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Avoiding Ad Hoc Patrols

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Perhaps the key here is the patrol itself.


What I mean by this, is as Kudu rightly points out in many posts, often times we become troop focused and don't consider the patrol to be primary. Now what exactly is a patrol, what should it be, how should it work, and what should it do? These are all critical questions, but perhaps we should get back to basics. In the original scheme of things a patrol was an at least semi-natural grouping of Scouts. BP watched what size groups boys naturally formed and what size could engage in Scouting activities with reasonable efficiency. I think he tried 5 but found 6 was what worked in a camp setting, and BSA upped that to 8 for various reasons.


Now, the mixed age vs. same age business is less important to me than that the patrol be a stable and at least semi-natural grouping of Scouts. This means it can be imposed from above, but rather should be a group of Scouts who are willing to do Scouting together. If you have to make them be in a patrol together, they aren't going to want to camp and do Scouting together. They don't have to be best friends, but there needs to be at least willingness and ideally a bit of eagerness on the part of patrol members.


I suspect in 1910 boys would have grouped up based on neighborhood or church attended or things like that. Today they may be a bit more likely to group up based on age. Another point ot mention, BP didn't have a vision of 17 year olds in a patrol with 10 year olds. BP had Scouting starting at 12, no younger, and had Senior Scouts for those older teenagers. So even one of BP's patrols, while very likely of mixed age, would not have seen the dramatic differences between its youngest and oldest members the way a fully mixed age structure in BSA would today.


In any case, what I am trying to get back to is that you need to consider what the Scouts want in the way of a patrol.


Further, what does each patrol want to do? I strongly suspect that if you do a canoeing trip for one outing, and a backpacking trip another, and then go to tour a city for another the Scouts that will be most enthusiastic about those will be rather different. At least as a matter of theory a troop campout is nothing more than a multi-patrol outing. I know patrol centric activity planning is not the BSA norm, but maybe it needs to be more so.


Others have suggested letting the two guys who show up continue as a patrol. I would say this is OK in many cases, but do give some thought to your activities being planned and the like to make sure that 2 Scouts can actually function. I know for many activities two pairs of buddies would be the least I would want attempting certain things. Plus if this is the permanent arrangement, you are likely to see the Scouts losing enthusiasm. I guess I should ask: Is it the same two every time or is it a different two every outing? What I mean is are all members at nearly the same level of active, or do you have a few super active Scouts, some middling, and then a bunch of guys that only active in a nominal sense?


And if all else fails and life insists on giving you lemons, then maybe you need to go really outside the box. Try everything else you can think of first, but in the worst case you could always try embracing ad hoc patrols. What I mean is, if you know in advance that you will have 12 Scouts from 6 different patrols going on an upcoming outing, maybe the thing to do is make up 2 ad hoc patrols well in advance and let those two patrols plan and prepare just as if they were regular patrols. I don't know what you would then do with all the other people at your troop meetings, but this is just a theory for if all else fails.

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Proud Eagle, some good points you bring up. With the pre-planning in advance kind of thing, don't you think the boys ought to be able to re-arrange their patrols as they see fit before the event rather than after they get there? If you have a half a patrol that is super active and wanting to do all kinds of scout things and the other half dragging their feet, why not take the "super" scouts from the patrol, let them form a new patrol and they can plan out all the HA events they so desire without having half their patrol throw a wet blanket on it. The semi-active remainders, go into their own patrol where they don't have to compete with the super scouts and can have leadership development without competition. Younger boys that are marginal can step up and take on PL when they don't have to compete with 2-3 super scouts in their patrol. After all, the disenfranchised semi-active scouts aren't going to show up anyway and the super scouts are going to be merged into an ad hoc patrol for the event anyway.


I'm thinking that some of the bored scouts may be inclined step up and be more encouraged to try on the mantle of leadership in circumstances such as this. This way, the scout that sees himself as sludge on the bottom rungs of the patrol caste find that the "top" of the pile is not out of reach anymore.


And what's to say that the super scouts are all chomping at the bit to get to Philmont, and the rest would be happy to take a leisurely float canoe trip down the river instead. Maybe the boys that can't afford Philmont may find enjoyment in doing less expensive trips instead. There are a lot of factors that indicate that patrols of like-minded boys may fair better than an arbitrary mix-and-match option that they might be facing.


Yep, been to Philmont, it was great, but at my age, the leisurely float sounds like just as much fun. I don't need to do winter survival for the umpteenth time, but going out and hanging out for the weekend and doing some fishing, swimming, and short day hikes still is a great way for boys to hang out with their buddies.


Your mileage may vary.



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Thanks for the many useful comments. I knew there would not be a single magic answer, but I do apprecite the different perspectives.


I have been thinking about CNYScouter's tale of two patrols (Jambo and No-Jambo) with only the Jambo patrol left after a short time. I need to be careful with terms like "first string" that suggest any patrol is better than another to prevent this kind attitude poisoning the rest of the troop.


