Why Have Formation Drills?
Since Baden-Powell first introduced the concept in “Scouting for Boys”, Scout Troops have always used specific formations to bring order and discipline to Troop Meetings. Most commonly, a Troop “falls in” to the formation at the beginning and end of meetings and on any occasion where special announcements are made.
However, many Scout Troops have forgotten the full utility of formations. In the past, there were many different formation shapes, each with a different purpose for different situations. Scouts were drilled in these formations, and had a lot of fun trying to make each formation faster and neater than the one before.
There is a lot of benefit to these formation drills, and it would be good to bring them back to more common use among Scout Troops. For one, drilling for quickness and neatness in formations helps set the right tone and spirit of the Scout meetings. It's very important to establish a good Troop Culture. Formation drills can really help with that.
“Scouts do not like a sloppy formation, a sloppy camp, a sloppy club room, because it all reflects upon them and a Scout takes pride in belonging to a crowd that has the appearance and the reputation of being neat, efficient, and orderly.” – Daniel Carter Beard
"Smartness in uniform and correctness in detail seems a small matter to fuss about, but has its value in the development of self-respect, and means an immense deal to the reputation of the Movement among outsiders who judge by what they see” – Baden-Powell
This is very true. Sharp-looking and tight formations help each Scout to feel proud of the group they belong to.
These drills also reinforce the chain-of-command. The Patrol Leader's responsibility is visually represented by the position he takes relative to the other members of his Patrol. The same is true of the positions of the Assistant Patrol Leader, the Senior Patrol Leader, and the Scoutmaster.
Finally, formation drills are just fun to do! Every time I've seen one in action, the Scouts take part enthusiastically. It really is a fun game to try quickly maneuvering between different formations.
Patrol Leaders should have a defined position for each formation. In formations where the Scouts are arranged in front-to-back lines, the Patrol Leader is usually in the front. In formations where the Scouts are in left-to-right lines, the P.L. is usually either in the farthest position to the right, or he is standing out in front of his Patrol. Assistant Patrol Leaders should always be either next in line by the Patrol Leader or should be the opposite end-cap of the line.
In the past, the Scoutmaster mainly led the Patrols during the formations. This is a good practice for formal occasions, but I believe it is important for the Senior Patrol Leader to be in charge of drilling and training the Scouts in this matter.
Whoever leads the Troop in the formation obviously needs to be in front and visible. Wherever he calls the formation, he needs to make sure make sure there is enough room to accommodate the group.
There are several ways to call the formations. The first is by simply announcing them verbally. If done this way, the commands need to be loud and clear. The second way is to use a whistle or other audible signal. Make sure each of the signals are different enough to be easily distinguished. The third way is to use hand signals. This way has been very popular in the past. The leader usually give a single “alert” call, followed by the hand signals. It is silent and efficient, and it requires the Scouts to be ready and alert.
I have scoured as many historical Scouting resources as I could find to learn about the different formations used in the past. I found many formations and different variations of them. They are reproduced below. Let me know if I missed any!
Click on a thumbnail below to get a larger view:
“The Scoutmaster's First Year” (1948)
“Smartness in Scouting”
“Scouting For Boys” (1908)
“Boys' Life Magazine”
Call to Action
Scout formations are a great way to improve the order and team spirit of your Troop. For the next month, set aside a few minutes each Troop meeting to learn couple of different formations. You can then use these at announcements, Courts of Honor, openings, and closings. You can turn it into a contest between Patrols as to which one is the quickest and neatest. Of course, the whole thing should be planned and executed by the Patrol Leaders' Council.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it informative! If so, I'd appreciate it if you'd share it with other Scouts and Scouters you know.
Thank you for reading! I believe that traditional Troop formations need to be rediscovered by modern Scouting. They are fun to do, they increase order and discipline, and they raise Scout Spirit!
If you have any comments, questions, or ideas, I'd love to hear them! Please leave a comment in the box below.