As the tagline promises, I’ve created this blog as a repository for ideas related to writing, Scouting, and writing on Scouting. I talk about the books I sell at EagleBook.com, my other Scouting-related writing projects, and other items of interest. I hope you find the blog of interest. If you have ideas to share, just post a comment on the About page.

What Scout Leaders Can Learn From the Presidential Election



Dispiriting. Disgusting. Disillusioning. Distressing. Deplorable. Despicable. The dictionary is full of words to describe the 2016 presidential election in the United States. One thing Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and independents can probably all agree on is that November 9–the day after the election–can’t get here fast enough.

But in the midst of all the mudslinging and misstatements, both major-party candidates have been doing something positive that Scout leaders can learn from. Like their predecessors going back decades, they have formed transition teams to begin thinking about next steps should they be elected. This is a longstanding process, one that has become ever more important as the world has gotten more complicated. And it’s something every major-party campaign does, despite how every losing candidate complains about the front-runner prematurely “measuring the drapes” at the White House. (Let me go out on a limb here and say that the decor at the White House is probably not high on any new president’s agenda.)

Typically, members of a candidate’s transition team work behind the scenes. Rather than spending time on the campaign trail or the Sunday talk shows, they spend time behind closed doors, doing the work required so that the new president can hit the ground running come Inauguration Day.

So what can we as Scout leaders learn from the presidential transition process? Scout units go through (usual) peaceful transfers of power whenever a Scoutmaster steps down or when a new chartered organization takes over a unit. And long-range planning should be happening all the time if the troop wants to grow larger or tackle its first high-adventure trip or do something else that will cause it to stretch. (I talk a lot about long-range planning in volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook, which I hope you have a copy of.)

The best people to think about these long-term issues are not the people who are worried about short-term challenges, like finding enough drivers for next weekend’s campout. Instead of asking the usual suspects to take on one more project, you should create a task force of less-active leaders, parents, and Scouts to do the work. They’ll be more effective, your already-over-committed volunteers will be less stressed out, and your unit will be better prepared for a better future.

Giving Thanks at (and After) Eagle Courts of Honor



Several years ago, my troop’s newest Eagle Scout stopped by my house. He and his girlfriend (who said only jocks get the girls?) came by to thank me for my help with his court of honor and to hand me a thank-you gift.

The gift was nice, but the sentiment was even nicer. Rather than saying impersonal thank-yous during his court of honor, he’d chosen to make personal visits to the people who’d played a key role in his ceremony–and who’d helped him get there in the first place.

This approach let him do more than just show his sincere gratitude, however. It also let him stay focused in a couple of important ways:

First, he was able to focus on those leaders, past and present, who’d really impacted his Scouting career. There was no pressure, for example, to present gifts to those adults who had joined the troop since his involvement had more or less shifted over to our Venturing crew.

Second, and much more importantly, he was able to spend time during his ceremony thanking just one assistant Scoutmaster–his father–who had been involved at every step along the trail to Eagle. It was a truly emotional moment when he gave his dad an Eagle Scout mentor pin, and it would have been a real shame to dilute that moment by going through a litany of other, lesser thank-yous at that time.

As you plan your next court of honor, I hope you’ll encourage your new Eagle Scout to plan his thank-yous carefully. He and the people he thanks will be glad you did.


Do You Know an Almost Eagle?



Over the years, I’ve met many men who almost made it to the rank of Eagle Scout. In most cases, they can cite the exact reasons they fell short of their goal: a family crisis, a move across the country, a troop that dissolved, an inability to pass Lifesaving merit badge, etc. While unique reasons like those are certainly legitimate and often insurmountable, a more common problem is the lack of a mentor to help along the path. Without a a coach or a cheering section, only the most self-motivated Scout will cross the finish line. When parents are disengaged or unknowledgeable, and when troop leaders are inexperienced, Scouts tend to fall short.

Fortunately, Eagle Scout candidates no longer have to rely solely on their families and troop leaders these days. There are lots of websites that offer guidance along the trail to Eagle. One of my favorites is EagleCoach.org, created by David Hunt, an Eagle Scout who serves as an Eagle coach and district advancement chairman. David has put together a ton of great, free resources, including checklists, guidance on planning Eagle projects, and links to other resources.

Another Eagle Scout, Sam Ovett, has created an online course called Almost Eagle that targets those 17-year-old Eagle Scouts who need an extra measure of motivation. The $97 course includes four modules (including a bonus module):

  • Mindset Is the Key
  • Building a Winning Team
  • Getting It Done
  • Pass Your Board of Review With Flying Colors

A handbook and other downloads are also included.

I haven’t seen past Sam’s paywall, so I can’t vouch for the content. However, from the website it looks like he knows what he’s talking about, and he certainly speaks the language of today’s teens. His course may be just the thing for Scouts in the YouTube generation.

When Sam told me about the Almost Eagle course recently, he offered two free passes to blog readers. If you’d like one of these passes for a Scout in your troop, send me an email at mark@mark-ray.com. The first two people who respond will win. All I ask in return is that you tell me how the course worked for your Scout.

