It seems like an ideal troop outing. A trip to a local ski area for a weekend of snow sports. The slopes are not too steep but still full of fun and challenge. They offer downhill and cross-country skiing trails, snowboarding runs, ice skating and tubing. There are lights for nighttime skiing as well. Lessons are available, and there’s camping on site. The ski area is less than an hour’s drive away, and the cost is reasonable. There should be plenty to do for everyone.
But when only a few Scouts, and fewer adults, choose to attend, the outing has to be cancelled.
What went wrong?
It wasn’t the lack of snow. Despite the mild month, it was cold enough to manufacture snow, and tent camping wouldn’t have been brutally cold.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar new activity. Plenty of Scouts go skiing and snowboarding with their families and friends.
I’m going to take a stab at this one and conclude that it was probably a combination of factors that put the kibosh on the outing. For one thing, it was the weekend before first semester final exams, and most of the middle school and high school boys were studying. But beyond academics, the outing probably failed for other reasons – because the troop has done the same or a similar outing every year, because there was little opportunity for advancement other than meeting the requirements of the Snow Sports merit badge, and because the Scouts did very little of their own actual planning.
A campout needs to have essential elements not only to be considered a Scout campout, but to also be exciting and appealing to the Scouts themselves. Scouts get tired of doing the same things – this is one reason why so many boys drop out – and they don’t like being told what they are going to do. They get plenty of adult direction in school, sports and extracurriculars. Scouting is the one activity where boys have the opportunity to plan and conduct their own activities, rather than just “riding along” and being consumers of canned outings.
There are a few things that can improve Scout enthusiasm for, and help increase participation in, a troop’s monthly campouts.
- Patrol-based. A troop is a collection of patrols, and the patrol is the fundamental building block of Scouting. Each patrol camps, cooks and does things on its own. There are troop-wide activities, which can include campfires, competitions between patrols, and an interfaith service, but most of the time should be spent as patrols. Campouts where everyone does the same activities as individuals does nothing to leverage patrol spirit, the heartbeat of a healthy troop.
- Patrol-planned. Scouting is something that the Scouts make happen for themselves, not doing things that others have planned for them. Boys being boys, it’s certainly easier for them to let others (read: the adults) do that planning for them, but character and leadership are developed when boys actually do the things that make a campout happen – find places to go, make phone calls, arrange rides, and own their weekend. We’re here to build leaders, not followers. Scouts need to have some skin in the game, or they’ll become indifferent and just stay home.
- Not the “same old same-old.” The boys will certainly find it easier to just fill in last year’s activities onto this year’s calendar, but once you’ve slept on a submarine, or in a cave, or visited a museum, you’re not going to want to keep going back year after year, or even every other year. The same can be said for high adventure. A troop that only goes to Sea Base or Philmont and never tries either the other BSA high adventure bases or making their own high adventure plans is missing out on new opportunities that keeps Scouts interested and engaged.
- Calendar-aware. When the patrol leaders’ council does its calendar planning, important school and Scouting dates need to be written in first (right along with the Scoutmaster’s wedding anniversary) as weekends to avoid. School dates like final exams, college entrance exams, big sporting events and homecoming are potential conflicts that can hurt participation. Council events, like adult or youth leader training and Order of the Arrow weekends, can pose a dilemma over which to attend, with negative impacts either way.
If your troop is struggling with spotty participation, look deeper to find the cause. Unless Scouts are taking advantage of opportunities to do the things that Scouts do, they’re missing out on everything Scouting has to offer them.
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