Scouts-L Mail Archive for April of 1999: Re: The Patrol Method
Re: The Patrol Method
Thu, 8 Apr 1999 14:44:59 -0400
<Irene Kempf wrote>
Another question from the new leader. April 10th is almost here!
(training) In the Scoutmaster Handbook on page 8 under The Patrol
Method, it states that the patrol is often made up of boys who are
close in age and experience level...
Yet I here most troops use stratified age patrols. What are the
benefits of both?
The boys we have now work well together and must be in one patrol
because there are only 7. Most of them have been together since Tiger
With only 7 Scouts, it's not really important how the patrols are
organized. But, to answer your question, I have seen both methods
work. Mostly, it depends on the Scouts themselves. Sometimes, it
depends on the adult leaders, but the folks who actually make the
patrol method work are the Scouts.
This, for those of you who know me, inevitably leads to a rant:
I would beseech each and ever Scouter involved in a troop to remember
something about patrols. A Scout Troop IS MADE UP OF Patrols! Scout
Troops ARE NOT DIVIDED INTO Patrols! There is a very important
distinction here which is often lost to many Scouters. I've heard a
lot of comments lately (not just on the list) about Scout Troops
"re-organizing" their patrols, and usually it makes me want to find a
bugle to wake them up! ;-}
If we think of a troop as a group of patrols with the same adult
leaders it puts us in the right frame of mind to allow each patrol to
organize itself and run itself. Then we can spend most of our time
helping the patrol leaders and troop leaders develop their skills.
If we think of a troop as divided into patrols, we have a tendency to
see "re-organization" as a fix for patrols who can't work together or
get anything done. Instead of developing the skills of the members of
the patrol, we "fix" the patrol by dissolving it and creating new
patrols. Whatever progress the patrol may have made toward having
patrol spirit and being able to work together now disappears because
that patrol no longer exists. It's members are now in a different
patrol and have to start over, learning to work with the other members
of the new patrol.
I have heard of troops who dissolve all of their patrols and
"re-organize" the troop into new patrols EVERY YEAR, which goes
against everything B-P felt a patrol should be! A patrol should have a
life of its own, a special link between the members of the patrol,
something we call "Patrol Spirit" that takes quite some time to
Now, to be fair, some troops actually get away with "re-organizing"
every year, which says a lot of good things about the Scouts in that
troop, but there will always be a period of adjustment. Just think of
what those Scouts could accomplish if they didn't have to go through
that adjustment period. Do your patrols actually have patrol meetings
OUTSIDE TROOP MEETINGS? Do they plan and carry out their own
activities? Does the patrol leader know each Scout in his patrol well
enough to make decisions for the patrol without consulting them?
Finally, ask yourself why the troop needs to be "re-organized" every
I can hear the arguments now. First, there's the "standard patrol
size" argument. You see, a patrol is USUALLY a group of six to ten
Scouts. Does that mean a group of five can't be a patrol? NO! A patrol
is almost any size group of Scouts who work together and accomplish
things together under their own leadership. The smaller the group, the
easier it is to work together, but accomplishing basic patrol tasks
becomes harder. The larger the group, the harder it is to work
together, but basic patrol tasks can be accomplished with little
effort. That's why there's an average patrol size, because eight
Scouts can work together easier than twelve Scouts. Eight Scouts can
divide the work better than four Scouts.
Then we move on to the "age-stratified" argument. Patrols of varying
ages and experience levels have the most success because
less-experienced Scouts learn from more-experienced Scouts in the
patrol which develops patrol spirit. Does that mean patrols where the
Scouts are all the same age or all the same rank are bad? NO! Remember
that HOW patrols are organized is not important at first. Once a
patrol is organized, it will quickly take on a life of its own. It
will change as the Scouts in the patrol grow and develop into leaders.
A patrol made up of eight former Webelos may start out the same age
and experience level, but each Scout will develop differently, members
will come and go, each Scout will have a different interest level,
different goals, etc. Over the course of a year, the patrol will
change dramatically from a "New" Scout patrol, into a well organized
group of Scouts with different skill levels, ranks, and experiences.
Then there's the old standby: "The Scoutmaster's Handbook says..."
Which only means that the guideline says. Every one in Scouting knows,
or at least they should know, that the SM Handbook rarely covers every
situation. It is meant to be a guide, not a gospel. Scoutmasters adapt
the information in the handbook to figure out how to make Scouting
work in their situation, they don't try to fit their situation into
what the handbook says.
One final note: Many years ago I learned a universal truth which has
helped me survive. That universal truth is IF IT AIN'T BROKE - DON'T
FIX IT! Which means to me, if your patrols are well organized and work
well, there's no good reason to fix them. Of course, if you have a
reason I haven't covered here, send it along, I'll be more than happy
to consider it. 'till then...
A. J. Mako, firstname.lastname@example.org , Scoutmaster Troop 381
Home of the Unofficial Win95 Boy Scout Desktop Theme,
Old Portage District, Great Trail Council, BSA
"I used to be an Eagle (C-7-97), but I'll always be an Eagle (1981)"