Health Strength in the Pack




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By Gilcraft

"MOWGLI must have been nearly seventeen years old. He looked older, for hard exercise, the best of good eating, and baths whenever he felt in the least hot or dusty, had given him strength and growth far beyond his age," (The Spring Running.)

Before the launching of the National Fitness Campaign the Chief Scout charged us all to take up "physical training more definitely, side by side with our character development of the young, and so to do a national service." At the outset I may say that, with one possible small addition, there is no need for us to introduce anything further into the normal Cub program of progressive development.

The present methods laid down for the training of Cubs are sufficient, if applied with thought and intelligence, to enable Akela to lay the foundations of health and strength on which the boy and his leaders can build well and truly later on.

The play way of Cubbing is the very soundest way of securing future health and strength, but games need more careful and thoughtful selection. There is a tendency perhaps to introduce games of a somewhat namby-pamby nature merely for the sake of variety (and the Scouter's amusement), without realizing that from the point of view of development they are as much good as a sick headache. If we were to sit down seriously and assess the value of some of the relay games we play, we should realize that their value in the development of the individual Cub was almost a minus quantity. He ambles or careers down the room, according to his nature, regardless of style or carriage; places one card on top of another; and returns to his place more speedily than he went, in the satisfaction of having done his duty to fall in with Akela's queer ideas of exercise and fun. The picture is purposely highly colored, but is sufficiently close to the original to make us pause and think

Mowgli was trained in a hard school, he indulged in hard exercise, he wrestled with Kaa, he raced with Bagheera, he hunted with his brother Wolves. "And yet the look in his eyes was always gentle. . . . He ran, sometimes shouting, sometimes singing to himself, the happiest thing in all the jungle."

Shouting and singing are of some importance. I am well alive to the practical difficulties imposed by neighbors and caretakers, but, as we have heard so often, noise is essential to Cub development. Shouting and singing are natural means of developing the lungs and the whole breathing machine Watch boys at play in the street or elsewhere, and you will readily appreciate that fact. The difficulties are overcome by our Pack discipline, which controls that noise when necessary, but does not suppress it.

Scouting is a game for the open air; the imagery of Cubbing is taken from the jungle. "It is so nice," say these dear old ladies and gentlemen who think that Scouting is "such a good thing, for the boys to be taken off the dangerous streets for an hour every week, and so good for these men and women to do it." Again I may be painting in lurid colors, but sometimes I would prefer the dangers and petrol fumes of the street to the germ-laden atmosphere of some of the Pack Dens I have visited. An hour of such atmosphere can be much more dangerous and do the Cubs real harm, so that in effect we are doing them and their bodily development no good at all,

Therefore, we must see that when the Pack meets indoors the atmosphere - in every sense is wholesome, and, what is more important, we should try and meet as often out of doors as we can; yes, even in winter in the middle of London. A scamper round out of doors during a meeting will do us and the Cubs no harm if it is dry; we shall not catch cold if we keep moving; the majority of colds and such like are caught indoors, and we know it.

But I must lengthen my stride and shorten the journey, and so I can only touch fleetingly on other general points.

Jungle dances and play-acting can help physical development, if the Cubs put their energies into them. Let us avoid as much as possible any exhibitions of still-life in our Cub program; we should show real live life all the time. Part of the time a little freedom to "muck about" is valuable. Again our Pack discipline is the only means we have of controlling the length of that "mucking about," and to a certain extent its nature. This freedom is essential to natural development, and is also a barometer of the Cub's nature. We all know the kind of thing that happens when small boys are let loose. They chase about, they struggle with each other, they climb on things - in fact they are unconsciously intent on developing their bodily health and strength in the same way as Mowgli did. Over-wise grown-ups say: "We must organize all that waste energy; we must turn it into definite channels; we must mould these boys to our will." Mould can be a fungoid growth, and it is a mistake for Akela to be over-wise!

I can only allude in passing to the value of outdoor expeditions, and to short camps where especially the Cub can be given "the best of good eating." But I must leave the general aspect of the subject, and go on to the particular materials which our Cub program contains, but I must not forget to emphasize in the interests of health and strength the atmosphere of cleanliness and neatness which is developed in the Pack through Akela's personal example more than by his precepts. This question of example concerns all Scouters. We can give our Cubs - and others - health and strength by our own fitness and our own bearing.

The First Star

In his First Star tests the Cub is given several ways of developing his own body. We are familiar with these tests, but it might be helpful if I ran through them and perhaps commented on each in turn.

