Patrols & Youth Leadership

Managing 40+ kids in one large group is enough to make anyone want to jump off a cliff.   At best, it would turn us into school marms, and scouting should be about adventure, not school.   So to help us and especially to help the boys, the troop is subdivided into three or more Patrols, consisting of a number of boys led by a Patrol Leader.   The best way to think about patrols is to think of Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  Lord Robert Baden-Powell who founded Boy Scouting was British, after all!    If Troop 8 is Hogwarts, then the patrols are the Houses in the school, like Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and Slytherin.   Each has its own personality and proud traditions.


When your son joins the troop, the older boys and adult leaders will do the "sorting hat" routine with your help, and welcome him into a patrol that we feel will fit his interests and personality.   His patrol will be his home in Troop 8, and he'll progress from a young first year to an experienced older scout by following the example and guidance of the older boys in the patrol.   As he moves up in rank, he in turn will become one of those older scout examples and mentors for younger boys, who will think he is so cool!  For summer camp and other events, he may even help his patrol earn patrol points toward the "house cup" - the top patrol award.


Each patrol is headed by a couple of older boys, who serve the patrol as Patrol Leader and assistants.  These boys are selected by the older boys and the members of the patrol for their ability, maturity, and readiness to lead others.  The Hogwarts equivalent would be "prefects."   When your son has any questions about the troop, his one-stop shop for answers will be the Patrol Leader of his patrol.


In boy scouting unlike Cub Scouts and most other youth programs, we believe in youth leadership.   The real organizers, planners, and leaders are the boys themselves, represented by their Patrol+Leaders+Council (PLC) and the chairman of the board, the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL).   Scouting teaches responsibility and leadership by giving responsibility and leadership of its programs to the boys.   They decide on the program, schedule and plan the events, publish the newsletters, and set many of the rules by which the troop runs. 


This notion of boy leadership distinguishes scouting from many other youth programs.  If you're new to scouting at this level, it may take some getting used to.   Troops run more like a "pick up game" than an adult-run league, because we feel it's important for kids to learn how to organize a team, officiate & settle disputes, decide on positions and work out strategies.   We don't take that away from them by having the adults do it all.   By making kids manage themselves as a group in that way, they learn a level of judgment, responsibility, and teamwork that is much deeper than what can be achieved in adult-run activities.


This does mean that troop operations will carry a distinct "kid-print" and not always be "organized" in an adult way.   It also means that troop boys end up being better at managing themselves and others than most other young adults, because they have had the real-life experience of doing it themselves.


The Patrol Leader's Council sets the annual calendar and budget for the troop from September to the following August.   Individual boy leaders are then assigned jobs as Trip+Leader(s) for each of the outings and activities that have been planned.   Those boys handle planning and reservations for their trips, assisted by an adult Assistant Scoutmaster who serves as Field+Leader.   Every few weeks, the PLC meets and reviews plans for upcoming events.   The patrol leaders then work with their patrols and individual boys to be ready for the event by planning menus, doing skills instruction, and getting gear ready.    This division of labor allows us to run a wealth of different outings during the year.   While one boy is working with one adult to plan the October backpacking trip, another is working with a different adult on the November campout.  Divide and conquer!   Because of this, for any given event, the Trip Leader(s) and Field Leader are likely to know more about the event than the Scoutmaster.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do the scoutmasters and older boys always call and ask for my son, and seem reluctant to answer my questions?

Scouting is about boy leadership. Unlike cub scouts, the leadership is composed of boys and works directly with boys, to develop participation and responsibility. The leaders will always ask for your son and give him the information, expecting him to pass it along to you. When you have questions about an outing or event and call an adult scouter, the first thing the scoutmaster is going to do is ask if your son has called his patrol leader or the scout trip leader. Kids learn responsibility by being given responsibility, and occasionally making mistakes. We'd ask you to help your son be responsible by working through the boy leadership, rather than doing his work for him as an adult.

I called one of the boy leaders to ask a question. Why did he refuse to speak with me?

We encourage your son to call his patrol leader or the event trip leader with questions. If you have an adult-level question about troop operations, please direct it to the scoutmaster or the adult trip coordinator. As part of the BSA's youth protection rules and to avoid misunderstandings, the boys are generally instructed not to take phone calls from adults other than the scoutmaster staff.

I've got a great idea for an event or service project. How do we schedule it?

"We" don't. The boys do. All the troop activities and events are planned and approved by the boy leadership at monthly PLC meetings. Adult suggestions should be passed along to the scoutmaster or to one of the senior boys. If it's approved and checked by them, they will assign a trip/project leader and the scoutmaster will assign an adult field leader to assist.

I don't like something about the way the troop operates. Who should I talk to?

This depends on the topic. If it's an operational matter, the boys are in charge. This means that things won't always be run as well or as smoothly as we as adults might expect, but that's how young leaders learn. Sometimes, actually, it will run better! Pass your suggestions along to your son to share with the patrol leaders.


If the issue is of more concern, please find the time to speak with the scoutmaster. The scoutmaster is the final say in troop operations and should be able to answer your questions, or pass your concern along to the appropriate person(s). If the matter affects the health and welfare of boys in a serious way and the scoutmaster's response was not appropriate, call St. Thomas's Scouting Coordinator.

My son is a little bit afraid of the older boys, and we're surprised by some offbeat songs like Snow White and the Seven Bodies

It has long been the opinion of the troop leadership that kids would be better served if webelos went for another year, and boys weren't allowed to join scouts until after sixth grade, when their physical and emotional maturity level is more suited to the program. Our program has some of the best, most kind, most talented "older brothers" that a parent could ever wish for. But they will behave like older brothers; they will seem slightly intimidating and occasionally gruff, especially for boys who do not have older male siblings at home. They also have a uniquely adolescent sense of humor, where goofy songs about bloody mayhem and flirting with bad words are great fun. Help your son to work through it; come out on longer campouts with him for a bit if you think he needs the extra support; teach him his own goofy song or "maneating cow call" to share at the next campfire. By the end of sixth grade, he'll be racing out the door to go camping without you, and belting out "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" with the best of them.

My son says he doesn't have to bring a jacket and I don't believe him. What should I do?

Trust your son. When we were writing this book, we asked the older boys if they had any suggestions about what should be included. Their one, big, universal suggestion was "parent communication." Please help the parents listen to and communicate with us.


Because scouting relies on boy leadership and makes boys responsible, your son will typically have more information on troop procedures and events than you will. That's quite a change from the little boy who was always dependent on you. It means your style has to change a bit. You have to ask him for information and listen to the answer, rather than the other way around. Instead of doing things for him, wait and be ready to help when he asks (and perhaps offer an occasional suggestion). Instead of telling him his schedule, ask what events are coming up that he plans on attending. Include him in decisions about family activities, and plan these in advance so that he can see how they fit in with scouting events. It'll be hard, sometimes. As scoutmasters, it almost kills us, but it makes for self-directed, responsible young men.


Practically speaking, your son's comfort on trips depends on having just the right amount of the right gear.   The adult and youth leaders work hard at   Too much gear will make his experience heavy and miserable.