Monday, December 20, 2010

Scouting 2010

The centennial year for the Boy Scouts of America is almost over. It has been quite eventful for me, with plenty of experiences both good and not-so-good. I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to be involved in Scouting during this time.

In January, we went on a snowshoeing trip. This was perhaps the first activity our Venturing crew had that did not include any of the younger boys. One of my goals when I started was to get the different groups (Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers) to have separate activities. It was also one of our first weekend activities in quite a long time. Holding more weekend activities was one of my Wood Badge ticket items.

We used home-made snowshoes that our ward had made several years ago. By the end of the trip, several of them were broken. We have plans to re-build them in 2011.

Not much happened in February, the official centennial on Feb 8th notwithstanding. Our planned weekend activity fell through, due to not finding a NRA certified range instructor to help.

March, however, had a lot going on. One major achievement was that we finally got our crew officers elected and trained. This was also one of my Wood Badge ticket items and was, for me, a huge step in getting things going.

We also had a District-wide Venturing activity. This was the first one we had had in at least the nearly two years I'd been in Venturing. It was an "autocross." We had a course marked out in traffic cones on a large parking lot. Each Venturer had the opportunity to drive the course and try for the fastest time. The adult adviser had to ride shotgun for each young man. I wish I had a video camera for that front-seat view of the course.

Also in March was the first Court of Honor our Troop/Team/Crew had held in nearly two years. Our committee fell apart after the chairman was called to another position and it still hasn't recovered. I eventually decided that if we were ever going to hold a Court of Honor, then I would have to be the one to plan it.

April found us with two major activities. The first was a statewide Day of Difference when every pack, troop, team, and crew in the state would be doing service projects. We had two boys show up.

The following weekend was a second District Venturing activity. We went shotgun shooting. As much as our young men always talk about wanting to go shooting I was very surprised to have only two come.
Like February, not much happened in May. We planned a fishing trip that fell through because the tour permit didn't get submitted in time. I had delegated that to the dad (and committee member) who was going to be going with us. We needed his insurance information anyway since he would be driving. They got to the Scout office about an hour after it closed just before the weekend. Others may have continued with the trip anyway, but I've been trying to stick to the rules.

In June we conducted the Venturing Leadership Skills Course. We took the crew up the mountain and set up camp. It was a great experience, and the culmination of eight months of hard work for me. It was also the final goal to finish off my Wood Badge Ticket.
The "Blind Triangle" exercise - a lesson in communication
Winners of the Paper Tower contest
Not long after dinner on Friday night, it started to rain. The rain turned to snow Saturday morning, so we came back to town and finished the VLSC at the church.

In July, we marched in the Pioneer Day parade.
It's easy to find me because I'm the only person around who wears the green Venturing uniform.

August and September saw a lot of activities fall through. Did you know that young men get really busy in the summer and don't have time for an overnight camp-out, even though they beg you to take them all year long? I've learned a lot by this point about planning our yearly calendar and I think we've done better for next year.

At the end of September we held another Court of Honor. This one was especially meaningful to me.
In addition to receiving my Wood Badge beads, I was able to present the first Venturing award our crew has ever seen--a religious life Bronze award.
In the 12 years that Venturing has been in existence, there have been about a dozen Bronze awards earned in the two districts served by our local scout office. For comparison, there have been over 24 eagle scouts in 2010 alone for the same area.

In October, we were able to attend the Utah National Parks Council Centennial Camporall.For more information about that, see my earlier post.

In November, I was pleased to sit in on the Eagle Board of Review for one of my young men (the same one who earned is bronze award earlier). Now I need to try to get our committee together to plan an Eagle Court of Honor.

In December, we were able to get certified in CPR.

We also were finally able to get the young men together to plan our calendar for next year. Hopefully we'll be able to make it work.

That leads us to now. All in all, it has been a pretty good year. We've had some success and some failure. We've had some activities work as planned and others completely forgotten about. We've made progress in getting Venturing to work, but we still have a long way to go. But I'm optimistic.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Spalding Theory of Youth Leadership

When I started out in the Venturing program about two and a half years ago, I tried to learn everything I could about the program so I could implement it properly. I came across a very useful website for LDS Scouting and Venturing:

One of the things I came across there was something they called the "Spalding theory" of youth leadership. According to the website, this theory holds that if a young man bounces a basketball 10,000 times while in the young men's program, he is certain to go on a mission.

