Training through adaptation to stress

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Have you ever had one of those experiences in life where you’re studying or working on something completely different and you start seeing logical connections with everything else you’re doing? That is happening to me. Recently I finally made the commitment to do weightlifting in training while my son was preparing for high school sports. I was trying to make sure I kept up with the teenager. (It has not been easy for me. Aches and pains. Blah blah blah.)

Original Mission

The goal was to help him get stronger. I needed to learn more about barbell training to help him. University of Tennessee Law School Professor Glenn Reynolds had been praising a gentleman by the name of Mark Rippetoe. The professor had talked about how much Mark’s strength training methods had helped the professor improve his back troubles. I have found the professor interesting about other things, so I took an interest in what he said about this.

I listened to a podcast where Mark was the interviewee. I was instantly hooked. It was passionate, logical, and well informed. I bought Mark’s book Starting Strength. I started to listen to his podcast. I watched his YouTube videos. I bought his app. The more I listened to Mark, the more I learned.

One of Mark’s running themes is the importance of training as a process. Training, as opposed to exercise, is the process of applying repeated stresses to a biological system to create predictable and programmable results. If the technique is properly used, for example in weightlifting by increasing weights in a predictable manner, the body adapts to the stress of greater weight by becoming stronger. The strength comes from the body creating more muscle.

Principles Learned Applied to Scouting

As I have looked at Scouting, I have learned more about Green Bar Bill Harcourt and his theories of the patrol system. I have read Baden Powell’s literature on the patrol system and the intentions of Scouting.

Both of these gentlemen would have seen the logic of Mark’s weight training system. These gentlemen would’ve gone further and suggested that the same principles apply to developing and promoting character in young men and women.

Scouting is a system of intentional stresses placed on boys at strategic moments to create predictable results. If you take a tiger cub into the woods, he will be stressed that he is not in his home environment. He will have fears that he has to overcome with the new noises and smells. The presence of animals may give him trepidation. Yet he walks out of the woods having experienced a game that promotes curiosity and a desire to cooperate. While he may have been yelling at his peers, the den leader offers him the opportunity to be quiet to listen for animals.

As the same boy grows in Webelos, he goes back into the same woods to learn how to work in a small group of boys with one of his peers as the leader. The stresses are more focused on the social aspects. The boys become each others’ teachers. One boy may have taken a great interest in raccoon behavior. Another one may be more interested in trees and leaves. Yet another may be fascinated with mushrooms. Each one of them offers the others some lessons. All of them have to learn how to work together under stress. All the stresses are not necessarily self created. There may be rain or cooler weather than expected. They have to learn to adapt. They have to learn how to put up dining flies or tarps as walls.

As they move into Scouting, they take some of these lessons working together and start to work toward the future. They take a greater part in planning and developing what they want to do. They become more involved with teaching each other the basic skills they need to do camping and cooking in the field. Many of the other scouts will be reluctant students. The teacher must learn patience and creativity in trying to teach his ideas.

Each one of these stresses of working in the field together and teaching one another is a part of the character building system. Each boy will suffer his own stresses. Each one will grow stronger for having faced the stress and adapted to it. Just like a weightlifter must put his body under the stress of increasing weight. He pulls the weight off of the floor in the hope that the additional stress on his muscles will create new muscle fiber; so, too, the scout will face mental stresses and challenges of character that the scoutmaster, the teacher of scouts, hopes will grow the scout’s ability to withstand pressure and stresses in the future while still making moral choices.

So what are the stresses that the scout faces that create character? It is not strict organization and military discipline. The troop that does not suffer chaos and conflict is not doing scouting. A troop that does not take advantage of the chaos to teach lessons of life in the scoutmaster minute or impromptu patrol leader council meetings, does not teach the lessons that are available. The chaos and conflict are our teachable moments. They are what we are waiting for — not trying to avoid.

You know you have run into a masterful scoutmaster if he is both quiet and is keenly observing his troop. He is studying what is going on for his next opportunity to give a scoutmaster minute that is full of lessons of the moment. He is watching to see if there is a vision that he can draw from his senior patrol leader and patrol leaders. He is the master of the Socratic method. He asks strategic questions at strategic moments. In this way he is like the strength coach. He is present and offering tidbits of information. As a coach and teacher, he is not undergoing the stress of lifting the weights. He is offering ways to improve his student’s efforts in the moment. He helps the student articulate his own thoughts about what feelings the student has and what lessons he can learn from those feelings.

So when you see a scout under stress, be aware and think about when you might have a strategic moment to offer a coach’s thought.

Do not remove the stress for the sake of being stress-free. You may be removing the lesson that the Scout needs to grow into the man of character that you seek.