Creating functional Boy Scout patrols

Scouter A.S.’s troop has two patrols: the “chaos” patrol of new Scouts and the “I’m too cool” patrol of veterans. He asked for ideas on creating a better unit structure, where older Scouts teach younger ones.


The only age-based patrol our troop uses is the new-Scout patrol. As soon as a Scout reaches First Class, he is eligible to be recruited by an experienced patrol. Younger Scouts have a ready source of leaders within their patrol; older Scouts see the necessity of helping the younger ones so that the patrol is strong.

Scoutmaster W.W.M.
Seattle, Wash.

Change to mixed-age patrols as soon as possible. The ideal patrol has two older boys, two or three middle boys, and two new Scouts. If you have too many new Scouts or are uncomfortable with a complete shuffle, use a new-Scout patrol for the first six to nine months, with an older troop guide who functions somewhere between a patrol leader and a den leader.

Webelos Leader C.D.
Poway, Calif.

Our senior Scouts rejected new-Scout patrols on the grounds that the leadership, boy-to-boy training, and mentoring elements would be lost. I think that they were right.

To give new Scouts opportunities to interact, we pair them for advancement training with senior Scouts as instructors.

The troop has a stronger sense of unity when there is interaction between the new Scouts and the older Scouts.

Scoutmaster T.J.M.
Moraga, Calif.

Per BSA literature, a patrol is made up of eight or so boys of “similar age, interests, and ability,” so grouping by age is perfect. I know of many units with mixed-age patrols, and very few run well. It leads to intimidation and bullying and makes older guys feel like they are babysitting. Stick with the program as written and guide your PLC to get more creative when they plan troop meetings or outings.

Assistant Scoutmaster P.N.
Nottingham, Md.

Assign “cool” Scouts to separate patrols. If they want fellowship with their own age group, they can have it once their patrol has accomplished its tasks. If they need more time to themselves, encourage them to join or help start a Venturing crew. That will give them time away from younger Scouts and create an opportunity to bring (or bring back) other “too cool” youths who hunger to participate in age-appropriate BSA activities.

Assistant Scoutmaster and Crew Advisor C.J.G.
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Organize your patrols with the full range of ranks. Requiring older Scouts to mentor intermediate Scouts, who in turn mentor new Scouts, develops maturity and responsibility. This forces a “buy in” for older Scouts because they know that an improperly pitched tent is as much their fault as that of the younger camper.

Assistant Scoutmaster M.B.
Sarasota, Fla.

We have started using Baden-Powell’s technique of assigning buddies by age and experience on selected activities. The oldest and most experienced is assigned to buddy up with the youngest and least experienced and so on. This gives the older boys an opportunity to become mentors. It also lets the boys get to know one another better.

Assistant Scoutmaster W.J.
Riverton, Utah.

Web Exclusive Responses

The following responses do not appear in the print edition …

We recently reorganized into two patrols by lottery. Each boy’s name was put into a hat and drawn out, alternating between the two patrols. It worked extremely well; both the older and the inexperienced boys were fairly evenly divided. Now we have two strong patrols. We will keep graduating Webelos Scouts in a new-Scout patrol until they’re acclimated and then use the lottery system to divide them up.

Scoutmaster C.A.
Warwick, R.I.

When I became Scoutmaster, the boys wanted to be with all their old friends.
This was not going to accomplish our goals in Scouting, so I came up with a new idea that we still use more than 10 years later. First, all of the the Scouts elect the senior patrol leader. He and I select the assistant senior patrol leader. The patrol leaders are voted on by the whole troop. Then, we put everyone’s name into a hat, and the patrol leaders take turns drawing names.

Scoutmaster B.G.
Pasco, Wash.

The sooner you place new Scouts into existing patrols, the sooner they will become full-fledged troop members. To keep your existing patrols vibrant, there must be an influx of new Scouts. As new Scouts move up and become patrol leaders, they will remember how those who came before helped them, and they will, in turn, help those who follow. A Scout troop is a dynamic family; to isolate members by age is unimaginative, unnatural, and unhealthy.

