By Andy Gibbons
Mar 24, 2016

Prepare to be a Varsity Scout Mentor

This is part 3 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 #3: Prepare To Be a Mentor

The purpose of this post is to identify some tasks you can perform to get yourself ready for a youth mentoring assignment. These tasks apply to everyone who plays a role in implementing the Varsity Scouting program.

Task #1: Get trained

It is essential that you become trained. This means earning the “Trained” uniform patch at the earliest possible moment. A summary of adult leader training options can be found at Scouting.org/Training. There are three steps in becoming trained if you are in a Varsity Scouting leadership position:

  • Complete the Youth Protection Training course. This course usually takes about an hour to complete. You access the course through MyScouting.org. Detailed instructions for taking this online course are found at the adult training site link above. This course protects both youth and adults from abusive situations.
  • Complete a Varsity Position-Specific training. There are two options for this training:
  • Complete the Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills training course.  This course makes sure “new leaders are proficient in basic outdoor skills through First Class rank”.

TrainedThe training courses listed above qualify a leader for the “Trained” uniform patch. In addition, the Varsity Vision training gives each youth who attends the course one overnight camping credit toward the Eagle award. The Varsity Vision training is unique in that it combines the training of adult leaders with youth team members, so that both leave the training reading off the same music, and with a plan for what to do next.

Another unique feature of the course is that it is suitable for any person connected in any way with the Varsity program. This would include people from Stake and Ward leadership with Varsity-related assignments, CORs, committee members, and district personnel, including Huddle (Round Table) Commissioners and even training chairmen. With all of these people pulling together, the culture of Varsity Scouting can grow. Otherwise, it rests on the shoulders of only a few, and soon burn-out is the too often result. Ask your district training chair for the date of the next Varsity Vision course, then go with him or her to the training.

One additional training course available in support of Varsity Scouting is:

Task #2: Set goals for your own performance

Varsity mentors include Coaches, Assistant Coaches, and adult committee members, who are called “Program Advisors”. A Program Advisor is assigned to work with and mentor a single Varsity Scout as he fills leadership assignments that involve planning, execution, and reflection on team activities. It is not a terribly time-consuming job, but it can have great impact–on both the scout and the mentor.

leadership-skills-ftrAs you do your own thinking and planning for how you are going to fulfill your assignment, there are some questions you should ask yourself.

  • Are you really committed to doing this job well? Are you willing to put your heart and mind into working with a youth? If you offer the youth a supportive relationship, will you be true to it? Will you keep all of the promises you make and be dependable?
  • How much time are you willing to commit? Can you organize your schedule to meet on a regular basis (in a youth-safe environment) with your assigned Scout?
  • How do you see yourself interacting with youth? Truth be told, many adults have forgotten what it was like to be a young man, and have reservations about their ability to relate to youth without risking rejection. It is at first difficult for some people to see themselves working with youth, so they are reluctant to extend the hand of friendship to them. They are not even sure they know how to do it.
  • Are you willing to work with youth who may not respond readily to your offers of help? Just as it can be challenging for adults to put themselves forward with youth, it is difficult for some youth to put themselves forward to work with adults. This may be because of difficult or dysfunctional relations with adults before you meet them. Just as adults have stereotypes of teenage youth (sometimes negative ones), youth have stereotypes of adults (especially ones who seem to be distant and disapproving). How willing are you to be patient with a youth who does not yet know you well enough to trust you?
  • What kinds of goals for your own personal growth do you have as a mentor? You will be changed by mentoring youth. You will come to understand them and their culture better–the parts you like and the parts you may not like. In this environment of associating with youth, you will learn how to communicate positive values without breaking down a trusting relationship. You will learn how to be a positive influence in the youth’s world. You should ask yourself, Am I ready to grow and stretch?
  • How will you measure your success? As you work with youth, what are the signs of progress you will look for that you are having some (if only small) impact? If you can’t change a youth’s entire life all at once, what positive behaviors can you look for that indicate you are having some success?

Task #3: Become aware of yourself as a mentor and what you have to offer

You have to bring some value to a relationship if you want to be useful to youth. What do you know that the youth can profit from?

  • Program knowledge. Do you understand how the Varsity program is designed to work? If you have been trained, did you notice where your assignment fits into the larger pattern of team activity?panorama bike
  • Skills. Do you have specialized skills that can be of value to the youth and to the team as a whole? Maybe you know how to cook dutch oven meals. (This is big plus with Varsity Scouts.) Maybe you have skills in adventure sports like mountaineering. Maybe you understand radio communications. Maybe you are into survival methods. Maybe you are a good trainer. Maybe you have skills in making things from materials like wood, metal, or stone. Maybe you are an office worker and understand digital tools and how to use them. Maybe you have executive skills. Maybe you know medical first-aid. Maybe your hobby is making videos. All of these skills and more can be used to help youth in their planning and can become common interests that lead to a relationship of trust.
  • Character, and spiritual insight. Your team is sponsored by an organization that has a system of values: civic or religious. As an adult do you feel you can represent those values consistently and honestly? Are you willing to be an example of character?
  • Mentoring abilities. Good mentors are made, not born. Are you willing to put forth the effort to learn how to mentor well and effectively? Are you willing to grow?

Task #4: Deal with your side of the generation gap

It’s ironic, but the generation gap exists only in our minds. Adults, who were all once teenagers, often feel most comfortable with and socialize with other adults. Teenagers feel more comfortable with youth who are near their age, from whom they are probably seeking approval. Adults are often disapproving. These factors add up to the sense of a generation gap.

Many adults assigned positions to work with teenaged youth doubt their ability (and in a few cases, their desire) to reach across the generation gap, thereby perpetuating it. It is frightening to some adults to think of working with youth because youth are sometimes brutally honest about their feelings toward others. Some adults are afraid to shed their pride and associate freely with youth in an approving, respectful manner.

What adults learn, however, as they become aware of their false stereotypes of teenagers, is how much youth want to be recognized by and approved by adults. Youth respond to adults who respect them and treat them as having value and potential. As you deal with your side of the generation gap and drop your fear of youth, you will find that they will do the same, and both of you will end up having a new understanding of each other, and a new level of respect.

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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