Scout

Leadership – Teaching Opportunity

IMG_1978One of the main functions of the Scoutmaster is to train the Junior Leaders, in particular, the Senior Patrol Leader.  I take this responsibility serious and am in a constant mode of looking for opportunities to train the Scouts to be better leaders.
Most of the training is informal and as we find ourselves in opportune times where a lesson has presented itself.  What I have found is that, first, our Scouts really don’t know what they don’t know, and second, they don’t look for opportunities to learn and train others.
Now that is a pretty lofty statement, let me explain what I mean.. here is the training opportunity.
Teen age boys typically look for the easy way out.  They find the path of least resistance, which in turn puts them in challenging leadership roles.  They typically want to just get along and resist confrontation when it comes to being a leader.
Whether it is because the Scout lacks confidence or leadership skills they find themselves in situations that often times leave them feeling unsuccessful.  This is where a good tool box full of good leadership tools comes in.
I had a discussion the other night with a Patrol leader.  He feels like no one really wants to listen to him.  So, asking a few leading questions we took a look at his leadership style and gave him tools to make it better.
First, the leader needs to understand who he is leading and why he is leading.  Is it a specific task that needs to be accomplished or just general leadership within the confines of a Patrol?  The leader needs to look for opportunities to be “the man”.  Here is what I mean by that… Leaders are not Bosses.. but leaders are the “go to” guys that people want to follow.  The leader become “the Man” when he can display in his leadership the 4 “C”s.
Courage, Candor, Competence, and Compassion.
Courage.  It takes Courage to be a leader, especially a leader of Scouts.  You will not always make popular decisions and you may be put in situations that pit you one against another.  The Leader with Courage will always do what is right and the right thing for the good of his Patrol, or Troop.
Candor.  Tell it like it is.  Tell the Truth and never shy away from the truth.  If a member of the Patrol is acting in the wrong way or not doing a skill correctly, don’t be afraid to hurt their feelings, tell the truth.  We as leaders need to worry less about feeling and focus more on actions.  Actions or the way we act and do things are far more important than feelings.  A leader that demonstrates candor is respected and shows his good character.
Competence.  No one wants to follow a leader that does not know what the heck they are doing.  Following a lost leader gets the whole group lost.  To build competence the leader must keep learning and testing themselves.  Sharpening skills and looking inward at their decision-making.  Constantly working to fill the tool box.
And Compassion.  We lead people and manage equipment.  Being that leader that cares about those that they lead grows confidence in the follower.  When we genuinely care about making those around us better, they see it and start to build a better relationship within the team.  When we care about teaching them and showing them the right way to do anything, we make them better.  When we care enough to model expected behavior, those that we lead will follow and show that behavior back to us.
Taking the four “C”s and putting them to use will make the leader better and keep him focused.
The four “C”s also give the leader a simple set of standards so he can focus on what is important in his Patrol.  My Patrol leader did not think that his patrol listened to him.  So I asked the simple questions; What are you saying and How are you saying it?  Do you come at your Patrol competent and compassionate?  We discussed a missed opportunity that he had over the weekend camp out.  A simple task of cooking a meal could have been a million dollar lesson to his patrol in skill and fun.  That patrol was cooking venison steaks.  The missed opportunity was how they cooked them.  A little bit of prior planning on the Patrol leaders part could have made him “The Man”.
Cooking steaks over an open fire would have made a bigger bang within the patrol, rather, they cooked on a frying pan and used up lots of cooking utensils and time.  The Patrol leader missed the opportunity to get his younger Scouts involved in the process and about 10 minutes into the ordeal of cooking, he lost them.
It was a great opportunity that was lost because he took the path of least resistance.
“The Good Idea Fairy”
I have listened in on many Patrol meetings.  Most Patrol meetings end in frustration when members of the Patrol do not feel that they are being listened to.  Sometimes the Patrol Leader needs to let the Good Idea Fairy be heard.  Jotting down an idea or two and seeing how they can be worked into the plan for the next event.  Maybe cooking over the open fire came up, but was dismissed by the leader.  When the leader lets those ideas happen they get buy in from those that they lead.
Always look for that Teaching Opportunity.  They are always there and we as Scoutmasters need to be on top of it.   Allow the situation to run its course and then sit down with the Patrol Leader or other leaders and ask those leading questions that get them thinking beyond the path of least resistance.
Scouts are looking for that challenge and they want to be challenges.  They just don’t know what they don’t know and you know… sometimes they are afraid that we are going to say no to them or shut down their great ideas.  Go with it.  We need to use those four “C”s also.
If it is not unsafe, unethical, or not outside of the Scouting program.. say Yes and let them find that learning opportunity.  You will be the man when you keep learning and growing in your leadership also.
Almost everything we do in Scouting will come with a teaching opportunity.  Find it and share it.
Have a Great Scouting Day! 

