Varsity Scout programs are built around five fields of emphasis, but none is more important than the high-adventure/sports field. High adventure activities spark interest in Varsity Scouts and challenges them physically and, in some cases, emotionally. But these activities are the hook that keeps older Scouts active as a squad in a troop or in your own stand-alone team.

Coaches, the team committee and other adults working with youth program managers and other team members can become skilled in activities ranging from sub-zero camping to extreme sports. Once the team completes training in a sport or extreme outdoor activity, Scouts can plan and take part in high-adventure opportunities and/or sports, which most young men want to do. However, the magic of high adventure is this: it is the best incubator for growing character, developing leadership, and citizenship and fitness, so our focus will center there.

Varsity Scout PlanningScouting’s aims—character, citizenship and fitness—are likely why your church or civic group has a team or troop with a Varsity squad in the first place. The outdoors is the best classroom for teaching these and other Scouting skills in a way that entices youth to participate.  From the view of youth, the activity has to have fun, adventure or the pure romance of the outdoors—it has to be big, or they’ll stay home.

The mountains and woods is where adventure awaits the expectant teen. When Varsity Scouts hike, cook and eat together, all while sharing the challenges of outdoor living, they learn to practice patience, build squad/team brotherhood, respect the points of view of others, and develop lasting friendships. Leadership comes to life naturally in outdoor activities and theoretical skills taught at home become real.

Activites such as backpacking, cycling, fishing, orienteering, and rock climbing are some of Varsity Scouting’s best adventures. Each extreme skill conquered builds a young man’s self esteem and confidence.

At a minimum, Varsity Scouts should spend at least 10 days and nights outdoors each year. Among the opportunities for making that happen are:

  • Squad and team hikes (try alternating these with camping every other month)
  • Short-term camping (72 hours or less) (look for longer school breaks and use them)
  • Resident long-term camping (three or more days) (do this at least once a year)
  • Rendezvous,camporees, encampments and jamborees
  • National and council high-adventure bases
  • Additional suggestions are found in Program Features for Troop, Team and Crews. 

Resources for High Adventure Programs

Program-Features-coverThere are many resources, but it’s best to begins with the three-volume Program Features for Troops, Teams and Crews. According to Bryan Wendell, Scouting Magazine Editor, “It’s your youth leaders’ go-to resource for planning a great program. Your Scouts and Venturers can use these Program Features to plan their main monthly activities or as a way to supplement gaps on their Scouting calendar. The books are all about making a youth leader’s job easier and more fun.”

Peter Self, head of the BSA’s Member Experience Innovation team states: “Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews is a three-volume set containing a total of 48 unique topics that a Scouting unit could use as either the core of its activities, or as a way to round out what’s already on the calendar…The features cover six general categories: Outdoor, Sports, Health & Safety, Citizenship & Personal Development, STEM, and Arts & Hobbies. You can find program ideas for SCUBA, Science, Multimedia, Fitness & Nutrition and more.”

Program Features

Using these tools, the program manager and other team leaders get a push start. Then they can draw on the outdoor knowledge and program support of many people to build a robust and exciting high-adventure/sports program for their team.

The program manager and his supervisor need to find other adults to help make the adventure happen. Start with those already associated with the team including parents, all team committee members, assistant Coaches, members of the chartered organization, and registered merit badge counselors. A team’s Scouting district may also be a good source, along with the council’s Camping and High Adventure Directors. Coaches will encounter many of these people at roundtable meetings, where they can share ideas for running effective outdoor programs.

Varsity Scout Team success requires adequate, well-trained leadership. It is especially important to take all reasonable precautions to prevent accidents and follow Boy Scouts of America standards. The best available adult leadership should be recruited to accompany each team during high-adventure activities.

Policy and Procedures to Follow

In accordance with BSA Youth Protection guidelines, a team must have a minimum of two adult leaders, each one physically fit and registered as adult members of the Boy Scouts of America. One leader must be at least 21 years of age. The second leader must beat least 18 years old. If Scouts are being transported to another location, trip and activity plans need to be filed and followed.

Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Know the regulations
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. These include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, and snow
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams
  • Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out)
  • Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. When finished, cover and disguise a cathole Dispose of toilet paper appropriately or pack it out.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past. Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Avoid campfires. They can cause lasting impacts on the backcountry.  Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance
  • Never feed wild animals
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely

If you want the outcomes of character, citizenship and fitness, right along with leadership development for your youth, do not neglect this important aspect of Varsity Scouting. As a coach it was my best tool.

What was your best high adventure activity? (In the comment section, take a moment to share.)

SOURCEUtah National Parks Council
Darryl Alder
Darryl is a retired career Scouter with more than 30 years of service. These days he is a Scouting Ambassador and serves on the Council Membership and Marketing Committee. However, his pride in Scouting is his volunteer service as an Associate Advisor, Varsity Scout Coach, Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Chartered Organization Representative, and Commissioner.

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