Monday, August 16, 2010

Scout Camp and the Process of Experimentation

For those wondering if I had fallen into a black hole or disappeared, nope, I just went away for a week to be a leader at Scout Camp.every year, my Troop of boys picks a place to go, saves up the money to attend, and then focuses on the challenges and areas they would like to improve, have fun with, and work towards advancement.

This year, we went to a place called Wente Scout Reservation, located in Mendocino County, Northern California. the boys liked this camp after visiting it for the first time last year (it's highlights are a world class equestrian program and a lake that is fed by several hot springs, meaning it is actually warm when you get in (well, on par with a heated public pool at least). Add to that the other program areas like handicraft (or as they like to refer to it this year, "Mandicraft", since all of the counselors for these badges were guys this time around), nature, waterfront, shooting sports, horsemanship, scoutcraft (where all of those knots we learn come into use to build structures like towers and bridges, among other things) and we had a pretty busy week ahead of us.

We were actually fairly late in the process of signing up this year, and so we were placed in the farthest camp area, a place called Sunrise Ridge. It's a gorgeous site for a camp, but it was so far away from almost every program area. I knew there would be complaints, but I wanted to make sure that we had more than just an attitude of "we don't want to walk so much to work with", so I decided to do a little test. First, I decided to see how much time it would take to walk from our camp area to the main gathering place each morning. Using a standard pace, I determined it would take me about 12 minutes to get from the camp site to the gathering area and about 15 minutes to get back. From there, I also determined it would take about 10 minutes to get from the main gathering area to the corral where several of my boys were planning to take the Horsemanship merit badge. With my size as a 6'2" man, I also reasoned that my smaller and younger scouts might require more time, since they don't have as large a stride as I do (but they may also be able to run at a better clip as well, and may be more apt to do so :) ).

Once I had all of the information in hand, I went to the Camp Office and I explained to them that seven of my scouts would be spending an hour each day just walking from their campsite to the corral and back. Would this kill them? Probably not, but it was certainly less efficient a use of their time than if they were located in a camping area closer to the corral. Also, since this was a week that many schools had started, there were fewer campers in attendance, so very few campsites were 100% full. With this information, I simply asked if we could relocate to a site that would be more accessible to the scouts taking the horsemanship badge. They considered it, and saw that it made more sense to have us be moved to a closer spot. Key takeaway: it pays to do a little reconnaissance work before you present a position, because data and an argument based on data is much more effective than just expressing that you have to walk a long way.

Another interesting aspect discovered in camp by a few boys this week was that technique matters. This became especially apparent to two of my boys that were taking the Shotgun Shooting merit badge. This is a challenging badge for most boys, but it's especially challenging for boys who are not very large in stature. Shotguns are heavy, and it's a workout to keep them up and aimed correctly while shooting through a series of rounds to qualify. Two of my boys were having difficulties with qualifying for the badge, and were not sure that they could actually do it. One of our adult leaders in our Troop who grew up shooting shotguns decided to come with them and watch them shoot. as he did, he notices a few things about their stance, their approach to aiming the shotguns, and what was causing them to have trouble hitting the targets (in this case, "clay pigeons" launched from the shooting line). After seeing their technique, my friend, helped them to get a better stance and gave them  a simple suggestion; "plant your cheek so hard against where the barrel and stock met that you get an imprint of the Winchester logo on your face!" This had the effect that it made the boys really focus on their aim, and having their heads in the proper place to aim correctly. Once they did this, they were able to hit the target 5 our of 6 times or better. The boys were able to qualify without difficulty after this. Key takeaway: having someone observe your technique and offer suggestions based on experience can lead to massive improvements in performance.

One of the boys that came with us to camp this year had never had an experience like this, and he had a difficult time keeping himself organized. Many times it was a matter of finding what he needed in a pile of thing in the tent, or working to get from point A to point B in a  timely fashion. It was a challenge to get the rest of us  adult leaders to make sure he was on track and that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing in a  timely manner. One such example was in Basketry. This is considered by many boys to be a "low hanging fruit" badge, one that can be quickly completed at camp and has few requirements. Making three types of baskets and weaving the wicker to make the seat of a camp stool. That's it. Still, this boy had to come home with a partial on his merit badge because he forgot to bring all of the baskets (he had two of the three) along with the camp stool. While we had encouraged him to make sure he had everything together, at the end of the day,  he missed his target and he had to settle for an incomplete. Key takeaway: a little bit of preparation and organization can go a long way towards helping achieve your goal.

One of the most coveted, yet least seriously attempted goals at Scout Camp is to do the Mile Swim. this is because there are many things that have to be accomplished to do it. First, a commitment to wake up early each morning, often when it is still dark. second is to convince a rower and a spotter to come with you each morning as you make the attempt (this is for safety reasons, so that the boy can be pulled into a boat if he gives out) and third, the fact that a large body of water that you cannot even see across in the darkness is waiting for you to get in. One of our scouts decided to try this, and he asked some leaders to assist him, including his dad. thankfully, I wasn't asked to be part of this team (I would have if he asked, but I also sighed in relief when he didn't (LOL!). The Mile Swim is a progressive goal. The first day, you swim only 1/4 mile. the next day, you get there a little earlier and swim 1/2 mile. The third day you get to the lake even earlier and go for the full mile. On this third day, the water was covered with a mist that made visibility difficult, in addition to the fact that it was pitch black outside. At this the boy in question started to freak out and refused to get into the water. Needless to say, this didn't go over well with the rower and the spotters, who had spent the previous two days and this day waking up early to help this boy meet this goal. It took a little bit of encouragement, pressure and finally splashing the boy with lake water to get him to finally slip into the water and start swimming. They also told him "if you give it your all and you can't make it, we can pull you in and you will know you tried your best and couldn't do it, but to not try now, after setting up so many days, is unforgivable!" Once he got into the water and started swimming, then he was able to make the rest of the journey, and yes he completed the Mile Swim! Key Takeaway: usually when we have a goal in sight, it's that last push that will always be the most difficult and discouraging. We need to tell ourselves it's OK to try and fail, but to get discouraged and not try at all is unforgivable.

So here I am, back home, somewhat caught up with life, and looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as relates to work, my kids going back to school, and the challenges and issues that I will face going forward as a tester. I had a week to teach boys to overcome obstacles, to learn, fail, learn again and ultimately succeed. Will I carry those same lessons with me to work this week and in the coming weeks and months? I certainly hope so :).
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