Three Promises

Last night at our Troop meeting I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of super enthusiastic Webelos.  They came to the meeting to wrap up their Arrow of Light requirement of participating in a Scoutmaster Conference.
During the course of our discussion, we did it as a group, I talked about the Scout Oath and Law and gave them some pointers for not only knowing how to say the Scout Oath, but how to remember the promises you make in saying the Oath and living it daily.
I explained to them the three promises.
Duty to God and Country.  It is important to always remember our Duty to our God and this great Country of ours.  Our God that has blessed us and continues to pour out his love for us.  No matter how you view that God or by which name you call him, he has given us so much and we need to remember our Duty to love him and serve him with all of our Heart, our Soul, and our Mind.  And this Country, no matter what your political slant is is a Country that is free.  A Country that still values Liberty over all.  It is our Country that we call home and we need to serve it where and how we can.
Duty to Other people.  We pledge to help other people at all times.  We need to be of help in our community, our home, and everywhere that we have an opportunity to make a difference.  It is when we have a Duty to others that we learn to live with an attitude of selfless service.
And finally, our Duty to our Selves.  To keep ourselves Physically Strong, Mentally awake, and Morally Straight.  When we remember our promise to ourselves we can be a better person for others.  Staying strong, fit, we can be an example of wellness and enjoy a life without the burden of illness.  Being mentally awake we continue to learn, to sharpen our skills, and to be aware of the needs around us.  And to be morally straight keeps our internal compass of right heading the way that makes us the people of Character that we are.  It guides us to do the right thing at all times.
scoutsignThose three promises can be found in the Scout sign, a daily reminder to live the promises that we make each time we say the Scout Oath.
We say the Oath aloud each Monday night at our Troop meeting, this is an accountability measure.  We all hear one another say the Oath and we hold each other to the promises that we make.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Sharpen your Ax

Abraham Lincoln is a man often quoted, but not always in the context of Scouting.  I stumbled on a great quote that speaks directly to Scouts and Scouters.
“If you give me 6 hours to cut down a tree, I will take 4 hours sharpening my ax.”
Whats he saying here.. basically.. Be Prepared.  He is telling us that preparation is the key to success.  When we prepare for a task we can accomplish it with success.  Putting the time in to plan, train, and practice will make you better at the skill.
We are getting into the winter camping months.  The more we prepare, the more fun we will have.  The more we train, the safer we will be.  And the more we practice our skills the better experience we will have in our adventures.
We should always be looking at ways to keep our ax sharp.  We should always be thinking about that next tree and sharpen the ax to make the work easier and more effective.
I am always looking at ways to make my camping experiences better.  Toying with my gear, testing new stuff, learning and refining techniques to make my adventures fun and safe.
Are you sharpening your ax?

