A few months ago I was asked to be an Assistant Round Table Commissioner for the Venturing program in our district. That means I get to lead the Venturing round tables every couple months. I was in charge of the one for April, which we had last Thursday. I'm just now getting around to saying anything about it.
I decided the topic should be youth leadership. It seems like whenever I talk to other Venturing leaders, most of them are having some good activities. But I almost always get the impression that the adults are planning and leading them. I'm struggling with it myself. But it should be the youth who are planning and leading the activities.
So, for round table we discussed the activities we are all having, what works and what doesn't and I asked who was leading the activities. Nobody said anything. I think they all knew the youth should be, but weren't. So we played a game.
The game is called Helium Stick. Everyone lines up in two lines, facing each other. They hold out their index fingers so they are all lined up, and a rigid, light-weight stick is laid across the middle. The goal is to work together to get the stick on the floor, all the while maintaining finger contact (you can't hold it or curl your finger around it). If anyone's finger comes off, you start over.
I had never played this game before, or seen it done, so I wasn't entirely convinced it would work. I found the lightest stick I could think of (the stalk of a Phragmites plant). As soon as I put the stick on their fingers it started to rise. The eventually got it to stay still, but found it almost impossible to get it to go down. They finally found a way to make it work, but some might have considered it to be cheating.
The point of this game (from my perspective) was to show that sometimes we try too hard. We're all so focused on not letting our fingers off the stick that we end up going in the opposite direction. With our young men, we are sometimes so focused on making sure an activity works that the ultimate goal is compromised. Sometimes we need to let go just a little. We need to let the young men lead. We need to be willing to let them fail, not in a way that will hurt them but in a way that will help them grow. We might need to be willing to eat whatever it is they decide to cook, even if it ends up burnt. We might need to wait until 10:00 for dinner on a camp because they forgot to get started earlier. We might even need to be willing to occasionally not have an activity if the boy in charge didn't do his job.
We also discussed the election and training of youth officers. I gave some ideas of my own and discussed resources available for training our youth.
We had a really good discussion. There were some who were struggling with having only one boy. (How do you teach a boy to lead when there is no one for him to lead?) There were others who have several young men, but none of them are interested in Scouting or are too busy with work or girlfriends or otherwise just don't come. We weren't able to come up with answers to everything, and maybe there aren't answers to some of those concerns.
My feeling is that, whatever the situation, we need to let the young men take the lead. It takes time, along with a lot of training/mentoring/coaching to get them used to it. Some will do better than others. Sometimes they will fail. Far more often they will succeed.