Ironically, some of the most competent Scouts I work with are 2 and 3 sport athletes who once they reach HS have lousy attendence. When they do attend, they are ideal Scouts, independent for their own needs and willing to help out the younger guys. Most of these types are naturally very talented and could probably figure most of Scouting out on their own. They did well in NSPs doing FC in FY in 5th and 6th grades before school sports really took over.


I am really looking at this Kudu style patrol for the boys who do not fit the above mold. They don't have many interests beyond Scouts, they are at every meeting and campout. They may not have the natural ability and probably most need Scouts in their lives. I think this new patrol would provide the very best of Scouting to these Scouts that want to put in the time.


I doubt it is a solution for the entire Troop. It is clear from reading these forums that there is no one size fits all solution. I would like to create an environment where Scouts can choose their own path through a number of options. If that means a mix of patrol types, I'm OK with that.



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Yah, my experience is da same as Eagle 1982. Just make the patrols a bit larger, based on your average attendance. If your average attendance is 50%, then patrols should be twice as large.


The "high level" patrol notion poses both some merits and some possible pitfalls, as described.




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If you put it in terms of "High Level" and "Other" (or "Dead Wood"), I would be against it, too.

(I have seen the Deadwood Patrol used in a troop many years ago to collect marginally active guys. It was a bad idea then and still is - unless you have some scouts you want to push out.)


Perhaps think about it as an experiment within the troop with a mixed-age patrol.

I have seen troops with some patrols mixed and some single-age. Usually while in transition one way or the other, but it is certainly possible.


I can't imagine wanting to stay with different models within one troop forever, unless you're a really large troop, but that might be the limit of my imagination and experience.


As you said, there are lots of ways to approach things. A big part of that depends on your objectives or program emphasis.


You may find that mixed-age patrol becomes a spark and the model for your troop.

Or not.

Because, as always, your mileage may vary.

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Actually, if I could try any troop arrangement as an experiment I would try a troop that was a hybrid.


I would want roughly one full NSP to be formed every year and operate as an NSP under a Troop Guide with Instructor assistance until they get on their feet. Once that happened I would want 2-4 regular, semi-permanent patrols that the new Scouts would then transistion into. For the older Scouts who were interested in it, I would want a Venture Patrol they could work their way into. On top of all that would be the SPL and troop staff who would retain nominal membership in a patrol but would not generally function as such during their term while on troop outings/meetings, but could still do so on any independent patrol activities.



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We've been fighting this battle since the BSA began. When I was a scout I had to put up with my hockey coaches telling me if I didn't show up for everything I would be benched, I finally sat down with my coach and asked that if my performance in practice and games was not suffering by my missing 1 practice a week, and 1 practice a month on the weekend why would I be benched, luckily he was understanding and we were able to work things out (which is why hockey helped pay for 3 years of college until injury forced me to quit) My point here being that maybe there might be some understanding coaches / band directors out there, maybe the scouts might need our help to talk to them due to some intimidation factor (I know some of my coaches scared the bejeebers out of me)maybe we can offer the boys the best of both worlds...who knows, maybe you have the next Nolan Ryan, or Lebron James in your troop, with your help maybe they can be a superstar....and an Eagle.

By the way...my Scoutmaster was the less understanding of the 2 groups....I ended up dropping out a scoutmaster conference short of star rank...but ended up being scouted by the NHL.

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My troop has had this "problem" for a while, too. It's not a problem, because it will take care of itself. We were doing "ad hoc" patrols at some adults suggestion some number of months ago. When the PLC was planning our last camping trip, one patrol of 9 had only 3 going. While some in the troop assumed they'd be combining with another patrol, they surprised everyone by going it alone. It worked out fine. Before I took over as SM, the troop would play fruit basket turnover every 6 months. There was NO patrol esprit de corps. None. I let them choose their last patrol, and they've stayed that way ever since. We run three patrols, and a NSP. I've decided that I'm going to keep them together, and they will join the oldest scout patrol, which in 6 months will be the smallest. And next year, the NSP will go the the next oldest patrol, and on and on. We may have a patrol of 14 for a while, but it's not something we can't deal with. It's better than halving a patrol of scouts that have been together since Tiger Cubs.

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Not officially. We bridged 15 new Scouts this fall divided into 2 NSPs which has been absorbing most of our time and effort.


I have talked with the PLC about it but have not heard much follow up. I am considering one Scout that fits BP's description of "hooligan" that I would like to have be the PL. He needs a little more training and to demonstrate a little more responsibility but he has potential. At times it feels more like the "dirty dozen" than Norman Rockwell but I'm okay with that.


Our Klondike Derby is coming up, I am waiting to see what patrols/boys are attending that competition. It could be a good catalyst for forming a mixed age patrol. I'd like to see the PLC drive this, but I'm not afraid to just make it happen if I don't see progress soon.


I think the idea still holds merit but it is a little more difficult to implement than I originally imagined.