I was looking through an old external hard drive today and found this video.  Shot about 3 years ago when I was a “Tent Camper”.  Thought I would share it here.  It is a good example of Sunday routine.  Remember that we model expected behavior.  No yard sale here.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Winter camping and the backpack

>The harder the challengeWe often talk about the general rule of thumb that the pack weight should not exceed 25% of the person’s body weight.  This is a nice rule, but not stead fast in its application.  A 90 lb Scout is limited to 22 and half pounds.  A 75 pound Scout is hanging about 18 pounds on his back.  Like I said.. real nice rule and a great goal to keep in mind when packing a pack.  But winter camping is a totally different animal.
Pack weights go up in general because the amount of gear increases as well as the weight of the gear.  A 10 degree sleeping bag is typically heavier than a 30 degree bag.  More clothing is needed.  Extra gear for cooking, keeping warm, starting fire, and of course shelter options increase.
So how does the Scout that has not grown into his body handle cold weather or winter camping?  Here are a few ideas.
First we need to come to the realization that we are not going to buy multiple sleeping bags, tents, and backpacks.  Gear is just to expensive for the new Scout to go out and buy lots of gear.  So we need to make do with the gear that we have.
Adding guy lines to your tent, watching what you pack and maybe adding a sleeping bag liner will help with your existing gear.
Remember that we are not trying to go “ultralight” here, we are just trying to manage our weight for the younger Scout.
Clothing.
Loose and in layers.  This does a few things for you.  First it allows you to regulate your temperature over the course of the day and the activity.  If you properly train your Scouts to do this, they will stay dryer and as a result they can carry less clothing.  A good base layer which for the most part is always worn is the key.  It needs to be able to wick the moisture away from the body.  It needs to be able to stay relatively clean.  Second, the layering system will allow your Scouts to stay clean and dry.  When preparing their camp sites they can lose a layer and add their rain gear to stay dry.  Once the work is complete, they can remove the rain gear, hang it to dry, and add additional layers based on the temperatures and conditions.  When the layer system is planned properly, it can reduce the amount of clothing taken on each outing.
The motto “Be prepared” is a trump card though and needs to be considered.  Checking the weather conditions the days leading up to the outing and looking ahead at the forecast can help you be better prepared.
Extra socks are always a great idea, but know what you need and only take that much, contrary to popular belief, you can dry socks out and wear them again later.
Proper footwear is extremely important.  Spend a little more on your feet and the rest of you will stay warm.
The Pack.
We recommend that our Scouts have a pack that does not exceed 3900 cubic inches of load space.  By conventional wisdom that is a bit small for winter camping, but we know for a fact that it works.  Yeah, it takes some practice, but it works.  It is the one time of the year that strapping items to the outside may have to happen, but it works.
Compression bags, stuff sacks for pack organization and know how to pack is a critical skill.  More importantly, the skill of packing when you are cold is something that needs to be practiced.
When the conditions are right, and the need to carry more gear is greater than the pack will hold, a pulk sled is just what old man winter ordered.  Building an inexpensive pulk sled is not only fun, but makes for a whole new camping experience for those that like to get out into the bush.  This allows you to carry lots of water, gear, fire wood, and nice to have items that you would not normally haul in your pack.  I have talked about pulk sleds before in the blog and have built a nice one that did not break the bank.
The bottom line is that your current pack will work, you need to know your gear, how to use it, what you need and what you don’t, and most importantly… you need to practice, practice, practice with your pack.  Pack it over and over, do it with gloves on, do it in the backyard on a cold day.  Try different storage methods (Stuff sacks, compression bags etc).
Winter camping is an all together different experience.  One that test skill, attitude, and has a great pay off in the end.  Quiet, crisp air, no crowds, and lots of fun.
Stay tuned for more winter camping tips.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Bad Week as a Scouter