I have seen, and heard of, too many young men's groups who subscribe to this theory. Instead of implementing Scouting or Venturing, they play basketball. And they usually don't play organized games or hold practices--they just play. My own group was one of these when I first started. Even when the leaders had something planned, they met in the gym. Then the young men would be distracted and end up playing basketball while the leaders were trying in vain to do something else. I quickly decided that if I was going to get anything done, or if we were going to do Venturing, we would have to get the young men out of the gym and do activities other than basketball. 

At first it wasn't easy. The young men were used to playing basketball, but simply moving our meetings into a classroom made a huge difference. Then we had to have activities. Since the youth were not used to planning their own, and we didn't have any sort of plan for our upcoming activities, the organization for each night fell to me. I started to get them to play simple team-building games, such as can be found in the Venturing Fast Start packet. I also occasionally brought some board games I have--chess, othello, abalone, quoridor--The boys loved it. We also did several Ethical Controversies, which are required for two different Venturing awards. The boys really love those.

I had someone who has been involved in Scouting for years tell me I shouldn't get rid of basketball. He tried to convince me that it was useful on those nights when we were doing Scoutmaster Conferences or the like. "When you're meeting with one boy individually, why not let the rest play basketball?" he would ask. My response was that we can just as easily play other games while doing that and we didn't need to resort to basketball.

When I went to Wood Badge, one of the things I decided to do for my ticket was to get the young men to plan out a year-long calendar. We've just finished up that year plan (much of which didn't actually work). Not once on that plan did these young men plan to play basketball. Even when our original plan fell through, we didn't play basketball.

This past week we've been working on our plan for next year. We finished it up last night. At one point, one of the young men suggested that they have basketball practices in the entire month of October or November to correspond with the annual Stake young men's basketball tournament. 

This was a challenge I've been trying to avoid, but was something I've been thinking about lately. So, I took a moment to explain to my young men why I've tried to get them out of the gym; why I would rather they do something other than basketball. At the same time, I told them, I've been wanting them to take more of a leadership role and plan their own activities. I told them that while basketball wouldn't be my first choice of activities, it wasn't my choice to make. I told them that if what they wanted to do was have two months of basketball practices around the tournament, then that is what we would do. After some discussion the plan was made, not to play basketball, but to learn some new sports. Each young man would be in charge of one week and teach the others the rules, and how to play and keep score in a sport they may not be familiar with--tennis, cricket, bowling, and croquet.

I don't want to be mistaken on this issue. Basketball is a fine game. Baden-Powell himself recommended it in Scouting for Boys as a good game to promote exercise and teamwork. I don't really have a problem with basketball. My objections are simply in having basketball as the default activity. My crew has now planned on written calendars 27 consecutive months without basketball being the main activity. The young men know they will still get to play. There will be the stake tournament each year. They usually come early to our meetings and play ball. They always stay late and play ball after our activity. In fact, this week we finished our planning early and then went into the gym and played a game of ball for the last 15 minutes of our meeting time. And it was fun. I even played with them.

The point I'm trying to make is that Scouting and Venturing work. Our young men want to do Scouting. Sometimes they just don't know it. They need to be given opportunities to try things they wouldn't otherwise. But given an alternative to basketball, I have found that they will chose the alternative. Basketball simply comes into play when there isn't a plan for something different.

So please, give up the Spalding Theory and use what really works--Scouting and Venturing.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I got a call just before I went to bed on Wednesday night asking if I would fill in at the Venturing round table on Thursday. With such short notice I tried to think of something that wouldn't require much preparation. What I thought of was the Venturing Leadership Skills Course. Since I taught it to my young men in June and still had everything I needed, I thought it would be appropriate. Besides, I think it teaches some principles with which every leader should be familiar.

The first module is about Vision. The idea is that before a leader can lead effectively, he has to know where he is going. I've been wondering how many of our local Venturing leaders have a vision for what they want their crew to be. And if they have, how many of them have shared that vision with their young men?

