Individual Acheivment Awards

141There are many facets to any youth development program.  Planning and executing outdoor adventure trips may be the most visible aspect of a program like Trail Life, but there are other underlying methods of delivering the mission:

…to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.

Even at face value, the mission calls for service to others, honoring God and leading with integrity.  So, how does a program accomplish these goals in day to day practice?

Well, it begins (as the mission begins) with guiding generations of young men.  Guiding can be done in many ways and one of those is by applying a curriculum of lessons and activities to groups and/or individuals.

Coupling the learning lessons with achievement awards serves multiple purposes:

  1. the program presents a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming themIMGP6935
  2. it adds structure to the program so that lesson themes cover a range of mandatory and elective topics (structure and flexibility)
  3. each step-wise award helps build or reinforce self-confidence
  4. each step-wise award becomes an outward acknowledgement of skill mastery — translating to prepared ability to serve others in specific ways
  5. when the program is self-led, it can develop a sense of pre-emptive initiation of action (leadership through vision, planning and initiation) instead of passivity associated with group-led activities (waiting to be told what to do and when to do it).

At earlier ages, the program tends to focus on team participation for several reasons.  It builds cohesion of the unit by doing things together, and that it helps build social bonds and social skills among the participants.  At the mid-point of their time in the program, the boys “cross over” to Navigators where their learning and achievement program begins a transition from mostly group learning to a mix of group (patrol) elements and individual study (Trail Badge program).

I suppose it would be feasible for group learning to continue throughout the program, but there are several reasons why a shift to individual effort help build traits and skills that would be invaluable to a young man throughout his adult life.

Let’s compare the two approaches side by side:

Learning Comparison chart

Admittedly, this is an informal and incomplete analysis, but I would think that most leaders could agree that as the young man enters adolescence there are advantages to fostering an individualized approach to achievement and skill mastery.

second sandy hook 1One of the benefits to the individualized Trail Badge program is the opportunity for adult association under proper youth protection guidelines.  Learning to relate to adults in appropriate settings and circumstances helps young men build confidence in social skills and it provides for a mentoring-apprentice styled relationship on a small scale.  The mentoring-apprentice method of teaching and learning is an ancient way to translate skills to younger generations and is a form of discipleship that benefits both the older and younger participant.  This is an additional form of social engagement that helps round out the young man’s social development.  The apprentice must take responsibility for his learning program, and set appointments with the mentor at mutually convenient times – he is not in a position to make demands, and may need to sacrifice time normally spent with friends to accommodate the learning sessions.  These choices represent steps in personal growth to place appropriate emphasis on getting things accomplished and taking responsibility for the outcomes.

IMGP6812 (2)

The key, here, is to acknowledge the valuable role of the processes involved.  It’s not so much about the earning of a badge as the outcome, but undergoing the personal growth to develop lasting traits like:


  • self reliance (they ought to be in control of their own advancement path, pace, timing),
  • initiation of action (as opposed to passivity – they ought to learn to “step up” and initiate the process and own the process as opposed to others pushing them along or directing their detailed steps), and
  • urgency of action (once started, get it done quickly – don’t let assignments drag and become stale through inaction).

The actual, tangible reward for each achievement completed is earned and deserved as:

  • the requirements were fulfilled,
  • the skills were mastered and
  • the self-confidence was built through the process.

The goal is to encourage the individual boy to engage in the process as it is the process that works the growth and enrichment of the lad. 

Badge Hunting?

One concern I’ve heard raised in Trail Life circles is whether the rewards for accomplishment are a temptation to motivate undue vanity and pride in the boys.  It is possible for boys to see badges as “bragging rights” to show they can outpace others in the quest for new skills and accelerated advancement.  This can develop from a number of sources.  Perhaps their parents have encouraged them to gain the awards as “resume fodder” to help get a leg up on college applications.  Perhaps it started as a friendly challenge among patrol members to see who could outpace the others.

It is healthy to remind participants that the patch or badge is a fair and appropriate symbol of accomplishment – not for what has been done (in earning it), but for the newly built capability to serve others as indicated by the display of that badge!

So a badge for first aid is not a vain trinket at all, but a statement that:

I am now prepared, at a moment’s notice, to respond and react with a measured approach to apply the skills I now possess. I will not shrink from that opportunity to serve others, nor will I laud this skill over others in pride as I should have known these things in order to fulfill my role as protector and guide to my own household – both present and future tense.


IMGP7151Advancement has a lot to offer each individual by completing the process steps and allowing the process to become part of his personal growth.  Further, the opportunities for appropriate adult association through a mentor-apprentice type relationship on a small scale can help build a better appreciation of the discipleship model.  However, if the advancement program (especially at the Navigator/Adventurer level) is limited to a group exercise driven by leader schedules and artificial pace setting, it can fail to achieve it’s best intentions within the individual trailmen.

Secondarily, we need to guard against the misinterpretation of the advancement program as a mercenary means to an end (i.e. “I want to be an Freedom Rangeman to get into college easier, or land that corner office job” instead of to serve others faithfully).  Reminding participants that the awards are about an ongoing commitment to be equipped to serve others, not to be mistaken as simple tokens/trinkets acquired for bragging rights or score keeping might help keep them properly oriented.

What say you?  How is your unit pursuing advancement within your overall program?  Do you have tips or suggestions to share with others?

May I also recommend this article –…/the-mystery…/

2010 labor day weekend 777 trip 089


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