patrol is created members of the patrol elect a patrol leader. The patrol leader appoints other leaders as required. Usually these are an assistant patrol leader, a scribe and a quartermaster.
How is a newly registered Scout placed into a patrol?
He selects a patrol in the troop that he wishes to join.
Patrol formation and organization is the least risky element of troop program to completely give over to the Scouts, and yet it is often the most contentious subject amongst adults.
Understanding all this I’m ok with whatever Scouts come up with. I’m ok with a troop of 19 Scouts having three patrols of 3 Scouts, 5 Scouts and 11 Scouts. When Scouts are trained and knowledgeable they usually realize that something like a 3 man Patrol is not very functional. When they realize this they will do something about it without a Scoutmaster to telling them.
In my experience when handled correctly by skilled, trained leaders patrols within a troop will be fairly permanent. Once Scouts are fully trained and skilled in the Scouting program and understand how patrols function, they get on board. Once they understand their leadership role as a First Class Scout, they begin to exercise that role within the patrol. When Scouts understand the program and identify themselves mainly within a patrol all the other issues with “patrol organization” mostly go away.
When Scouts join an existing, viable patrol they automatically begin training him. They take him camping, teach him skills and he advances. It all works very naturally!
The Scoutmaster who hopes for success must not only study what is written about the Patrol System and its methods, but must put into practice the suggestions he reads. It is the doing of things that is so important, and only by constant trial can experience be gained by his Patrol Leaders and Scouts. The more he gives them to do, the more will they respond, the more strength and character will they achieve.