Monday, August 12, 2013

A Scouting Relay

In High School I used to run on the track team. While my usual events weren't often involved in relays, I did participate in one or two in those years.

In order for a relay to be successful, there are certain things that have to happen.

First, you have to have a team. Each individual on the team runs a specified leg of the relay. All the relays I remember had teams of four members. If I remember correctly, the best person on the team usually ran the last leg. The next best person usually ran the first leg. That way the team gets a great start and an even better finish. But no relay can be really successful unless all team members do their best.

Second, you have to have good hand-offs. Most of the problems in running a relay come during the hand-off. The starting team member begins carrying a baton. That baton needs to be passed from one team member to the next at a specified area on the track. If the hand-off is not completed within the marked-out area, the team is disqualified. An additional problem that frequently occurs during the hand-off comes when the baton is dropped. Whether from a mistake made by one or both team members, a lack of communication, or some other reason, if the baton is dropped, it could easily cost the team the race.

Third, each team member must stay in their assigned lane on the track. If a team member veers outside of their assigned lane, the team is disqualified.

If everything goes well in the relay, the team performs well, but if there are problems in any of these areas, even the best team can find themselves losing the race.

In the LDS church, we have a sort of Scouting relay. The team members are Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturing. The baton that is passed between each team member is an individual boy.

In the LDS church, youth are baptized into the church at age eight. At the same time, the boys join the Cub Scout pack chartered to the ward. At age eleven, those youth are handed-off to the Boy Scout troop. At age 14, they join the Varsity Scouts. At age 16, they join Venturing.

Too often in the church, we don't run this relay effectively.

Sometimes, we don't have good team members to carry the boys through the entire course. We might get a good start in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts only to give up once we hand them off to Varsity and Venturing. We may even have team members who don't want to run their assigned leg and would rather go back and re-do one that has already passed. How often have you seen or heard a Venturing leader panic that a boy hasn't yet earned his Eagle. They give up on a good program because they think the last one hasn't been "finished" yet. This is symptomatic of a deeper problem. They focus so much on one leg of the journey that the lose sight of the final goal.

Sometimes our team members decide they don't want to be running a race at all, and the relay is changed to unorganized basketball.

Other times we find ourselves running outside of the lines. "We'll just call this a priesthood activity, not a Scouting activity." This comes with its own set of problems.

Our hand-offs are particularly bad. We really need to do better at making sure our Scouts are properly registered in the appropriate unit. How many times do we have Scouts participating in Varsity or Venturing for months before they are actually registered as such?

We really need to do a better job of coordinating between the programs so that our hand-offs are effective. We usually do pretty well bridging a boy from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, but when he turns 14 he is just thrown in with a new group. He is given no explanation of what this new program is or where his place is in it. There generally isn't much to look forward to in the hand-off from one program to the next. Why not create a special ceremony to transfer a young man from Boy Scouts to Varsity or from Varsity to Venturing? Why not make the exchange a big deal?

In the LDS church we actually have another leg of this race. It's when we send a boy on his mission. His mission experience will further his development so that when he comes home he is better prepared to be a father and a leader, both in the church and in the community. The "finish line" of this relay isn't really a distinct line but rather an ideal. We want them to become something, not just accomplish something.

In the LDS church, we use Scouting to help our boys become men. From the day they are baptized to the day they leave on their mission, one Scouting program or another is there to help them along the way. How many boys never make it that far because someone in the relay dropped the baton, or decided their job wasn't that important? 

We need each of the programs. We can't ignore part of the relay and hope it works out anyway. We need to work together and coordinate more effectively. We want to win this race.

*   *   *
There are probably lots of other parallels you can draw between running a relay race and our Scouting relay. These are the thoughts I had, when I heard this analogy from a member of my Stake Presidency, who heard it at Philmont this year.


  1. Oh, how I wish my stake leadership would go to Philmont. Alas, they've told me that it's not a good use of resources.

  2. I love this analogy, Tory! Thanks for sharing.