The cog that turns the wheels of Boy Scouting is the patrol method, and the grease that lubes the axle is something nebulously called patrol spirit.
Just what is patrol spirit? It’s the sense of friendship and cooperation that exists between members of a patrol. It’s the competitive nature and persistence that propels a patrol toward higher performance in fun, adventure, service and advancement (and winning those games of Capture the Flag).
Troops that don’t have standing patrols, where Scouts belong to – and do everything as – a patrol, are missing out on the major attraction of Scouting. In fact, you could argue that a troop that doesn’t strongly adhere to the patrol system isn’t a Boy Scout troop at all, but just a mob of boys doing Scout-like stuff.
Patrol spirit doesn’t just happen, and you can’t just assign boys to patrols and expect them to get along. Scouts should select their own patrols, for patrols are actually groupings of friends who know and like each other and have fun doing things together.
In patrols that form when new Scouts join a troop, patrol spirit can take time to develop. It takes being together, working together, playing together and accomplishing things together to build that sense of teamwork and enthusiasm. (Remember the four stages of team development – forming, storming, norming and performing? Patrols go through the same steps too.)
Common wisdom has long held that Webelos dens that cross over into a troop and stay together as a patrol have more fun, advance faster, and camp together better. That’s because the beginnings of patrol spirit happen in the Cub Scout den.
Think about it: A den does things together, away from the rest of the pack. They meet, advance, go on outings, camp, perform skits, build Pinewood Derby cars, and generally have a good time together. It’s only logical that you shouldn’t break them up when they join a troop, for it would toss out the window all that potential patrol spirit that’s lurking there.
It’s also why the ideal den size is the same as the ideal patrol size of six to eight Scouts, and why large dens aren’t a good idea. A den of thirteen or fifteen boys should be split for a couple reasons: it’s a lot of work for one den leader to handle that many, but also because half a classroom’s worth of boys can’t develop the same esprit de corps that a smaller group can. Everyone is counting on one other, and nobody gets left behind (or disappears into the shadows).
Cub Scout den leaders help to plant the seeds of patrol spirit in the den. You may not realize it, but it’s a golden opportunity and will pay dividends when the boys join a troop.
Image courtesy of cashmeremiles.com.