Chartered Organization Representative W.A.W.
San Antonio, Tex.

We assign new Scouts to existing patrols, usually two to three boys in each. A patrol normally has three to four Scouts who are 12 to 14 years old and one who is 15 to 17. This older Scout has specific duties: to mentor the patrol leader and to serve as an older brother to all the Scouts.

Scoutmaster R.L.S.
Lutherville, Md.

After recent patrol leader elections, we had the leaders pick teams for a game of basketball — or so they thought. Afterward, our Scoutmaster introduced the leaders to their patrols. Choosing like this made for a good mix of older and younger boys.

Assistant Scoutmaster J.K.
McKeesport, Pa.

We elect a troop guide to mentor the younger Scouts. That way, the newer boys hear from someone who has experiences to share and can learn from his mistakes. This builds leadership skills for the older boys and teaches the younger boys on their level.

Patrol Leader C.L.
Richmond, Tex.


  1. My predecessor tells me that our troop used to have patrols assigned “by similar age/interest”, but the “Eagle” patrol acted “better than” and would not help the younger Scouts at all. The SM disbanded the patrol and spread them out among the other three patrols. As new boys join the troop, they are assigned to the patrol with the fewest members first. I watch the interaction and, if necessary, make changes after three months. Typically the oldest Scout in the patrol takes the newest member under their wing without me having to say anything, guiding them along. It has worked for the past 6 years I’ve been Scoutmaster, so I don’t see a need for change.

  2. Amazing! Why is the prescribed BSA way of similar aged patrols working for most and others choose to do it another way?

    It totally works to keep the similar aged kids together as a patrol from “New” to “Eagle”. If you choose another approach what you are missing is patience and leadership training. Please take the time to train yourself as a leader and then teach your Scouts proper leadership. This is accommplished through team building activities and YOU as Scoutmaster learning how to be a more effective leader. Then take what you learned and teach your boy leadership. Also send the SPL to training. Don’t take the shortcut because you can’t figure out how to make things work!!! Take the TIME to teach the boys how to lead. Give them the opportunity to become a better prepared adult. 

    This continued conversation of mixed or similar patrols is not contributing to helping leaders mixing patrols to fix the problems and set up a correct troop structure. So, I’ll be the bad cop here and sling it out there. Fellow Scouters, there is only one way to make a patrol… The right way! New Scouts are supposed to be mentored by Troop Guides, Troop Instructors and any of the other older Scouts. If that is not possible in your Troop… Fix it!


    • I find it funny to hear anyone say that ” there is only one way to make a patrol… The right way! ”

      If I recall, the reason the single aged patrol approach was adopted was to address first year retention issues. Most of the Scouters I know who grew up in Scouting prefer the “balanced” patrol model that was the prior way “right way” to make a patrol.

      And I’d be willing to bet that BSA will continue to strive for improvement and the program will change again.

      Randy Hill

      • I agree, there is no one “correct” way to make a patrol, but as long as they all have strong, reliable, responsible patrol leaders, and a functional troop council, the system should work. I usually find it best to mix up the ages , however, other ways can also work.

  3. Mixed Aged is the way to go.

    In my troop growing up, it was mixed age patrols with the older scouts in the patrol working and mentoring the younger ones in the patrol. The 15+ crowd, who had served as PLs were put into the Leadership Corps, roughly equivalent to the Venture Patrol today, and their job was to serve in the various troop level positions ( QM, Scribe, etc) AND help out with the patrols.

    Also you need to get a sense of obligation or service instilled with the older scouts. An older scout helped them, now it’s their turn.

    I my expereince NSPs do not work as they do not have the knowledge, skills, or abilties, and having a single troop guide work with 6-10 new scouts is not enough. My troop tried the NSP concept twice, and both times it was a failure.

