Think back to those exceptional, specific moments when you saw a Patrol in your Troop really shine. Maybe it was the way they prepared a meal during that camping trip last Fall: everyone doing their job quickly and enthusiastically. Maybe it was the way the whole Patrol came together to help one of its members who was in need. Maybe it was just that meeting a few weeks ago when the Patrol had a really great time and everyone worked together cheerfully.
What you saw is called Patrol spirit. It’s a concept that has been talked about since the beginning of Scouting. It’s the special espirt de corps that graces those groups which stand out above the rest. You know it when you see it, and I know you’ve seen glimpses of it before. But don’t you wish that Patrol spirit could last longer than a few minutes or a few hours? Well, in order to capture that spirit and make it a permanent part of the Patrol, a Patrol has to develop a solid Patrol identity.
Back when I was trying to do this in my own Patrol, I discovered that the tools needed to build a Patrol identity were already in the traditional Scouting framework. In this article, I want to share those with you. I know you’ll walk away from reading this full of excitement and new ideas (as I am writing this) for promoting the growth of Patrol spirit in your Troop.
This is a continuation of the series “Traditional Scouting 101”. In the last part, I outlined the activities a real Scout Patrol tackles together. In the part before that, I did my best to lay a solid foundational understanding of the structure of a Scout Patrol. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend taking the time to read through those when you get the chance.
Now, enough of the introduction! Let’s dive right in!
In your memory, how much are the special relationships in your life associated with the places where you experienced those relationships? Location plays an elemental role in human experience – we tie ideas, memories, and feelings to a place in space and time. Scouting’s founders knew this instinctively. That is why a fundamental step in building a Patrol’s spirit is giving them some form of ownership of physical space.
Patrol Corners are exactly that space during Troop meetings. It is there that each Patrol will have a ‘home base’ to group and regroup throughout the course of the evening.
Sometimes, the building or room where a Troop meets is just perfect for creating these corners. Other times, you’ll have to let creativity go to work in order to make them happen. In any case, there are no insurmountable excuses or obstacles to having your own Patrol corners. Some Scoutmasters from days gone by have described how their Patrols built clever moveable rooms made from partitions which could be easily packed away at the end of each meeting. Whatever solution your Patrols come up with, though, you want to meet a few basic requirements: separation, decoration, and function.
Separation: Patrols should be able to feel some level of privacy when they meet in their corner. Decoration: Even if they’re temporary, Patrol corners should have constantly evolving decorations that reflect the essence of the Patrol and the individual members of it. Function: The Patrol corner should be able to house at least some Patrol property (props, game equipment, and etc.) that the Patrol actually uses on a regular basis.
During some meetings, the Patrols might spend most of the time in their corners. During other meetings, they might only be in there for a minute. But if possible, the Patrol corner should be used every meeting.
Patrol dens are basically a permanent extension of the Patrol corner concept. Back when Scouts lived a lot closer together, having a permanent Patrol den was many times easier than it is today. However, I believe it is still very possible and that having a proper, regularly-used den is the gold standard for Patrol spirit. This is because the Scouts in the Patrol have reached the ability to operate as members of an independent unit. Because the Patrol den is a semi-permanent location, all the benefits of the Patrol corner can be fully expanded and realized.
Real Patrols don’t just sit in the safe zone! They are out and about – exploring new places and accomplishing things. For these times, it’s just as important to have a physical location where the Patrol stakes temporary ownership and uses as its “home base” during the course of the adventure. Most of the time, this will be a defined Patrol campsite. Having a small circle of tents (separate from the Troop) with a little cooking station and gathering area may not seem like much, but it is a massive boost to Patrol spirit.
Many times, I’ve seen the spirit of my own Patrol slowly start to dissolve when all of the Scouts in the Troop were mixed together during a camping trip. All other things being equal, when Patrol spirit starts to erode, so does the atmosphere of the entire Troop and so does the quality of the experience for each individual Scout.
