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What Does “Scout-Led” Mean?

Adult Leaders Need To "Meet Scouts Where They're At"

A fictional scenario to set the scene:

A person finds a town where the sport of basketball is unknown. That person then recruits ten youths to play a game of basketball. Without any direction or coaching from the person, they are taken to a basketball court, given the ball, and told, “Play basketball.” Imagine what the outcome would be. 

Likely there would be kids running around, carrying the ball, tackling each other to take it away, paying no attention to court lines, shooting in both baskets, etc. Pure chaos, right? Surely they’d have fun, but were they actually playing basketball?

Now to connect this to Scouting…If you’ve been around a while (particularly the Scouts BSA or Venturing programs), you’ve heard the term “Youth-Led,” meaning we entrust our youth leaders to make decisions and lead their fellow Scouts. This is true! We want our Scouts to be empowered to practice decision-making and leadership skills.

Unfortunately, we sometimes implement this concept without understanding that “Youth Led” still needs adult involvement. Too often we use the term as an excuse or explanation when a plan goes awry or an activity isn’t successful. This is likely because the adult Scouters didn’t consider another important phrase: “Meet them where they’re at.” 

Every youth leader is different. Some are articulate, well-organized, and can take on a task or a job and run with it successfully. Others haven’t yet developed some of those skills, and it’s our responsibility as adult leaders to meet each Scout where they are at to assist them in growing and developing into strong leaders.

We want our Scouts to be empowered to practice decision-making and leadership skills. Unfortunately, we sometimes implement this concept without understanding that “youth-led” still needs adult involvement.

Treating all Scouts like they are the same throwing our hands up, and simply saying, “It’s youth-led,” does a disservice to our youth. All youth leaders, no matter their skill set, can be challenged to improve – but they ALL need support, guidance, and coaching from adults.

This concept can also apply to certain aspects of the Scouting program. Just like playing basketball without understanding the rules, goals, skills, and strategies isn’t playing basketball at all, Scouting events can suffer the same challenges.

If a troop has been struggling to hold well-planned, engaging, and fun troop meetings for several years, what makes us think the Scouts know what “good” looks like? This is where “Scout led” and “meeting them where they’re at” need to come together. Coaching our youth leaders through identifying the problem, setting goals, finding resources, planning appropriately, and executing a plan doesn’t mean you aren’t letting your youth lead. Conversely, you are actually setting them up for future leadership success!

So as we work with our youth leadership, let’s remember that “Scout-led” must also be supported by adults “meeting them where they’re at” so that our Scouts can learn to lead successfully. 

Happy Scouting!

Terry Dutton
Director of Support Service/COO


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