Ten skills Scoutmasters need based on The Ten Essentials of Scoutmastership penned by William ‘Green Bar Bill’ Hillcourt were part of the Scoutmaster’s Handbook for many years.
1. A belief in boys that will make you want to invest yourself and your time on their behalf.
As Plato said “Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable”. But our work is not merely managing boys as if they were our employees, teaching boys as if they were students in a classroom or preaching to boys as if they were our congregants.
Our work is creating an environment were they discover for themselves their capabilities and develop the many possibilities that await them in life.
Can Scouting actually have any impact on boys? Is it worth our tremendous investment of energy, time and resources? Can a Scoutmaster make a difference?
The answer is in the hundreds of thousands of stories told by men who were once Scouts.
2. A zeal focused upon one point – the boy’s happiness through his formative years – “A happy boy is a good boy, a good boy is a good citizen.”
One point – the boy’s happiness. Not his measurement against a standard, not his level of skill or achievement but his happiness. Scoutmasters are neither taskmasters nor drill sergeants.
Focusing on happiness is not removing challenges, discipline or rigor but revealing the genuine joy of achievement, of taking the road less traveled rather than the path of least resistance. Scoutmasters demonstrate the this in their example of joyous service,an attitude of genuine excitement in meeting difficulties head on and freely speaking words of honest encouragement.
3. An immense faith in Scouting as the program that will best serve to mold our youth into fine men.
If you have occupied the passenger seat as your sixteen-year-old learns to drive you have exercised immense faith in times of uncertainty.
Scoutmastership is a ‘trust fall’, an often blind leap into the unknown. Will the program work or will it fall flat? Will the Scouts be engaged or will they walk away? When all is said and done will my efforts be rewarded by having actually made a difference?
On a caving trip I discovered that I was none too eager to get down on my belly and squirm through an unlikely opening in the rocks and enter the cave. I confided my uncertainty in my Senior Patrol Leader and asked if he wouldn’t go ahead and tell me if I’d be okay. He squirmed through the narrow opening and called back that there was actually plenty of room inside, that I was unlikely to get stuck. Reassured I followed him and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
If youv’e just become a Scoutmaster, or have been one for some time and are looking for encourgement to let the program work I can tell you that there is plenty of room, you won’t get stuck and will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
4. A realization that to the boys Scouting is a game – to you, a game with a purpose: Character building and Citizenship training.
Boys disdain trickery and subterfuge, they sense the medicine concealed in the spoonful of sugar and have a natural aversion to swallowing it. Scouting is not a set of unpleasant lessons in a sugarcoating of camping and play. Don’t sugarcoat things, and don’t attempt to teach lessons.
Do understand the intention of all the fun and allow the Scouts to discover these intentions for themselves. It is our task to keep the program aimed at good intentions and not allowing Scouting to lose its focus. So long as we do this the boys will get the point and learn the lessons on their own.
5. A knowledge that to your boys you are Scouting. “What you are speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say!”
Boys can spot a hypocrite at a hundred yards and disingenuous pontification harms their sense of fair play. Be what you are, not some idealized concept of what you think you should be.
The finest example they can have is someone who struggles successfully against the same imperfections and disappointments they encounter in themselves. Scouts will put up with many imperfections in their Scoutmaster, and love him in spite of them. They will not give the time of day to one who pretends to be perfect.
6. A steadfastness of purpose to carry out a planned program with energy and perseverance, patience and good humor.
The adolescent world is uncertain, unpredictable and capricious. Shifting loyalties are the order of the day. Boys do not need novelty and entertainment, they crave the steadfast, purposeful, and predictable whether they know it or not. An active, engaging program of challenge and discovery will always attract them.
Past a certain age they are restricted from expressing unfettered excitement by some unwritten code of conduct lest they be considered too eager by their peers. A good-humored Scoutmaster perseveres in the knowledge that their sometimes lukewarm reaction is often just a pose, just a way of guarding themselves from unknown failures.
7. A willingness to submerge yourself and make boy leaders lead and grow through an effective application of the Patrol Method.
My Council Executive asserts that the single greatest detriment to Scouting is the 45 year old Senior Patrol Leader. Sadly many Scoutmasters do not understand their ‘submerged’ role and how important it is to stay under the surface.
A ‘submerged’ Scoutmaster can quietly observe, relay valuable intelligence to his youth leadership on the surface and torpedo problems before they know what hit them. Run silent, run deep, eschew the spotlight. Allow the Scouts to shine, let them gain the experience and credit. Don’t scuttle their ship by riding too close.
Every once in a while the Scoutmaster surfaces, but only with good reason and not for very long. He accomplishes his tasks and then slips back beneath the waves to accomplish his quiet mission.
8. A desire to advance in Scoutmastership by making use of training offered and material available on the subject.
We will, most probably, never have it all together. Any honest evaluation of our work will suggest room for improvement.
A successful Scoutmaster takes advantage of training and other experiences that will sharpen their skills. With a measure of humility they will change course when needed and always be open to new methods and ideas.
A successful Scoutmaster will observe their colleagues and learn from their successes and failures. They will take their role with appropriate gravity and seek to improve on their performance.
9. A readiness to work hand in hand with home, church, sponsoring institution, school, Local Council, National Council for the good of the individual boy and the community as a whole.
Nothing is more irksome to me than the coach or teacher who demands unconditional, unquestioning loyalty to their team or activity. When they create rules that constructively prevent a boy from fully participating actively in anything but their sacred activity they send several negative messages:
– You, the player or participant, cannot be trusted to prioritize your activities properly, so if you miss a practice. meeting or rehearsal you will be penalized because the assumption is that you are slacking off.
– Nothing in your life is more important than this team, or group or band or play. Everything else is secondary.
– If you don’t commit unconditionally you are somehow less of a person.
I fervently hope that no Scoutmaster would ever make such arbitrary, inconsiderate rules but I know that many do. We want our Scouts to challenge and excel in many endeavors, to fully participate in their community, family, church and school. If we implement policies and rules that prevent them from doing so we fall short of a commitment to the community and deny our Scouts important opportunities.
10. A love of the outdoors in all its phases and a vision of the hand that created it.
A Scoutmaster must be at home in the outdoors and cheerfully endure and enjoy the cold, the wet, the heat the exertion of accompanying their Scouts into the wild.
Beyond this they must have a real appreciation for the great cycles, processes and astounding pageant of the natural world. Such enthusiasm sparks an interest in their Scouts to discover the greater message of outdoor life. The lessons of self sufficiency, the paradoxical fragility and power of nature, the stewardship of resources, the place of humankind in the cosmos are all contained in a simple camping trip if we bother to look for them.