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.