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Our town's local Scout Troop tried a non ad-hoc campout for the very first time this weekend!


The two largest Patrols (each with at least eight Scouts attending) headed for the hills, camping about 600 feet apart. The older Scouts in these Patrols had attended my invitation-only "leadership training" backpacking trips, where the gung-ho outdoorsmen Scouts camp a few football fields away from the adults + younger gung-ho Scouts who are not yet up to speed.


Two small Patrols, one with only two (then three) first-year Scouts attending, the other with around four Scouts (including older Life Scouts who just want to get Eagle on their business resume) could not understand the idea of setting up a football field away from each other in the dark. They ended up camping about 20 yards apart near the Troop trailer.


Weak flashlights contributed to their lack of adventure.


I would not call this the "Patrol Method" because regular campouts are dominated by massive Patrol Boxes constructed of 3/4 inch plywood. They require two adult-sized Scouts just to move a couple yards from the trailer. So cooking is done in a central area, which is contrary to truly independently functioning Patrols.


Heavy Patrol Boxes bind Boy Scouts to the Troop Method.


Backpacking (I always call it "Backwoods Treks" within earshot of Boy Scouts) can do a lot to separate "Real" Boy Scouts from Webelos III Scouts, adults, and infrastructure.


Yours at 300 feet,





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Expected/Required Attendance: Yep, lots of sports and activities have required attendance. But the way I play the Scouting game, and the way I want boys to play the Scouting game, is this -- it is a hobby; it is not school; I only want people there who want to be there because it is fun; kids have enough pressures and requirements on them, and Scouting should not be one of them.


Original Question: If I understand the original question correctly, thriftyscout is looking at campouts with 5-8 boys per patrol in attendance as a goal, and wants to "reverse engineer" such campouts to figure out what components are needed and how they should fit together. Good idea. But I guess I would suggest a starting point just a bit further back: What are we trying to accomplish with 5-8 boys per patrol on a campout that we can't accomplish with 2-3 boys per patrol on a campout? Once we have an idea of what each patrol needs all those boys for, we can try to reverse engineer that.


Dan K.

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I'm having difficulty understanding "reverse engineering"?


Take a bad situation and reverse engineer it to see why it's bad? Heck, the results tell you it's bad. Why would I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why it's bad? Why not let the boys try different things to see why things shouldn't be better. One already knows what they have isn't working. Well, what's keeping it from working? Fix that and at least you'll take a step in the right direction. Boys don't want to go? Why not? What's wrong with the activity? Was the right activity picked in the first place, etc. etc. etc. I have only one or two boys out of 15 missing any major activity. They picked the activity, so they have a vested interest in making it go. Adults don't set the agenda, it's the adult's agenda and not the boys, so adults show up and the boys stay home. Don't need reverse engineering to tell me this wasn't going any where in the first place.


"For the past 5 years we have had attendance problems with the patrols." Well, maybe someone should ask the question, have you been doing the same thing for the past 5 years? How many time must one hit their head against the wall before they realize it hurts? And the solution to the pain? Quit doing the same mistake over and over again. Do something else!


SM: "We always go to Camporees, Summer Camp, etc. etc. etc. Attendance of our older boys always drops off because of cars, girls and sports.... " This kind of thinking is what allows ineffective SM's to sleep well at night. Ever think that maybe the attendance of the older boys might be because they are bored to death with their 10th Camporee? or 5th Summer Camp at the same camp? Troops that do this will always ad hoc their young patrols just to have enough to get through the "unpopular" activity. Next time ask the boys where they would like to go.


Your mileage may vary,



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Actually there is no mystery or reverse engineering needed. I am simply trying to provide a better patrol method opportunity for some of the boys. We have roughly 50 boys on our charter, we will have 5 age out this year, at least 3 of which are becoming ASM's. We have a great outdoor program but for many of the boys, Scouting is one of 3 or more activities that they are involved.


Unlike sports, we do not "cut" Scouts who don't consistently show up so we end up with 15 to 20 Scouts on most of our trips but they are not the same 15 to 20 each time. This makes the out of the box patrol method kind of challenging and we end up with a lot of ad hoc patrols. It isn't that the other don't want to go, but they are committed to different things at different times of the year.


I don't see this as a shortcoming of our program. If a Scout is a varsity athlete, he is going to the game/match/tournament no matter what activity is offered. I don't think it is right to say, you can't be in Scouts if your not here 75% of the time or try and lure him away from a sport he enjoys. Just trying to make a good program better not rationalize a bad one.


What I am trying to do, based on some of the feedback I have received here, is form a patrol of boys who are consistent campers. Scouting is their primary extra curricular activity, they camp every outing. I would like to start pulling them together into a patrol so that they can have a better program based upon the original BSA program often cited by Kudu. I'd like to do that without alienating all the others or create some other unintended consequence. That is why I use this forum as a sounding board before trying to implement anything.



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