When I sat down with our new senior patrol leader and told him that we had decided that the adults were no longer going to run the troop and that he would now be in charge and make decisions, he looked at me like a “deer in headlights.” Like most 13 year-old young men, I believe his life experience was more of a follower than a leader. Each morning his Mom would give gentle reminders like, “get ready for school, brush your teeth, get dressed, don’t forget your lunch, etc.” At school, he would sit and listen to lectures, take notes, get homework assignments, take tests, etc. He would come home and Mom would say, “do your homework, take out the trash, clean your room, etc.” In sports, he was told what position he would play, techniques for hitting, fielding, shooting a basketball, throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball, etc. Scouting is different.
Sitting with our new senior patrol leader, I told him that with the other members of the patrol leaders’ council he was in charge of planning our troop meetings, campouts, and other activities. I opened up the three volumes of “Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews, Vols. 1, 2, 3,” and asked him to flip through the pages and let me know if he saw anything that looked interesting to him. As he turned the pages, his eyes got big and he stopped several times but finally ended on the chapter titled “Wilderness Survival.” He asked, “Can we do this one?” I said, “Is that the one you want to do?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Then, let’s do it!”
We spent about a half-hour looking at the chapter which gave an outline of wilderness survival skills, activities, and sample agendas for troop meetings and a weekend campout testing out the Scouts’ wilderness survival skills. He decided that he wanted to do the skill instruction himself for the next troop meeting and teach the Scouts how to make a bracelet out of parachute cord, a skill that he had learned somewhere else and was anxious to share with the troop. He said he would get all of the materials and bring enough for each of the Scouts to make his own bracelet.
The next Tuesday night, sitting with my assistants up against the back wall of the room, we anxiously watched while the meeting unfolded. We were amazed at what a good job he did in teaching the skills and going around and helping each Scout learn the skills and make their bracelets. Not a single adult got out of his seat or interfered in any way. It was a beautiful sight and guess what? The Scouts enjoyed this activity far more than they did the ones planned by the adults! Why? Because we don’t think like at 12-13 year old and they would rather follow their peers than an adult any day of the week.
Before I caught the vision of the “Scout-led troop,” I never thought of relinquishing that much responsibility to a 13-year-old young man. In the past, if I had let one of our Scouts lead the meeting, I would have micromanaged him. It takes a lot of trust to “let go,” and really trust our scouts. We are so worried about them failing that we have not learned to really trust them. But if we don’t trust them, how can we expect them to live the first point of the Scout Law, “a Scout is trustworthy”?
I never would have thought of this activity on my own and if I had taught them it would have been a different experience. There seemed to be a greater level of enthusiasm among the Scouts learning from one of their peers instead of an adult. They seemed to be getting the feeling that this was their “troop,” not the adults’ troop. When they saw that we trusted them and were willing to “take a chance” on them, a boring adult-led troop suddenly became fun. This small and simple change was transformational.
-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.