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Chat 14 The Working of the Patrol Method

From Handbook for Scoutmasters, Volume One. Boy Scouts of America, 2 Park Ave., New York, NY © 1936 Boy Scouts of America. Compiled by Bill Hillcourt.

Continued from Patrol Work

Troop Work

The mistake has been made by many Scout Leaders of confusing the Patrol Method with Patrol Work, making the two synonymous. This notion, naturally, is entirely wrong. The Patrol Method does not imply that the Patrols be let loose and permitted to run each in its own direction independent of the others. On the contrary, unless it promotes the Coordination and cooperation of the Patrols--for the good of the common denominator, the Troop--the Patrol Method fails. A Patrol is not a clique sufficient unto itself, but a gang living at one and the same time its own life and the life of a larger group, just as a family lives in its own life and in the life of the community.

As the Handbook for Patrol Leaders definitely makes clear (Chapter III), no Patrol exists for and by itself alone, It has another part to play aside from its important individual life.

Every Patrol has its obligations toward and its share in the larger life of the Troop. A Patrol could never have the truest kind of Patrol spirit unless it also had, in a very active way, genuine Troop spirit, pride in the Troop as a whole, eagerness to help the Troop make a good showing in whatever it undertakes, devotion to Troop traditions, Troop ideals and especially, to the Troop's leaders.

Patrol Cooperation and Competition

Each Patrol should want to be the best possible Patrol in the Troop, not alone for its own sake but also because the best possible Patrols make the best possible Troop. It may be said that--the relations between the Patrols should be characterized by approximately 'equal proportions of cooperation and competition. It is important for the unity and strength of the Troop that the Patrols cooperate willingly, readily and effectively. It is helpful to the development of Patrol spirit that there be a sustained friendly competition between the Patrols to reach high standards.

Troop work
"A Scout is Clean." Here's part of a Patrol washing up. Friendship is built on common experiences and trials are lasting friendships.

There is nothing contradictory in this. The sound of a tuba, a cornet, a French horn, a saxophone, may not in itself be very edifying, yet these instruments together and with the addition of others form the orchestra--which certainly does not prevent the cornetist from aiming at becoming a greater musician than the other players. In the Troop orchestra the aim should be to make each players as nearly perfect as possible.

The Scout Program of advancement, ranks and badges provides adequate reward for individual achievement. Of equal importance is the encouragement and recognition of Patrol accomplishment. The Scoutmaster should provide opportunities for the Patrols to engage in group projects and to achieve things in which they can take pride. Group projects are of greater value than individual achievement in training for citizenship.

All kinds of Scout games and contests should be conducted on the Patrol basis. One Patrol may win supremacy at first aid, another in signaling, still another in fire making. In this way each Patrol has an opportunity to have its own specialty, its own championship of which to be proud. Programs should be so arranged that every Troop gathering provides opportunity for one Patrol to measure itself against the others--against its own previous standard and against the standards attained in the Troop. Practically every project in Scouting can be put in the form of a game or a contest to be done within a certain length of time or according to certain measurements. At first the standards might be attainable by each Patrol and then raised as time goes on. If each Patrol in the Troop has the' opportunity to succeed, they will get more fun from the game, which in turn will bring many beneficial results.

The Patrols at Troop Gatherings

At Troop meetings the Patrol is very much in evidence. Each Patrol has its regular place in the Troop line-up, each Patrol its own session during the meeting in its own corner. In games and contests the Patrols vie with each other, various Patrols under their Patrol leadership demonstrate new games and lead the others in playing them, sing new songs and teach them to the rest, challenge the others for dual games and team competitions.

On Troop hikes each Patrol takes care of its own commissary, and often it hikes independently to the common meeting ground of the Troop. The Patrols seek to outdo each other in hunts for "hidden treasures," they compete with each other in cross country games, test each other's ability in signaling,Scout-Pace, cooking and other Scout accomplishments.

In Troop camp each Patrol has its share of the work and the play. Tents are grouped by Patrols, cooking done by Patrols, games and activities conducted by each Patrol in turn, parts of each day's life lived in the Patrol.

And in everything--discipline is enforced by Patrols, the Scout Law and Oath upheld by the Patrols.