The module begins with a question: "What is the nuts and bolts of leadership?"

It is answered with a quote by Thomas J. Peters and Nancy Austin: "Vision is the nuts and bolts of leadership. You have to know where you're going. To be able to state it clearly and concisely. And you have to care about it passionately. That all adds up to vision."

Then the course has a couple more quotes, which are discussed:
"The essence of leadership is a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet." -- Theodore Hesburgh

"Consider what impacts you at the gut level. What makes you makes you cry? What makes you dream? What gives you energy?" -- John C. Maxwell.

When I taught it, I added a quote from President Thomas S. Monson that has really impacted me and helped guide my leadership. I thought it would be especially important for other Venturing leaders:
"The leaders who have the most influence are usually those who set hearts afire with devotion to the truth, who make obedience to duty seem the essence of manhood, who transform some ordinary routine occurrence so that it becomes a vista where we see the person we aspire to be." (His entire talk is found here.)

After discussing these quotes and how they relate to vision and leadership, we watch a few video clips from various movies, paying attention to the vision expressed by different leaders. We watched clips from the movies Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland's Opus, and Gettysburg.

Following the videos there is more discussion, including the idea that a vision is based on a foundation of clearly defined values. Different leaders valued different things, but each of those respective values were the basis for the vision each of the leaders had. It was those values that helped formulate the vision.

In the VLSC, it brings up the Venturing Oath and Code as the values on which a Venturing crew should base their vision. The young men are then challenged to develop a crew vision statement, followed by personal vision statements.

We didn't do this part at round table but had more of a discussion about what our vision ought to be for our young men. I shared a bit of my vision that the Venturing program would become the pinnacle in the Scouting experience for my young men; that the younger boys would look up at what their older brothers were doing and say "I can't wait to get into Venturing." I shared my vision that the Venturing Silver award would one day become just as prestigious as the Eagle Scout award. (We've got a long way to go there in our local unit.)

I also shared what I thought was a pretty good vision statement for any LDS venturing crew--the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood:

To help each young man:
  • Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live its teachings.
  • Serve faithfully in priesthood callings and fulfill the responsibilities of priesthood offices.
  • Give meaningful service.
  • Prepare and live worthily to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and temple ordinances.
  • Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission.
  • Obtain as much education as possible.
  • Prepare to become a worthy husband and father.
  • Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.

I hope that what I shared was helpful to some of the other Venturing leaders. I know that, for me, it made a difference to be able to think about what I was trying to do in terms of a vision statement. I have tried to share that vision with my young men and I believe it has made a difference there. I hope that a few more leaders can catch the vision of what Venturing (and Scouting in general) can be for their young men. And I hope they share that with their young men.

"Vision is everything for a leader. It is utterly indispensable. Why? Because vision leads the leader. It paints the target. It sparks and fuels the fire within. It is also the fire lighter for others who follow that leader."
--John C. Maxwell.
The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Me? Really?

I've recently started following the blog for Scouting Magazine. Each week they've been having a Name That Council contest, in which they post a council shoulder patch with the name erased. Scouts and Scouters are welcome to submit guesses about which council it belongs to. A drawing is then held from all the correct answers and the winner gets the council shoulder patch to add to their collection. For some reason, I started entering.

So far I've correctly identified the last four council shoulder patches but have been unlucky in the drawing. Until today, that is. I checked the blog today and found my name listed as the winner of the contest. I couldn't believe it. I never win contests.

I guess I now have to figure out what to do with a council shoulder patch from the Milwaukee County Council. Perhaps I'll start a collection.

Just don't ask me what my secret is in identifying the patches. If I tell, there might be more correct answers and I won't win any more. And what good is a collection with only one patch?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scouting for Food

Like almost everyone else, we had our Scouting for Food drive this past weekend. We were able to collect 584 lbs. of food for our local food bank.

We went around on Wednesday evening and delivered bags to the houses in our ward. The cub scouts helped us out by going around earlier in the day. On Saturday morning we went around to pick them up. We only had one young man show up to help. Apparently there were a lot of other things going on that day. At least he wore his uniform without being specifically asked or reminded. (Now if only we could get a few patches sewed on. And a neckerchief.)