    Also after attending the old Brownsea 22 and staffing the old JLTC trainings, in both cases the younger aged patrols, i.e. the 13-14 year olds, were the ones that had the most trouble. But if you were to leaven it out a bit instead of 13-14 in one patrol, 15-16 in another patrol and 17 in a third, it would have made it alot better IMHO

  4. So, this is an interesting topic to me. I am still going through my Leader training for BSA, but what I am seeing today is very different from what I experienced as a Scout myself. I would have thought that mixed patrols would work better because of the experience from the older boys in the patrol teaching the younger boys. We all operated as patrols; cooking, camporee competition, etc. All of the younger boys seemed to get through just fine.

    Now, my son is in a troop with age-based potrols. I was weary of this to start off, because I was un-familiar with the concept. So far it seems to be working; although it is a lot of work to help them get up on their advancement (I am assigned to their patrol). What I do see is that this operates like a Den and the kids do not have the leadership experience yet. I also see that when we operate as a Troop when camping, cooking, etc., the younger kids don’t have as many opportunitiesto do advancement as they would if they operated as Patrols. I guess we’ll see how it goes over the next year or so. (I was also interested in a couple comments above that talked about a certain option failing. Failing how and over how much time?)

  5. I have been a Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, APL, Chaplain’s Aid, and have found that among the youngest group of Scouts it helps to keep them together for a while with a Troop Guide who has a good amount of experience, not just age and Scout Skills (although they help). Make sure that the Troop Guide has had a good attendance record. This gives the first-years a good role model to look up to. It helps if the Troop Guide is previously known by some of the new Scouts, as it makes it easier for them to go to them for guidance. Also, make the troop mainly Scout-led with the adults working in the background as mentors. It not only makes it more enjoyable for the Scouts, but it also teaches them how to use their own problem-solving skills rather than just going to the adults in the troop. Give them an order of who to report to with an issue, such as APL, PL, ASPL, SPL, JASM, Scoutmaster/adult leader. Trust me, it helps in the long run once Scouts become adjusted to it.

  6. All of my patrols are a little chaotic, all the time. That is called “on the job training” We have an older scout and helper mentor new scouts for the first few camp outs, and then by summer camp the scouts are allowed to give input on what patrol they join. Decisions are made to even out patrol size etc.. We have 3 patrols, 2 regular and the venture patrol. The SPL and ASPL will shift between patrol membership for a campout, or the Venture pattrol, with limited duties. Venture
    patrol membership starts after 8th grade summer camp, and if they are interested whatever programs they want to do.

  7. When I was a Scout, my troop used age-based patrols; however, if attrition made a patrol nonviable, they were folded into another patrol. This is the system proscribed by 100 years of experience, and it works.
    When I got back from college, I went back to my old troop to volunteer. A new SM had switched to a mixed patrol system; it was a nightmare. Even the nicest young men took advantage of having 11-yr-olds to do their bidding. Young boys were locked out of patrol-level leadership, and the Youth Protection Guidelines do not allow young boys to tent with older boys. Patrol identity could never be developed, because every 6 months new people were being added to the mix, or people were getting shuffled around. When that SM retired, the new one immediately went back to the book. Things operate much better, but 5 yrs later we’re still trying to rebuild the idea of strong patrols with distinct identities and internal structures.

    Commenters here in favor of mixed patrols are waving the banner of ~leadership~ Let me tell you: Boys do not learn leadership by being put in a patrol where older boys lead them. The proscribed method already instills leadership: They learn leadership by *being* leaders of their peers, and all PLs should be put through BSA’s Troop Leadership Training. You’re all justifying these piecemeal approaches by saying that new boys don’t know how to do anything, by extension that they can’t be trusted (to learn or to lead themselves). Scouting has one word for you: EDGE. You put that Troop Guide with the new scouts, they elect a PL, and the Guide shows them the ropes for 6 months or a year. Look at Troop Program Features: Activities are age-based. Of course new scouts don’t know any scout skills, that’s why Instructors exist. During “Skills Instruction” your new boys are working with the Troop Guide and Instructors (experienced scouts who *want* to teach rather than older scouts who have been shoehorned into babysitting via mixed patrols) while the older, more experienced patrols work on more advanced things.
    That leadership you say you want is built through experience–including failure in a controlled system–and mentoring, and it takes time. This cop-out of parking 11-yr-olds in a patrol of Star Scouts might make things easier, but it does not produce the same result.

