Why am I a Scout Leader?

I was a Scout from the age of 8 through to 18. In Australia, that would make me a Cub Scout, Scout, and then a Venturer. I have some amazing memories of my time in Scouting- hiking through Australia’s Alps; camping in the Outback; driving Rally Cars and taking the controls of light aircraft.

As great, and challenging, and life-changing as many of those activities were at the time, I remember the adult leaders just as fondly. My Scout Leaders, Harold and Paul, were adults in my life that weren't teachers or parents, but were still guides and role models.

On average, a Scout Leader spends 2 hours per week, 40 weeks per year with Scouts at weekly meetings. Add to that, about 8 or so overnight or weekend activities. Total, less than 400 hours per year or 3% of their time.

But 3% doesn't adequately represent the proportion of positive influence my Scout Leaders had on me.

Good Scout Leaders aren't babysitters; they don’t mollycoddle or faux parent. Contrary to the instincts of a parent or a teacher, a Scout Leader provides a child the opportunity to experience risk.

Scouting is about learning by doing. A Scout receives instruction from his or her peers, and then gives it a go themselves- and when they've mastered it, they teach it to a younger Scout. At times, Leaders play a role in providing instruction or reining in an unruly troop. But when a Scout troop is running as it should, it’s a self-governing thing of beauty. Under the Scout Patrol System, the children operate their own management structure, elect their youth leaders, and define their goals- firstly as individuals, and then manage the needs of the troop to achieve common goals.

Adult Scout Leaders facilitate the desires of their Scouts to experience risky endeavours, and give them a chance to identify their strengths, to learn more about themselves, and ultimately build confidence and their character. Their job is to listen to the goals expressed through the Patrol System, and instead of responding with “are you guys CRAZY?”, answer with “how do we make it happen?”.

How do we make it happen? How do we ensure an activity remains risky, so as to challenge and stretch the Scouts, while ensuring we minimise the chance of injury or worse? That is the trick to being the Leader that Scouts will remember into adulthood.

And that’s exactly what I remember about Harold and Paul, my Leaders when I was a boy. For example, I recall telling Paul that my team wanted to watch the sunrise from the peak of our state’s tallest mountain, in early Spring. Instead of listing the reasons it was a bad idea- the unpredictability of the weather, the skills necessary to climb the peak etc.- Paul instead asked us to write a plan. The process of writing that plan allowed us the opportunity to analyse the risks and create strategies to minimise them. Contrary to the instincts of a teenager to act first and think second, Scouting was teaching us to be analytical and considerate.

Unlike our teachers, who are trained to be risk-adverse, and our parents, who avoid risk by instinct, Paul wasn't dismissing our ambitious goal as implausible or unsuitable, but instead asked us to think about what might go wrong, and what might be challenging. Our plan went through a few revisions as we accounted for the various abilities of our Scouts and allowed for contingencies, but the objective still was to achieve our original goal. Paul helped us fill in all the gaps, using his experience as a guide.

Our hike to the top of that mountain wasn't without drama. Some of us managed the climb well, others struggled. Some Scouts that climbed well, had trouble with the cold overnight. But when the sun peaked over the tips of the mountain ranges, the sky was illuminated and the valleys were inky black, and the warm sunshine touched our faces for the first time that day- we were all a little different than we would have been had we stayed in bed that night. And it was a good different.

I now know how Paul would have felt that morning as the sun bathed the Scouts in warmth and their faces all broke into smiles. I've experienced it myself- when my Scouts have hiked through bushland, relying on maps and compasses, and made it to a rendezvous. Their self doubt is replaced by self realisation, their faces beaming past their exhaustion. And I have played a part in that awakening.

That’s why I'm a Scout Leader. Because I want your son or daughter to have the chance to experience achievement, self realisation, compassion for one another, and the joy of doing. I want to give to our children the opportunities I was given by my own Scout Leaders. I want the world for your child, and plan to give them every opportunity I can for them to take it. When they challenge and surprise themselves, I reap rewards far beyond the time or effort I put in- I receive a better world for my children.