By Andy Gibbons
Apr 28, 2016

Set Up a Regular Cycle of Mentoring Activities

This is part 8 of a 12-part blog series that explores mentoring skills and principles for adults serving teacher and priest-age boys (14-18):

The remaining posts will appear weekly.

Principle #8: Set Up A Regular Cycle of Mentoring Activities

Any kind of engine—gas, steam, or electrical—does its job by consistently and dependably performing a sequence of simple functions in a constant cycle over and over and over again. When one step of the cycle fails, the engine either stops or blows up.

Varsity Scouts and Scouters at LDS Conference Center

Notice this same principle at work in the operation of a Varsity team. A team has a regular cycle of administrative events: leadership meetings, planning sessions, team meetings, activities, and evaluations (reflections).

Each of these is highly dependent on all of the others; each one leads to the next one in line. In order to plan, there must be goals anassignments. In order for there to be activities, there must be planning sessions followed by reports to the team. In order to learn from activities, there must be reflections to evaluate the results of the planning. This leads back to the beginning of the cycle, where goal setting and assignment-giving take place.

If this cycle doesn’t occur on a regular basis, over and over again, the team doesn’t function as a team. If it does manage to function, one or two motivated adult persons are carrying the whole load of planning and execution by themselves. That completely foils the main purpose of the Varsity program, which is to transfer goal-setting, planning, and execution to youth, rather than to adults, so they, the youth, can learn how to do these things. Your mentoring is what allows youth to have this leadership experience in a safe, supportive environment.

As a mentor, your best strategy is to make sure that the events you take part in occur on a regular basis. This will reduce the number of last-minute crises dramatically, create team activities that are fun, and ensure that those activities are youth-led.

So what are the regular events in Varsity team operation? And what is your part in them as a mentor?

Team Leader Meeting

Team Youth LeadersVarsity team leaders (captain, assistant captains, and the coach) meet together on a regular basis to plan and schedule. As a mentor, you don’t take part in this meeting, but coming out of the meeting there will be assignments to one or more of the youth you mentor. Once the assignment is given, your job is to help the youth carry out his assignment. Of course, that means help, not take over.

Planning Sessions

You and your assigned youth meet together after the assignment is made and before each team business meeting to move the assignment along through planning. Planning sessions do not need to be long, but if they have a little bit of regular structure (See post #12), they can become habitual, more pleasant, and more frequent, allowing the plan to emerge a little bit at a time. These qualities can make the whole planning process more interesting for the youth.

Team Meeting

As the plan emerges over time, reports are asked for at regular team business meetings. The youth you mentor should be the one reporting, but you should plan on being there to back him up without taking over the report. You are in the background, where you belong. The report will probably be met with some discussion by the group. As different parts of the larger event plan come together, changes to your part of the plan may be necessary. If you are there at the meeting (listening), you can help the youth stand up during the meeting and help with changes afterward. After the team meeting, you and the youth can have another planning session, and additional details can be worked out in preparation for the next report.

Activities/Events

Varsity-Scout-200x300When it is time for the event, the youth will be responsible for leading his part of it. He may be in charge of the whole event, with other youth acting under his leadership, or he may be acting under the leadership of another youth, carrying out just his part of the plan. In either case, if his responsibilities are major, you should probably arrange to be there, helping in the background, and quietly making the youth (not yourself) look good. If your youth does not have a major role, you still need to be with the youth in the final preparation just before the event, making sure that all of the commitments for help that were made to your youth by others (for supplies, services, and actions) have been fulfilled. There may be some last minute crises, so if you are available you are there to help, so that the youth doesn’t get discouraged. Then the youth can lead confidently. Don’t saddle the Team Coach with the job of chasing down loose ends for your youth. Stand behind him quietly, and help him succeed.

Evaluations (Reflections)

After an event you and your youth can evaluate how it went in a reflection. If you did not attend, you can ask how things went and listen carefully, responding as an adult would respond. If you attend the event, you and your youth can have marked progress as the event unfolds, giving whatever help you can at the moment of need without taking over and doing for the boy what he should be doing, and without replacing what he should be doing.

Summing Up

This ongoing cycle of activities spans the period between the calendaring of an event and when the event takes place. It is constant and regular in a well-functioning team.

Varsity Scouting is not just an activity program to keep youth busy and off the streets, nor is it a high-adventure program for only big events. It is a program for teaching youth through a mentored experience what it is like to lead, to take responsibility, and to receive credit for successes as part of the group.

The real engine of the Varsity program is this cycle of planning, reporting, and coordinating that leads up to events, big and small. This cycle is the laboratory where a youth can put into action principles learned in classes, with just the right amount of help from you. As a mentor you are probably not the one who teaches classes, but you are the one who supports the youth in turning good leadership principles into good leadership practices and habits. In the process, you will become a much better leader yourself, and you will learn as much from the youth as you teach.

AuAndythor: Andy Gibbons | Vice-Chair, Western Region Varsity Scout Program Committee and author of the “The Varsity Scout Leaders Day Book

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