The Patrol Method—The Only Method

At this point--if not before--some Scoutmaster will step forward and say, "That is all right, all you have been saying about We Patrol Method. But I have tried it in my Troop, and it just doesn't work!" And he goes on, "Take last week, for instance. We had our program all outlined, but the boys fell down on it. The Patrol Leaders had forgotten to prepare their Scouts, equipment was missing, our game leader didn't show up. I simply had to take over the meeting myself in order to keep it from being a general mix-up!"

'Which altogether proves nothing against the Patrol Method, but on the contrary that the Scoutmaster wasn't using it. He proved it by making the mistake of taking over the meeting. And for two reasons: In the first place, the boy leader will expect him to do the same thing next time they fail and failure under those circumstances will mean nothing to them, will teach them nothing. And secondly, the Scoutmaster by his action showed all the members of the Troop that he had no faith in the leaders they had chosen, breaking do" completely the respect for them.

The failure was the Scoutmaster's, not the boys', nor the Patrol Method's He had failed to apply to himself the "test of the easy chair," and had not remembered the simple formula for success in using his Patrol Leaders: "Train 'em trust 'em, and let 'em lead!"

Trusting the Boy Leaders

And mind you, by trust is not meant the trust that hides behind the corner to see if Johnnie is doing what he was supposed to do, but the trust that takes for granted that John will do his utmost, to the best of his ability, to fulfill his responsibility. As Baden-Powell says, "To get the best results, you must give the leader real, free-handed responsibility. If you only give partial responsibility, you will only get partial results."

And as the job goes on, praise your boy leaders when they succeed, encourage them when they fail after a hard effort, make them feel your disappointment when they haven't whole-heartedly tried. Trust them, through everything: TRUST THEM--and they will come out in the end better leaders--and better trained for citizenship.

Naturally, on the other hand, the trust must be within reason. To entrust a boy with a job or responsibility he is not able to carry reflects upon the Scoutmaster. The burden must be fitted to the capacity of the carrier, and only increased as he grows strong enough to accept it through the training given him by his Scoutmaster.

Let Them Lead!

So again, "Train 'em, trust 'em, and let 'em lead!" And remember that that last point is of tremendous importance. Let them lead in practically everything. Let them work out their own problems, interfere as little as possible but be ever ready to give wise guidance-not when you think they need it, but when they seek it. Keep in mind that unwarranted, ill-advised interference discourages leadership and that those boy leaders of yours are "learning by doing." Mistakes, some of them serious, are bound to be made; therefore, be ever ready with a kindly and friendly spirit to urge them to try again.

Help them occasionally with constructive criticism. But do your coaching on the side lines always, never in front of the Patrols.

And then, when the Patrol Leader succeeds in his job, praise him for it. Commendation which is justified and not overdone is an absolute necessity. Such statements of approval should be made occasionally before the interested group. They like it, and so does the leader, as long as it is short, free from "soft soap," and genuine.

Are the Patrols Patrols?

So, if a Scoutmaster should feel that he fails in having success with the Patrol Method, let him ask himself a few pertinent questions, instead of looking elsewhere for a place to throw the blame:

"Do I always think of my Patrols in terms of the leaders? Do I always transmit announcements and information to the Scouts through the Patrol Leaders?"

"Do I always answer the Scouts' questions about routine details by saying, 'Ask your Patrol Leader; he knows!' instead of giving them the answer myself, thus doing my part to develop in them a certain amount of respect for those leaders, to whom they have to look for vital facts and guidance?"

"Do I keep asking the Patrol Leaders for specific pieces of information about their boys, such as advancement, progress, home conditions, finances?"

"Do I stick these alleged leaders right out in front at every opportunity where they get a feeling of leadership?"

"Do I commend them publicly whenever they show signs of taking responsibility, and do I always refrain from criticizing them before their group?"

"When something goes wrong in one of those Patrols during a Troop meeting, say a little matter of discipline, do I jump on the boys themselves, or do I first call the Patrol Leader aside and point out the situation to him, making him realize that it is his responsibility to handle it?"

"Those are some of the questions a Scoutmaster may ask himself. If his answer to most of them is "Yes!" then he is truly a leader of boy leaders. But not only that—he is using the Patrol Method in his Troop!"

Yes, siree, the Patrol Method does work, but it must be given its chance.