Enhancing Leadership Under the Stars: Insights from the IOLS Course Experience

Empowering Scout Leaders for Outdoor Excellence | Reflections after attending a recent IOLS Course (Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills) on March 9-10, 2024, at the Heard Scout Pueblo

Over the years, I had heard about the IOLS training course and that Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters were required to complete it as part of their leader specific training. In a previous volunteer role as the district training chair, my responsibility was to help ensure our youth had “trained leaders.” Most training courses are available online, however, this in person experiential course is overnight which requires a weekend commitment by a unit leader in order to participate. Currently, I am a Unit Coach serving multiple troops, and this required outdoor leadership training intrigued me. What do these leaders learn in IOLS? Why is it a required leader specific course? As a result, I decided to learn more. I contacted David Charron, our Council’s IOLS and BALOO lead instructor to see if I could assist him at the next IOLS course. He agreed and we started working together on promoting the training event.

Well, I must say the experience was an eye-opening weekend for me! First of all, the planning and preparation to coordinate lead and execute this course is an incredible investment by the volunteer (in this case, the Course Director, David Charron and 6 instructors). Twenty unit leaders from all over the council signed up to attend and on Saturday morning we gathered together, broke into patrols to learn about teaching Scouts all about the important aspects of “fun with a purpose” on a troop campout and the outdoor skills necessary.

Over the 1 ½ days, we learned and experienced hands on all about campsite selection and set up, hosting an opening flag ceremony, outdoor ethics, using wood tools, basic knots and lashings, plant and animal identification, cooking tips and menu ideas, packing and hiking techniques, fire site preparation and building, troop skits, and more … We then enjoyed some social time during Cracker Barrel before falling into our tents to sleep. Exhausted yet fully embracing the teamwork, comradery and Scout Spirit, throughout this full day, we moved from skill to skill and loved meeting some new friends along this Scouting trail. We continued the next morning with an Interfaith Worship Service, orienteering and followed by graduation ceremony, then we broke camp and returned home. Fantastic!

For each learning opportunity, the skills aligned to youth rank advancement and/or merit badges and other areas in Scouts BSA. For me, I served as an observer helping the Course Director wherever I could. What I observed throughout the weekend is what makes the difference between a good unit and a GREAT unit! What goes into the planning of a campout with a troop takes a lot of discussion by senior leadership, adult leaders, communication to patrol leaders, always balanced with rank requirements and merit badges and of course, tons of fun! Attending this course helped me understand that the skills learned along with helpful discussions WILL give a Scoutmaster and their Assistants the tools necessary to create an incredible outdoor experience for their units. I can see why attending IOLS will help our Scouts BSA leaders (and any other registered unit volunteers who wishes to attend). This learning will definitely help them feel more confident and secure in their role, bringing them together as a unified key adult leadership team, as they refine their skills to make the learning experience for their youth so much richer and rewarding. If the adult leaders are aligned, the troop will succeed!

In closing, I had an exciting time; enjoyed the city lights sparkle after dark, met some really great Scouters, learned/refreshed some skills, experienced teamwork and went home feeling incredibly grateful that our youth have the opportunity to experience Scouting. So, if you are a Scoutmaster or Assistant, I encourage you to take this very helpful course and help make your troop really FUN and incredibly GREAT!

The next IOLS course is in Yuma on April 19-20. Check the Council calendar and sign up now. Your time is worth the investment!

Author: Judy Walden, Unit Coach