lifepinI should start by saying no one got hurt, no one died, and no one is going to jail…
It was August and we were heading home from Philmont Scout Ranch.  Our two crews from the Troop stopped in Grand Junction, Colorado to eat at the Golden Corral Buffet, a restaurant that our Scouts came to love on the trip down to Philmont.  I sat at a table with a handful of older Scouts and one in particular, I will call him Phil.  Phil was a life Scout and a real active member of the Troop.  Phil is a Senior in High School now, but at the time was enjoying his summer and just had a great time at Philmont.  Phil has a little brother in the Troop that is real motivated and did a great job in pushing Phil to get going on advancement and taking a more active role in the Troop.  So Phil and I started talking about his 18th Birthday and soon it would be on us.  We talked about his goals and what he was planning on doing after high school.  He stated that he was planning on joining the Army.  Immediately I had some advice for him and we started talking about wrapping up his last requirements for Eagle.  He had 8 months till he turned 18 and if he got going, he could knock out those last merit badges and focus on his Eagle Project.
About a month ago Phil decided that he really wanted to earn his Eagle rank.  So, we started looking into how he could finish the merit badges and get the project rolling.  Phil showed moments of absolute motivation and effort that I wish all our Scouts had in them.  He also showed moments of “let it ride”.  He fell into the trap of Maxing the minimum.  Last week he got some critical merit badges complete and his Eagle Project approved.  This week he hit a road block when he discovered that he was going to have a challenge that time would not allow him to over come.  Tonight, he decided, along with discussion with his Dad and then me, that he could not finish before he turns 18 on Sunday.
Tonight I went to his home and sat and talked with him, his brother, and his Dad.  We talked about the lessons learned through this process and that although he will not be an Eagle Scout, he has learned much from Scouting and that he is a better person for it.  I shared with him that I am not an Eagle Scout.. in much the same fashion, I ran out of time when I was approaching my 18th birthday.  I to joined the Army and turned 18 while in Basic Training.  Instead of Eagle Scout, I earned Private First Class.  All was not lost though.. the things that I learned in Scouting made me a successful soldier and in 24 months I achieved the rank of Sergeant.  I shared all of this with Phil to reinforce that even though he can’t be an Eagle Scout he can take what Scouting gave him and what he learned and earned and apply it for the rest of his life.
Over the past few weeks and in particular the last few days, I have done everything that I can possibly do to assist this young man in becoming an Eagle Scout.  I have looked for loop holes and work arounds and at the end of the day the lesson learned is that there is a process and that process needs to be done right.  No short cuts, no loop holes, and no work arounds.  With every thing we had we tried, we could not help the Scout that waited.
This is the first time I have ever had to look a young man in the eye and say that I am sorry he can not be an Eagle Scout.  This is the first time that we have run the course and not succeeded.  Not that the Scout is a failure, but that the Scout did not finish in time.
I am exhausted.  This young man has worked hard, but he started to late to get motivated and get it done.  I have seen a strong work ethic emerge in this young man and I hope that he learned that when he puts his mind to it, he can and will be successful.  This short fall is not the end of the world and a great lesson in life.
He’s going to keep working on his project so it will benefit the community.  That is a great thing.  His service will be lasting, something he learned along the way in Scouting.
What I have learned in this process is that I need to do a better job of setting the Scouts up.  I will not do the work, nor will I nag the Scout.. but what I will do, and what our Troop will do from this day forward is simple.  On their 17th birthday we will sit down with the Scout and his progress record.  We will explain the process and encourage them to start getting real serious if they want to be an Eagle Scout.  They will have 365 day notice that time is running out.  They will know beyond a shadow of a doubt what they need to finish and we will give them the tools to be successful.  What they do with it from there is up to them.
I will not scramble like this again.  I will not get in a position of working merit badges with a Scout 3 days before his 18th birthday.  It is not the way the process is designed and does not demonstrate what it takes to be an Eagle Scout.
I feel real bad for Phil.  I wish he was planning an Eagle Court of Honor right now.  What I know for sure is that Phil has learn some valuable life lessons this last month and I feel that he will go on to do great things with his life because of it.  I certainly hope so.
Scouting was real good for Phil.  He did well.  He just came up short.  That’s life.. as hard as that is to hear.  What he does with that knowledge is up to him now.
I gave him a coin tonight, it is the coin that I was allowed to have made when I became a Command Sergeant Major.  I can’t award him the Eagle Medal, but the coin is to serve to him as a reminder of hard work and dedication and the rewards for effort.  I am not an Eagle Scout, but I made it to the very top in the Army, so can he… if he wants to.
This has been a bad week for me in Scouting… but one that I learned alot and I hope that Phil did to.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Merit Badge mania