The great thing about our program is that any Scout has the potential to become an Eagle Scout if he sets his mind to it. As Scout leaders, we just need to help him turn the obstacles in his path into tollbooths instead of roadblocks.

A New American Eagle for a New Eagle Scout



A few years back, a reader named Christy Bebeau came up with the perfect gift for her Eagle Scout son, something that he could keep forever and that wouldn’t become stale as he grew older. The gift was money. Not a crisp new $20 bill, you understand, but a silver American Eagle Coin from the U.S. Mint from the year he received his Eagle badge.

According to Christy, “the coin is beautiful and, because it’s almost a full ounce of silver, it has lasting value (not to mention collectible value).” She ordered it as an uncirculated coin in an “airtightie,” an airtight plastic container that allows both sides of the coin to show through and that is only a little bigger than the coin itself.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the American Eagle Coin program, a fact that’s noted on the edge of each 2016 coin, so I can think of a better time to try this idea. A proof version of the coin will set you back $53.95 (a real bargain when you consider that the gold version of the same coin costs $1,610.00!).

These and similar coins are relatively inexpensive and make a great gift for new Eagle Scouts. After all, money is always just the right size and color.

Why Adult Association Matters



I recently had an interesting email discussion with a reader about whether adult leaders should conduct Scoutmaster conferences for their own sons. I pointed out that there’s no prohibition against this practice in the Guide to Advancement but that the sons of Scoutmasters would benefit from building relationships with other adults in the troop.

So what did I find in my local newspaper the very next morning? A story entitled “Study: To raise graduation rates, increase number of adults in community.” You can read the story online, but here’s the upshot: Research from America’s Promise Alliance suggests that improving the ratio of adults to school-age children improves graduation rates. In fact for every seven adults a neighborhood adds, one fewer child will quit school.

This research focused on school, not Scouting, but it seems to me that our Scouts also benefit from having more adults around. In fact, that’s the whole point of the adult association method, one of the eight methods of Boy Scouting.

Unfortunately, some Scouters see this method as being in competition with the youth leadership method, arguing that adults should stay in the corner drinking coffee instead of interacting with Scouts. While we shouldn’t do things to undermine our youth leaders, that doesn’t mean we should be absentee adults. After all, our Scouts’ futures are at stake.


Removing Barriers at Eagle Courts of Honor


Your courts of honor are undoubtedly open to all comers—but can everybody come? Is the facility where you’re holding the ceremony free of barriers that could keep out wheelchair users and others with permanent or temporary disabilities?

I thought about those questions when planning one of our troop’s Eagle courts of honor. The honoree’s grandfather used a wheelchair, and I needed to make sure he could get in and out of the building and have a place to sit during the ceremony. In our case, we only had to make one minor modification (holding the reception in a different room than usual), but you may need to make bigger adjustments—perhaps even choosing a different location for the court of honor.

In brief, you want to make sure there are no stairs to climb, that ramps have a slope of 1:12 or less, that hallways are at least 36 inches wide and that doorways are at least 32 inches wide. Also be sure that you have accessible restrooms and a designated parking area. (For much more information, see the Americans with Disabilities Act checklist at http://www.ada.gov/racheck.pdf.)

For more great ideas, check out my new ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

What Did You Do in the Scouts, Dad?



Ray Capp finished his seven-year term as chairman of the National Order of the Arrow Committee earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean he has vanished from Scouting–far from it. Ray is still active at the unit, council, area, and national levels, and this fall he sent out a remarkable letter to his Scouting friends.

The letter, which he kindly agreed to let me share with you, is not addressed to his Scouting friends. Instead, it’s addressed to the parents of Scout-age boys who may wonder what this Scouting thing is all about and why they should care. The letter begins like this:

If you are like most people, you know that Boy Scouts go camping … and maybe fishing, hiking, or swimming, too. You know that Boy Scouts are supposed to be nice and do good deeds. That about sums up what most people know about Scouting.

To let parents know what else Scouts do, Ray surveyed dozens of Scouting friends (ages 30 through 80) to ask them what they did as Scouts that they absolutely would not have gotten to do otherwise. The list, which forms the heart of Ray’s letter, is impressive, listing everything from shucking oysters and trying geocaching before it was cool to meeting the President in the Oval Office and–yes–helping an old lady across the street.

One thing that’s cool about the list is that it demonstrates the breadth of what Scouts get to do. Another thing that’s cool is that every item on the list is short enough to be tweetable.

And that got me thinking. What if you surveyed your own friends, as well as the Scouts in your troop, and came up with your own list. Then what if you spent a month tweeting, posting, or otherwise sharing your list, one item a day? If you did, you might get across Ray’s core message, which closes his letter:

A boy who joins Scouting will see things, do things, and BE things that he never imagined. He will emerge as a man of character with a passion and a mission.

And isn’t that really what you want most for your son?

Here are the links to Ray’s letter and “things I did” list:

Thanks again to Ray for writing, and sharing, this material.