We recently had a colleague show us a video about an engineer, Destin Sandlin, trying to learn how to ride a bicycle that had been modified so the handlebars turned the front wheel the opposite way. He called the contraption the “backwards brain bike” and has used it to teach audiences about neural plasticity and our ability to react to change. If you haven’t seen the video yet, you can check it out here:

So what does this mean for Scouts and Scouters? We have thought of a few different applications:

First, for Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Ever since the Church announced in May 2018 that they were going to replace all current youth programs with a new initiative in 2020, speculation has been rampant. Last month, church members were given the new program materials. After the presentation, I heard some adult leaders in youth programs try to wrap their minds around the new initiative. For many, it may be a challenge to go from highly structured youth programs with set goals and achievements (including Scouting) to a more fluid, youth-directed initiative. It probably seems like trying to ride a backward bicycle after using a normal one for decades.

Of course, it is also exciting to consider the possibilities of youth growth and personal conversion that will result. When youth truly set their own goals and work to achieve them, the benefits will be enormous. And since they have more neural plasticity, they will adapt to the new methods much more quickly than we (adult leaders) will.

But what does that mean for Scouting?

If the new Church initiative is a backward bicycle, some may be tempted to see Scouting as the old regular bicycle that should be left behind. But for those of you who have seen Scouting really work in the lives of youth, the concepts of youth leadership and initiative should be very familiar. It is often easy for some to get so caught up in the push for advancement that they forget about the other methods of Scouting. The best troops and campouts and activities in Scouting are chosen, planned, and executed by the Scouts themselves, based on what they want to achieve. We have leaders and youth who have been riding the backward bicycle for years.

Why are we asking Scouters to ride a backward bicycle?
Scouts who tackle the COPE Cube at Camp Maple Dell gain confidence from it

There are young men (and young women!) in my ward who have decided they want to include Scouting in their goals for the new Church youth program. The best part about this decision is that because it is already self-motivated, these young people will be well-equipped to get the most out of their Scouting experience.

What do we do next?

If you haven’t already, learn how to ride that backward bicycle. Focus on youth leadership and initiative. Help the youth and adults who are interested in continuing in Scouting find a way to do so. Help them see how Scouting fits into their goals.

At the same time, recognize that the traditional Scouting programs in packs and troops are not the only way we can have a positive impact on our community. Our camps and activities are open to youth groups who aren’t registered Scouts as well.

Our vision in the Boy Scouts of America is to “prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.” We can only do that if we are willing to adapt to the needs of our communities.

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Maria Milligan
Has spent several years as a merit badge counselor, several summers as a waterfront director, and her whole life wishing she could do the Pinewood Derby with her 6 brothers. She joined the Utah National Parks Council as a Grant Writer to get her chance.

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