I have always been a Scoutmaster that encourages advancement and using all of the methods of Scouting.  I have always put a priority on the Scouts having fun, seeking new adventures and in the process, rank, merit badges, and other goodies will happen.  And for the better part of 8 years, this has seemed to be the status quo of our troop.  Good participation at camp outs, doing lots of cool activities and in the process, Scouts earned merit badges and rank.  UNTIL NOW.
For some reason, some of which I don’t have a problem with the Council has decided that merit badges should fall in the hands of committees and project teams.  In an effort to gain and maintain relationships with big corporations and learning centers in the Portland metro area a premium has been placed on merit badge days and work shops.
Rather than do it the old-fashioned way where as a Scout develops an interest in a subject or understands that he needs the merit badge for advancement, comes to his unit leader and asks for a blue card and the number to the nearest counselor and then he begins work on the badge.  Upon completion, the Scout(or the counselor) returns the blue card and the Scout is presented with the badge.  The Council has now provided opportunities for a Scout to just sign up on-line for a badge, show up for a day and complete the badge, many times without the parent unit knowing he has plans to work on it.  This bugs me a bit.
The other thing that bugs me about this program is that racking up merit badges seems to have taken front seat to other Scouting programs within the unit.  Scouts will sign up and pay online to go to a merit badge hand out rather than participate in a troop activity.  I think this is wrong.
Like I said, the traditional way of working and earning merit badges has worked just fine for the better part of 8 years.  Scouts have shown interest and they have earned the badges without placing too much emphasis on them other than for advancement.
Until Now.  It seems that the latest batch of Scouts (Parents) seem to think that merit badges are the end all be all.  They are cranking out merit badges at a pace that will land them all in Boy’s Life for setting merit badge records.  I don’t know where this comes from and I don’t know exactly when the switch was flicked.  What I do know is that I think it is sending the wrong message to the Scout.  I think the parents should remove themselves from the merit badge game and allow their son to have fun in Scouting and earn them the right way.
I upset some parents (new parents) last month when I gave the Summer camp speech and told the Scouts to not worry about merit badge but to make sure they had fun at summer camp.  Some of the Scouts listened and did have a great time at camp, while others wasted no time in earning merit badges for the sake of earning merit badges.  A quick look at the list of merit badges earned at summer camp tell the story, no Eagle required badges earned (they take all week), but many “filler badges were worked and earned.
So our Tenderfoot Scouts will soon have loaded merit badge sashes and no cool stories, no great memories, and will still not be any closer to the next rank.  But their parents will be happy that they get to see Tommy Tenderfoot at the Court of Honor get lots of stuff.
What I am afraid of is the council creating a “participation ribbon” environment.  Where everyone is a winner and no one has to work hard for what they get.  A patch for the patches sake is far less worth having than one earned.
Not every Scout will be an Eagle Scout and not every Eagle Scout earned all 250 or so merit badges. 
I asked the Scouts the other night how important the merit badges were to them.  My little poll did not tell the story that the amount of merit badges would suggest.  Nor the fact that they are all rushing to work merit badges at the Council sponsored events.  Which could only lead me to one conclusion.  The parents need to get their own sashes.
Merit badges will come when the time and interest is right.  They should never take priority over Troop events, and the Council should stay out of it.
My 2 cents, you know I am interested in hearing yours.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Where worlds meet