The Cub somersault should more properly be called a "forward roll." It marks the beginning of a number of simple and easy tumbling exercises which are quite within the scope of Cubs. These exercises, and the somersault, are no more dangerous than the normal activities in which a boy indulges in his own home. In the forward roll the main points to remember are: that the chin should be tucked into the chest, the shoulders be rounded, and the whole body roll round until the feet touch the ground again. If a boy swings his hands up in front of his body as the roll is ending he will come to his feet with body erect of his own momentum.

Leap-frog is frequently a test of nerve for both concerned, but is a comparatively easy exercise. Our medical advisers say that the under boy should stand stern on rather than broadside on. There are medical as well as safety reasons for this stance, and that is why I recommend it in opposition, perhaps, to other authorities.

Hopping has obvious physical advantages, but each leg must be used in turn.

Ball-throwing and ball-catching are good training for eye and hand and for co-relating the two together. They also induce quick movement and help balance. This exercise is too often dull and lifeless, instead of being quick and lively as it should in time become.

Skipping has come more into favor among boys now that they realize that footballers and other athletes use it to train their wind and muscle, but it is the bounce that counts and the rhythm of it. The aim of Cub skipping is the same as that of the other Star physical tests - to produce the springy muscles of Bagheera, and not the bulk of Hathi, so that skipping should be a matter of lightness and, again, balance.

Balance and poise are further helped by the balancing test. Many Scouters of the Pack seem to imagine that this is a test set in order to see at what queer angles Cubs can carry their heads. Its purpose, is, however, to give them an upright carriage. If their heads are so shaped that they cannot hold a weight upright, then they should be allowed to wear their caps or something else so that they can hold themselves straight and erect.

"Some fellows walk, others slouch! Which do you do?" I repeat the Chief's question for all Scouters to ask themselves.

In all these First Star tests there is a sufficiency of material to enable the younger Cubs to develop themselves physically.

The 'cleanliness' test is sufficient to convey to their understandings the rudiments of health.

The Second Star

The One-Star Cub passes on to try for his Second Star, and in doing so discovers that other opportunities of gaining health and strength are given him He is asked to learn two physical exercises, and to walk a plank.

These two exercises are sound and safe, and are mostly a matter of individual effort. Perhaps in the past the question of individual effort has been over-emphasized. We know for ourselves that it is one thing to go through a series of weird and wonderful contortions in the midst of a crowd of others, but it is another thing to repeat these contortions in cold blood by ourselves on a cold winter's morning. I know that Cubs have stuck to these exercises on their own, and benefited enormously, but I know that those Cubs are a very small minority. However, it is worth Akela's time to persevere with encouragement in the hope that one single boy will be induced to improve himself in this way.

It is not out of order for Akela to give these exercises as a kind of drill to the older Cubs from time to time. Many of them do them in school; well, we can encourage them to do them well, and to show the others how to do them properly. Even a little romance can be woven into it, and Akela become an oriental potentate who can only be approached after a very low salaam in which his subject touches his toes. Remember that the proper breathing is a most important part of both the toe-touching and the knee-bending exercises. Despite that, it has been suggested that a third exercise should be introduced into our Pack program, and that we should adopt some form of a breathing exercise on the lines of the "resting swing" of the Niels Bukh system. This description of one type of arm-swinging exercise is taken from Free Exercises for Physical Development, by Dr. Walker and P. A. Goldsmith:

bullet"Starting position - STANDING (back of bands to front).
bulletSwing arms forward to shoulder height (hands shoulder width apart).
bulletReturn to starting position.
bulletSwing arms forward and up over head, raising heels.
bulletReturn to starting position, lowering heels."

NOTE. - "Chest expands on upward swing; abdomen not to protrude."

This is the one small addition which it is suggested might be introduced into Pack work! Walking a plank is, again, a matter of balance and of clear head, and the practice and test should be applied accordingly.


There is little more left to be said, but the thoughtful Akela will go on and secure still further improvement in his Cubs' physical health by the judicious encouragement of the physical health group of Badges - Athlete; Swimmer; and Team-Player. These badges provide further material which can be used with the Pack as a whole, and especially to encourage the individual Cub to give himself strength and growth.

It is in these ways that the Scouters of the Pack can hear and obey the Chief Scout's call. There is no need to hunt for other trails.

More Gilcraft Gleanings






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.