“The patrol method is not a way to operate a Boy Scout troop; it is the only way.”
Baden-Powell knew that the success of any troop is contingent upon building patrol spirit and creating an environment of healthy competition. So how do you get the patrol method working in your troop?
Try some of my secrets to building patrol spirit. When I was a Scoutmaster, they worked for me.
1 – Make them hungry
Have the senior patrol leader require cooking by patrol at all camp-outs. Cooking together is the best way for a patrol to build team spirit.
Natural competition is created when a patrol with a lame menu sees the delicious food being eaten by a neighboring patrol. It won’t take many of those moments for a patrol to team up to cook better food!
If your Scouts just don’t have that culinary drive, have the adult leaders cook for themselves for the first few camp-outs. Cooking demonstrations from the adults can show your Scouts how easy it can be to make delicious grub!
2 – Give them a dose of reality TV
Even in a boy-led troop, the Scoutmaster can surprise the senior patrol leader and patrol leaders with fun, challenging contests. Get contest ideas from popular reality TV shows and adapt them into fun Scouting competitions.
One month, I offered to the patrol leaders’ council that the adults could “take care of the menu” for an upcoming camp-out. When the patrols arrived at camp, they discovered a box of basic and unusual ingredients with a challenge to prepare the most original meals using as many of the ingredients as possible. Sound familiar?
The patrols were required to cook two breakfasts, one lunch, and a dinner. Each meal was worth a total of 25 points with five points deducted for each unused ingredient. At the end of the camp-out, the patrol with the most points won the contest and bragging rights for months.
3 – Keep score
Hold a running competition where patrols earn points by achieving weekly goals at meetings and long-term goals between meetings. Here are some examples from the last competition we held. (If you want to see the whole competition, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.)
- 10 pts – Every patrol member present at start of meeting.
- 10 pts – At least 75 percent of patrol members in full uniform at each troop meeting.
- 10 pts – Display the most Scout Spirit during each troop meeting, as judged by the patrol leaders’ council
- 25 pts – Help a patrol member advance in rank, Tenderfoot or higher.
- 50 pts – Take part in a patrol hike, outdoor activity or other Scouting event with at least 75 percent of patrol members in attendance. (Can be earned once per month.)
Have each patrol in your troop decide what prize they’re striving for. Typically they’d want a pizza and games night at the Scout hut, custom patrol t-shirts, or the chance to throw a pie at the Scoutmaster! (Consider it an occupational hazard.)
Add up a patrol’s points at the end of each quarter and whichever patrol has accumulated the most wins a prize. When patrols regularly compete for prizes, patrol spirit is reinforced.
4 – Reward the best of the best
Put up a flier in your troop meeting area that gives the requirements for the National Honor Patrol Award (No. 00367). The Patrol Leader Handbook states that the award goes to patrols “whose members make an extra effort to have the best patrol possible.”
Recognize patrols who earn the award with a special ceremony. Treat the gold star that each patrol member earns as a true badge of honor, and they will make patrol spirit a priority.
Encourage your patrol leaders’ council to decide that National Honor Patrols always get to pick their campsites first or receive some other unique privilege.
5 – Let them make a name for themselves
Some troops decide to label each patrol by a color, letter, or number because the adult in charge of troop gear uses that system for keeping patrol equipment separate. Don’t let that get in the way of allowing strong, Scout-driven patrol identities.
These days, there are many choices for awesome patrol emblems that Scouts will want to wear. Print out all the choices and encourage patrols to pick their favorite or come up with their own.
After implementing these tips, don’t be surprised if your Scouts have so much patrol spirit that they want to spray paint their patrol mascot all over their patrol gear or spontaneously break into patrol cheers at campouts. It may take a few pies to the face, but it will be worth it!
What techniques have worked in your troop to build patrol spirit? Share your thoughts below.
– Gregg Hilferding
NOTE FROM BRYAN: This guest blog post was written by Eagle Scout Gregg Hilferding, Vice President of ClassB, an Official Licensee of the Boy Scouts of America. Gregg served as Scoutmaster of Troop 72 in Zephyrhills, Fla., and currently volunteers as Gulf Ridge Council’s advancement chairman.