What is a “Boy-Led Troop”?

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A phrase I hear often is apparently heard many times by other scouters, too.

Clarke Green writes, “Many Scouters claim, ‘We have a boy-led troop’ but what does that really mean? ‘Boy-led’ is not what adults do, it’s what they don’t do.”

He goes on to write,

Defining what we should not do is nowhere near as useful as sharing what weshould do,  but before I do let’s address one common misconception;

Boy-led is not boy-defined.

Every once in a while I’ll hear something like; “We don’t have patrols because the Scouts decided they didn’t want them, we are boy-led after all.”

Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; “the players all decided they’s rather play this way.” Can you still call that game “basketball”?

Just like any other game Scouting has limitations and definitions. We all play the game within those definitions and limitations, the players don’t re-invent the game.

Adults should help Scouts maintain focus on fulfilling the promises of Scouting and understand the limitations and definitions of the game we are playing.

One of the commenters, Richard Andersen, adds, “I personally don’t like the term ‘boy-led,’ I prefer scout-led.”

Mr. Andersen really helps to clarify Clarke’s point extremely well. If the troop is “boy-led,” there is not inherently a strong sense of limitation of what the “boys” can do in defining the troop. On the other hand, describing the troop as “scout-led” always requires that the scouts revisit the idea of what it means to be a “scout.” Using the word “scout,” emphasizes the importance of working the system of scouting. It clarifies the difference between a scout’s choice following the Scout and what their friends would do outside without the Scout Law guiding their choices.

As modern-day scouters, we often see scouting as another extracurricular activity that a boy does.

When Baden-Powell opened the first scout encampment at Brown Sea Isle, the first thing he did was to put the boys “on their honor” to live within the scout system. For Baden-Powell this oath of honor set scouts apart from other boys.

A scout-led troop is honor-bound to play the scouting’s game within the rules of scouting. This means a troop must be run with strong patrols and patrol leaders with serious responsibilities. That is the promise that we make in putting on the scout uniform and using the scout handbook.

The late, great “Green-bar Bill” Harcourt, the Danish-born, BSA guru of the patrol method, wrote on page 9 of the Boy Scout Handbook (ed. 1979) about the promise of the patrol method. The BSA has run away from articulating the promise of scouting as well since. We as scouters who are striving to do our best for our scouts should understand Mr. Harcourt’s point. Only this way can we teach our Patrol Leaders’ Council well.

If we are not scout-led, we are not scouting. If we are merely boy-led, we are not offering the boys the focus on the patrol method that they deserve.