After we dropped off all our food, and I took our Scout home, I noticed a house with a bag sitting on the porch. I decided to go around again to see if anyone else got their donation out late and ended up getting another 20 lbs. of food.

I got talking with another Venturing leader later that day who reported they were able to collect 997 lbs of food. I don't know if our unit has ever collected quite that much, but I do know we got over100 lbs more last spring.

So, what is the secret to getting lots of donations? This other Venturing leader said they went out Saturday morning and knocked on doors, asking for donations, saying they would be back an hour later to pick them up. He was convinced this approach worked better. But we tried it that way last fall and I'm not sure I liked it. It seemed to take a very long time and we ended up with about the same as we got this year. Last spring we tried delivering the bags on Wednesday and picking them up on Saturday morning, and we ended up with 100 lbs. more food than the previous outing. But this time it just didn't work.

That's not to say that I'm not pleased with what we were able to contribute, I just wish we could have done a little more.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Youth Leadership

I noticed something to day. I was sitting in church today, watching the young men in our ward perform their priesthood duties by administering the sacrament. Each week these young men show up and perform their duties in this sacred ordinance without being told what to do, or reminded that they need to. They just do it. And they do a very good job.

I've seen this every week. I often think about the good job they do and thank the young men for being so diligent in fulfilling their priesthood duties. But what I thought about today was a little different. Today I saw in these young men, ranging from 12 to 17 years old, their extraordinary capacity for leadership. Not only do they participate in this ordinance, they lead it. They come early and prepare; they make assignments; they organize each other; the older boys teach the younger boys their responsibilites; they help each other.

As I was watching the young men, thinking about what they were doing, I thought about one of the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood--to prepare them to receive the Melchizedek priesthood. By performing these assignments now they are learning how to become the future leaders of the church. I thought of the wisdom in this plan to give young men responsibilities to prepare them for more.

And then it hit me. If the young men have the ability to lead in this one thing, wouldn't they have the ability to lead in other things, Scouting for instance?

How many times have I heard that Scouting is supposed to be led by the boys? And yet, I don't know that I've ever seen it actually happen that way. Why? Is it because as leaders we don't trust them to lead? Well, if the Savior trusts them to lead one of the most sacred ordinances in His church, why shouldn't we trust them to lead an activity?

Maybe the young men don't really know how to lead Scouting activities. In the ordinance of the sacrament, they have grown up seeing others do it and knowing that one day they will be entrusted with that responsibility. When they get there, other young men who have experience show them what to do. And as they grow, they take a turn teaching others.

It seems a little different in Scouting. If they don't see that leadership in other boys and don't have older boys to teach them, they don't learn how to lead. They must rely on adult leaders who, either out of frustration, impatience, ignorance, or lack of trust, often abandon the idea of teaching boys to lead and just do the leading themselves. I know I've been guilty.

But why can't the youth lead the way they do in administering the sacrament? I think they can but I'm not sure how to get there. Some of these boys have never been expected to lead a meeting, or plan an activity, or cook their own meals on a campout. They've grown up expecting that the adults will just take care of it.

I'm going to try to do better. I'm going to try to trust the young men to plan and lead activities. I'm going to try to teach them how. I know things won't change overnight. I'm sure some will do better than others. We may have a few activities fall through, but I suspect we'll also have some resounding successes. Either way, I'm going to try.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I went to round table this past week and started thinking. In the last two and a half years I've been to nearly every round table meeting there has been. I think I missed one or two about a year ago because I temporarily forgot which day it was. I still showed up, I was just a week late.

Anyway, what got me thinking was the number of people who weren't there. There are 30 registered Venturing Crews in the district. All of them chartered to a priests quorum in an LDS ward. Each crew should have, at least, an advisor and associate advisor. That means there should be upwards of 60 people at each round table. Since the Bishop is the president of the priests quorum, it would be entirely appropriate to have the Bishop in attendance as well. Now, I don't expect that there will ever be a time when every person who should be there will be there. People often have work or other scheduling conflicts that would prevent their attendance. Even so, I would think that the majority of those involved should be able to attend the majority of the time.