For those of you that have followed the blog for any given time, you know that I am a fan of sports.  I believe that sports do great things in the lives of youth and I also believe that there is room for sports, scouts, academics, and a normal life for our youth.  I actually think that when youth participate in sports and scouts they become better young men and women.
This last weekend was spent watching my oldest son wrestle at a tournament with the High School wrestling team.  John did real well this weekend, and as I sat and watched, and for those of you that have been to wrestling tourney’s.. you know that it is an all day affair.  You have lots of time to sit and watch, think, write, or do as I do.. people watch.
I typically get into lengthy discussions with other parents.  This year has been interesting as John is a Senior and many of the parents we hang out with we have known since the boys were all in kindergarten.  So the discussions quickly turn to how amazed we are about our boys, future plans, college, and “do you remember when” subjects.  This last weekend we got into a discussion about one of the boys that I have known since he was 7.  He was in Cub Scouts with John, but when the time came to cross over, he made the choice not to continue with Scouting.  He turned out to be a great young man and is a good friend of my daughters. 
One of the other dads sitting with us said that his son had to drop out of Scouts because of athletics.  He could not do both as Scouting and sports don’t mix.
I had to ask why he thought that way.  The answer I got did not make sense to me.  He said that Scouting was more for kids that were intellectual and could not make it in sports.  He added that scouting takes too much time away from sports practice and social time. <insert record scratch>
I made mention that both of my boys were in scouts and they both are athletes, and they both are A’s and B’s students, and both have a good social life.  He said it was the exception not the rule.  Then I told him of the Scouts in my troop.  In my Troop there are football players, baseball players, wrestlers, water polo, swim team, lacrosse, soccer, and golf team members.  Of those guys, they are active in the Troop and are all either Eagle Scouts or well on their way to becoming and Eagle Scout.  All of them are good students and very active with their Schools.  Members of Student government or clubs, and are all really good young men.
Again, he said we are the exception not the rule.  So I had to ask.. why do you suppose that is?
I believe that young men that play organized sports learn valuable life lessons.  They learn team work and working with others.  They learn that the team comes first and individual egos should be left at home.  They learn that hard work produces great things and that when you lose you learn.  They learn that effort pays off and that collective effort will eventually win.
I believe that sports push young men to stay fit and sports develop in them a sense of committment and accountability.  The individual is driven to be there for his team mates, he understands that without every one pitching in and moving toward the same goal the team will not be a success.
I think far to many times parents and Scout leaders can not get past the old “Jock” stereotype. 
Speaking strictly for my family Sports and Scouting go hand and hand.  Sports and Scouting complement one another and help round out our kids.  Add to Sports and Scouting good family values, strong faith, and a host of friends that have the same interests, and we have been blessed with three awesome kids.
The boys John and Josh have been active in both Scouting and Sports since they could be.  Josh started playing Football in 3rd Grade.  John and Josh both run Track and played Soccer.  John took to Wrestling, Josh stuck with Football and Track.  Katelyn played Soccer and volleyball for the Nike Club league team.  She is talented in Band and is a great student academically.  She tried Girl Scouts, but could not fit in with their click.  So she stuck to a supportive role in her brothers Scouting lives.
The point here is that all three are great kids and sports and scouts have played a great role in that.  It has meant long weekends, lots of travel time, and spending money on the kids activities rather than ourselves, but the result is that we have a great family life and kids that are healthy, smart, and ready for life.
Sports gave them confidence, good attitudes, and drive to accomplish anything.  Scouting does much of this and more, but when the two worlds meet a great young person comes out the other end.
So this Dad that does not see the value in both.. or that its one or the other.. well, I think that comes from parents that see the hassle, Scout leaders that see the competition, and youth that go along with what they say.
Parents need to be supportive of a young man that wants to do sports and scouting.  They need to make a committment to their son that doing both is possible.  Scout leaders need to understand the value in having an athlete in their troop.  They too need to be committed to the Scout and his needs and interests.  Scouting and Sports can work together.
I am proud of the Scouts of my Troop that take the time to be athletes.  I admire their dedication and committment, and I tell them that during Scoutmaster conferences or when they have an achievement on or off the playing field. 
Here is what I know for sure.
It’s not 100% so I am not saying this for effect…
Young men that are Scouts and Athletes are better students, better leaders, are better fit, and have a higher confidence level.  They stick it out to the end and do not let their Troop or their team mates down.
I’ll take that any day!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

*By the way.. the picture on this post.. Gerald R. Ford,  39th President, Eagle Scout, Football player at the University of Michigan 1933