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.

1 comment:

  1. We had a different kind of Spalding program ~ dodge ball. It sucked being considered a boring leader at first but the boys haven't looked back since!!!