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The Patrol System is the one essential feature in which Scout training differs from that of all other organizations, and where the System is properly applied, it is absolutely bound to bring success. It cannot help itself! The formation of the boys into Patrols of from six to eight and training them as separate units each under its own responsible leader is the key to a good Troop.
   — Robert Baden-Powell

=Patrol as team[edit]

The Patrol is a team of 6-8 Scouts, led by a Patrol Leader (PL) and the Assistant Patrol Leader.

In all activities the scouts are

Patrol roles[edit]

The rest of the Scouts in the Patrol have responsibilities and roles assigned by the Patrol Leader according to their natural talents: (e.g. Quartermaster, Scribe, Gamemaster, etc.) These different positions can be changed or replaced over time according to whatever scheme makes the Patrol run more efficiently during all of its activities.

The activities the Patrol comes together to take part in are: Troop meetings, separate Patrol meetings, Troop outings (e.g. service projects, camping trips, etc.), and separate Patrol outings. Having defined times during which the Patrol acts as a unit (both with the rest of the Troop and by itself for separate activities) allows the Patrol to develop it’s own special micro-culture. In addition, since everything the Troop does is done as a collection of Patrols, the Patrols run the Troop representatively through their Patrol Leaders who meet together regularly as the Patrol Leader Council (also referred to as the Court of Honor by some outside of the United States). How does the Patrol develop Patrol spirit?

The ‘micro-culture’ of a Patrol that I referred to earlier has a special name: the Patrol spirit. The most obvious way Patrol spirit develops is simply when the Patrol spends a lot of time doing activities, facing challenges, and overcoming them together. When they camp as an individual unit, they must depend upon each other for basic life necessities. When they compete with other Patrols in various competitions at the meetings, they have to work as a team if they want to win.

Secondly, Patrols should have visual representations of their values and their unit. Patrol flags, Patrol calls, Patrol signatures, and other symbolic and practical features are the tools by which this is cultivated. In addition, Patrols should have either temporary or permanent locations that they call their own in the form of special Patrol camping sites, Patrol dens, and Patrol corners (for gathering together as a Patrol during the Troop meetings.

Patrol spirit is also caused by the Patrols possessing a real form of autonomy. Obviously, as part of a Troop and possibly a larger organization, they do not have completely free reign. There is higher leadership with certain requirements. However, underneath these structures they should posses a real freedom to shape the Scouting experience for themselves in the way they desire.

Next, Patrol spirit sky-rockets through competitions between different Patrols. This is perhaps one of the methods most deeply-rooted in human nature, and by not utilizing this to the utmost, you are missing one of the most powerful tools of Scouting. There should be friendly competition between Patrols in everything from games to training exercises. The best competitions force every Scout in the Patrol to be constantly engaged in order for the Patrol to win. Although the reward of some competitions may simply be the gratification of victory, there should be other special honors and privileges as well.

The building blocks of the Patrol System are relationships.

The Patrol structure and the way the Patrol spirit develops creates a handful of distinct relationships between the players in the ‘game of Scouting’. To make the most of the Patrol System, I believe it would be helpful to elaborate on a few of these. In this introduction, I will elaborate on two, saving the rest for a future post in this series.

First of all, because the Patrol Leader’s leadership is genuine, the Scoutmaster relates to him in a special way. The Patrol Leader is given more confidence in communicating Troop matters. The Patrol Leader also gets more direct training from the Scoutmaster in leadership skills. When the Scoutmaster wishes to communicate things to the Patrol members as a group, more often than not he will relay that information through the Patrol Leader. In short, the Patrol Leader’s position is clearly marked by the way the Scoutmaster relates to him.

In like manner, the Patrol Leader also has a special relationship to the members of his Patrol. His position is respected by going to him first in matters related to Scouting instead of going to an authority higher up in the chain of command. His orders are to be followed implicitly if they do not violate a higher authority, and even his requests are given a higher weight. It doesn’t all go one way, though. The Patrol Leader should also be held to a higher standard by the members of his Patrol in the way he practices Scouting. Scouts should expect their Patrol Leader to set a high example of character and work ethic and to constantly put the needs of his Patrol ahead of his own.

2015-11-26 12_12_08 This is the Patrol System in a nutshell.

In this brief overview of the Patrol Method, I stressed how vital the Patrol System is to Scouting. I talked about what a Patrol is: its structure and what it looks like. I explained how it was purposefully designed to grow something called “Patrol spirit”. Finally, I discussed how this system plays itself out in a couple of relationships in the Scout Troop.

I hope this painted a clear, broad picture of what the Patrol System is in Scouting. I want to take each of these subtopics and talk about them in much greater depth in the following posts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions, experience, questions, and insights regarding the Patrol System. Many of you have much more experience applying these principles in the real world than I could hope to have. I would be honored to hear what you’ve learned. If you post in the comment section below, it will enable others to read and glean ideas from your experience.

Thank you again for reading this post. If you found it worth anything to you, please take a few minutes to put these concepts in your own words and explain them to at least one other person in the following week. Together, we can spread knowledge of real Scouting via the Patrol System!

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Scout on!