So, with around 90 people who could be at round table each month, and 60 who really should be there each month, guess how many people we had last week.

Go ahead, guess.

You're probably guessing too high.

Try three. Four if you count the instructor. In the last two and a half years I don't recall ever attending a Venturing round table that had more than ten. Most of the time there are less than five.

I don't really understand it. Round table has been, for me, one of the most helpful meetings I've attended. I get to meet with others who are having similar challenges. We get to talk about what works and what doesn't. We share ideas and give encouragement. I don't know how anyone can effectively lead a scout group without the support and help of other leaders, and for me that has come principally through round table.

I have often told other people that it took me at least a year to learn what it is I am supposed to do as a Venturing leader. And another year to learn how to do it. Without round table, I'm sure it would have taken much, much longer.

I simply don't understand why more people don't come.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Centennial Camporall

This past weekend I took a few of the young men to the Centennial Camporall. in Heber City, UT. We had a great time.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and set up camp.
Notice the lack of chairs. Just one of several things I forgot to pack.

There was supposed to be a service project, but we never got any information about it at check-in, so we missed it.

At the opening ceremony, we heard from the council president and had a flag retirement ceremony. Then a fireworks display.

Following the fireworks we watched the movie "Scout Camp." I'm not going to give a thorough critique, but I will say that it had good potential. It just didn't seem to take off. If I were in charge we would have watched "Follow Me Boys" instead.

Friday morning came early--before the sun came up--and it was cold. Given the setting of the camp, we weren't allowed to have fires. That would have been nice.
We fired up the stove to make breakfast, but it was so cold we couldn't get any fuel out of the tank. It worked fine the night before but in the morning it just wouldn't put out any heat. We were able to get just enough to warm up the pre-cooked bacon. It took a half hour to half cook a pancake. So, we made do and started the day.

We were allowed to register each young man for up to three activities. Several of the activities were competitive in nature, complete with awards. One young man took third place in his mountain bike ride. Two others placed first and second in the cowboy action shoot. And that was just Friday morning. The awards were a special addition "ghost" patch in gold, silver, and bronze. Here's what the bronze looks like.
There were full color versions available to those scouts who visited 10 different venues. None of my young men wanted to get one and I didn't find out adults were eligible until too late. I'll have to check ebay to see if anyone is selling theirs. I would really like one. They are cool.

Friday afternoon we had signed up to go rappelling. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the rappelling. It was really just a climbing wall and anyone was allowed to participate. If I had known that's what it would be like I would have registered them for something else and they still would have been able to do the climbing wall.

Anyway, I think they boys had fun. They were also able to do the ropes course and zip line. We also crashed the chess tournament for a game or two.

There really were a lot of activities to participate in. There was a guy showing boys how to do flint knapping, a mountain man bartering post, a traveling scout museum, and a visit from the national guard.

Friday night saw us attending another program. This time we heard from a professional football player with the Utah Blaze (don't ask me his name), as well as Elder Ochoa, the Second Counselor in the Young Men's General Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We also sang happy birthday to Leonard "Woody" Woodward, the Nation's oldest Scouter, who celebrated his 99th birthday the day before.

Also friday night was a concert from a band I've never heard of and never care to hear again. 

Saturday morning, like Friday, came early and cold. Knowing our stove wouldn't be able to cook our french toast, we went to McDonald's instead. That is one good thing about camping in town.

After breakfast the boys headed off to their ultimate frisbee tournament. Because of differences in size of the various groups, one of our young men played on a different team than the others. That team ended up taking second place in the tournament, earning him a silver patch.

That made four winners for our crew, which put us into fourth place overall in the total winnings.
The boys didn't know there would be awards for the best overall groups and wanted to skip out on the closing ceremony. I wouldn't let them. I think they enjoyed it though.

Overall, it was a really good experience. Sure, there were things I would have liked to see happen differently, but that will happen with just about any activity. We all had a really good time and I think there were some memories made that will last for quite a while. And maybe, just maybe, those young men will become better people because of it. And isn't that what scouting is really about?