    I have to question whether those who are unable to achieve success with the proven method have failed due to the method, or because they simply are not doing things correctly.

    • It is apparent from the comments (and from my own experience) that there is merit in both approaches. BOTH are proven methods. Personally, I am a proponent of mixed-age patrols where every member, new and old, shares in the many opportunities to contribute to the smooth operation of the patrol. Here the younger Scouts are in the position to learn from responsible older Scouts who lead by example. These experienced Scouts are happily carrying on the tradition of sharing their experience and skills with others. They were taught (using the EDGE method) by their older brothers back when they were new Scouts. Young Scouts love to look up to, and benefit from the contact with, older Scouts who they admire and who know the ropes. In a successful troop, Scouts care about how their patrol functions within the overall troop framework. For the good of the patrol, an older Scout worth his salt will welcome new members. He’ll want to help them fit in, so they will be an asset to the patrol with which he identifies. From this perspective, learning Scout skills, and learning how to lead is achieved through valuable, closeup exposure, and by conscientious example.

  8. It’s about mentoring. Scoutmasters ans Assistant Scotmasters mentor the SPL and ASPL as well as the Senior Patrol. The Senior Patrol (Star amd Life Scots) acts as a support mechanism for the SPL. The SPL mentors the Patrol Leaders and APLs, monitors the patrols, and ensures that the Troop Leadership Team is running classes and program effectively.

    The ability to mentor comes through learning and experience. They know when the Dutch oven handel is hot and why to not pitch their tent in that soft mossy depression.

    New scouts in age based patrols spend an inordinate amount of time re-discovering these things, that should have been passed down to them by their First Class Scout Patrol Leader.

    In age based patrols, the day comes when the first patrol leader has to step aside for someone else to have a chance. From a position of responsibility to none, that’s difficult on a 13yr old Scout. With the rank/age based system, that retired PL goes to the Senior patrol and continues mentoring other PL’s, running skills classes for new scouts, etc. New Patrol Leaders are identified through rank, ability, and recommendation by the patrol, but selected by the Senior Patrol. Not through a popular vote system.

    Retired SPLs become Junior Assistant Scoutmasters, etc. And the mentoring continues.

    The rank structure is there for a reason, not to simply show you have earned merit badges.

  9. I have a problem I have not seen adresses. We have always had a “senior” patrol which included the spl and his assistants. Tho takes the boys out of their original patrols and sets them apart from the rest of the troop. What is the “rule” on how this should work?

  10. If this is Scouting, to the greatest extent possible (not convenient; possible) the boys decide which patrol they are in, not the PLC, not the SPL, and not the adults.

    The patrol is the team. The troop is the league.

  11. Personally, as a PL and a Den Chief in a third year patrol, aged based patrols can work if you plan and have an active older set of scouts. Also, all scouts try to help each other out. Now, with a mix of older, middle, and younger scouts, we are able to have interesting camp outs and meetings.

  12. A patrol is supposed to be a group of friends, yes? B.S.A
    says that repeatedly.

    That being the case according to B.S.A., the troop should have nothing to do with who is in what patrol beyond coaching the process by which the Scouts decide.

    We have a big problem with inconsistent policy statements coming from B.S.A. For heaven’s sake, talk to each other before making these pronouncements. Think!

    On top of that, the “there are three kinds of patrols” pronouncement leaves nowhere to put a twelve-year-old who is not first class. So there are NOT three kinds of patrols.

    I mean really.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.