Scouting calls each individual boy to aspire to an ideal – to be a part of something bigger than himself. The problem is, these ideals (whether the Scout Law, Patrol spirit, or etc.) are rather abstract concepts. It’s always a challenge for anyone to turn abstract ideals into a lifestyle. But this is what Scouts must do.
Fortunately, Scouting’s founders gave boys in Scouting symbols which help turn these ideals into something concrete. These symbols are a fixed point through which one can focus on the ideals they stand for. In the Patrol System, there are many of these symbols that make Patrol spirit and unity real to Scouts. Here are a couple of the main ones:
Flags are deeply entrenched in our culture as symbols of unity. The colors and constant movement always draw the eye. They’re super portable and infinitely customizable. In short, they are the best way to visually represent a unique Patrol spirit. If you have no strong Patrol symbol at the moment, start here.
The Patrol flag should be conceived, built, and maintained by the members of the Patrol… as should all Patrol symbols. It can also change and evolve as new members join and old members leave. You can read a lot more about Patrol flags in this article.
All too often these days, Scouts never give a second thought about the Patrol call. This is because there is commonly a big disconnect between what boys are taught to expect in Scouting these days and what they originally did. The purpose of the Patrol call is for communication. Real Scout Patrols do a lot of activities in the wilderness. They also train themselves to be discreet at will. Scouts need some way of calling their fellow Scouts without attracting too much attention – especially at night.
Patrol calls are a serious business. In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell stressed that no Scout was ever to use a Patrol call that wasn’t his own – that would be dishonest. This was to be a special communication tool that was bound up in the honor and pride of a Patrol.
Just as you can’t make a Patrol flag, leave it in the closet, and expect it to boost Patrol spirit; you cannot simply devise a Patrol call, never use it, and expect it to be anything worthwhile. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless for outdoor activities and competitions during which the Patrol call can be used.
A Fully-Developed Patrol Identity
The ultimate goal of creating these spaces and symbols for the Scout Patrol is really to create what I’ve described before as a ‘micro-culture’ for each Patrol. As Patrols do more and more things together, they will also develop traditions around these locations and symbols. The richer the traditions are, the more deeply-entrenched this culture is.
Don’t get the impression that having Patrol spaces and symbols is a formula for success. There are so many different situations and intangible ways Patrol spirit can be encouraged. It’s not just the fact that these symbols are used – it’s the way that they’re used that makes all the difference.
Therefore, set the example of really valuing the unique identity of your Patrols as groups. If a group of Scouts are the Fox Patrol, how much do they know about the fox? What admirable traits of the fox do they aspire to? Again, these symbols are the starting-place for developing Patrol Identity. Where it goes from there is up to you and your Scouts. How many different activities could be made colorful and fun through the incorporation of Patrol identity?
“All other things being equal, when Patrol spirit starts to erode, so does the atmosphere of the entire Troop and so does the quality of the experience for each individual Scout.” If you want your Scouts to get the most out of Scouting, encouraging Patrol Spirit should be at the top of your priority list. The founders gave us a roadmap and tools that work. It’s up to us to really understand these and carry them into the next generation of Scouts.
Call to Action
- During your next meeting, talk with your Patrols about building unique Patrol identities.
- Challenge them to throw their efforts into coming up with some awesome Patrol corners.
- Start a competition to see who can make the coolest Patrol corner in the next two weeks.
Share what you’ve learned about Patrol spirit with the Scouters you know. Make a point to bring it up in conversation. If you want to print out this article, use the green ‘print’ button to the lower right (it brings up a tool that you can use to print only the elements from this webpage that you want [so you can easily remove the images, this concluding paragraph, or etc. if you want to]) You can also share this article via email and social media.
If you were in Scouting, what was your Patrol name? Mine was the “Panther Patrol”, and just saying the name brings back so many awesome memories to me. Leave a comment below and let me know yours!