Paging Through the New Troop Leader Guidebook Volume 2



As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my latest major book project for the Boy Scouts of America is volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook, which focuses on the needs of experienced troop leaders–something the BSA has really never done. The book should be hitting Scout shops in the next month or so– is promising July 9–and I hope it’s on your shopping list. (Volume 1, which focuses on the needs of new troop leaders, is already available, by the way.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to sit down (via Skype) with bloggers and longtime Scouters Clarke Green and Walter discuss the book in detail. We walked through the entire book, which gave me the chance to highlight my favorite parts.

Clarke recently posted an edited version of our discussion on his website, If you have an hour or so, give it a listen to learn more about the book:

And if you’d like to find out more about volume 1, check out Clarke and Walter’s take on that edition.

Clarke calls the new book “a real game changer.” I hope it will change the game in your troop starting this summer.

Eagle Court of Honor Support Jobs: Publicity



I recently began a series of blog posts on support jobs for Eagle courts of honor. These are the behind-the-scenes tasks that are less visible than, but nearly as important as, planning and running the ceremony itself. This week: publicity.

One of the most common mistakes in Eagle courts of honor is under-promotion, which results in poor attendance. Sending plenty of invitations is one solution, and the family usually takes care of this task.

The other solution is publicity. You should recruit a publicity coordinator to promote the event both in the troop and in the community. In-troop promotion can include emails, Facebook posts, newsletter articles, announcements at meetings, and texts or phone calls by patrol leaders. Outside the troop, you’ll probably want to start with a media release; The Eagle Court of Honor Book includes a sample release and a worksheet you can use to create your own.

Depending on the size of your community, you may or may not have luck getting coverage from local newspapers and television stations. Or the local paper might be happy for you to submit a story after the fact. (If your paper has a lot of bylines that read, “Special to the Daily Buzzard,” it likely relies on submitted stories.)

In any event, don’t limit yourself to those big news outlets. Think about what other organizations should hear about the court of honor. These would include your chartered organization, the honoree’s school, his family’s church, synagogue, or mosque, and his parents’ places of business. Chances are, all of these organizations have newsletters and would be happy to include an announcement of the court of honor or to run a story after the fact. (For example, after our troop honored six Eagles at one ceremony, we got nearly a full page of coverage in a statewide United Methodist newspaper.)

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

Don’t Let Your Scouts Get High–and I’m not Talking About Drugs



Earlier this month, a friend climbed onto a toilet to reach a light fixture. The toilet seat broke, sending my friend crashing to the ground. She’s been off work for weeks and may miss her daughter’s high-school graduation.

A few years back, another friend fell from a ladder while cleaning his gutters. His broken ankle has fully healed, but he spent several weeks riding around on a knee scooter.

Falling is easy, but the sudden stop at the end can be very hard indeed. It can even be fatal. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 work-related falls resulted in 113 deaths and 15,460 nonfatal injuries that cost workers more than a day off the job. That’s about 43 falls a day. And who knows how many more deaths and injuries resulted from non-work-related falls or from homeowners falling off stools, toilet seats, or other poor ladder substitutes?

Statistics like those led the BSA to develop “Age Guidelines for Tool Use and Work at Elevations or Excavations.” This three-page document is packed with information designed to keep your Scouts–and you–safe during service projects and other potentially risky activities. Of particular interest:

  • Youth up to age 14 may use step stools that are up to 4 feet above the ground. They may not go higher than 4 feet, including on scaffolds and open platforms.
  • Youth age 14 or older may use step stools or 6-foot ladders.
  • Only adults age 18 or older may climb scaffolds and open platforms above 4 feet (with proper fall protection in the latter case).



Will these rules limit your ability to do certain types of service projects? Undoubtedly. But they should also limit your need to visit the emergency room or worse.

According to Proverbs 16:18 in the Bible, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Ignoring safety rules has much the same effect.

For more information on ladder safety, check out these web pages:

Eagle Court of Honor Support Jobs: Physical Arrangements



Home Depot and Lowe’s are among America’s top 10 retailers, further demonstrating that we are a do-it-yourself kind of country. But there are certain things you shouldn’t do yourself—and I’m not just talking about plumbing and dentistry.

In The Eagle Court of Honor Book, I outline six support jobs that should be a part of every court of honor. These are things that are important to the event’s success but that don’t relate directly to the program: physical arrangements, publicity, decorations, refreshments, the printed program, and congratulatory letters. In the ideal situation, each of these jobs would be handled by a different person. This allows you to concentrate on the court-of-honor program and gives you an excuse to involve other leaders—perhaps those who will coordinate the troop’s next court of honor.

Over the next six blog posts, I’ll discuss each of these jobs in a little more detail. This week: physical arrangements.

When I was a district executive, I once showed up for a district meeting of some sort at a church, only to find the building locked up tighter than Fort Knox. If one of the meeting participants hadn’t happened to be a member of the church with his own pass key, we might well have held our meeting in the parking lot.

Making sure things like that don’t happen at your court of honor is the job of the physical-arrangements coordinator. This person is responsible for securing an appropriate location (and making sure you have access!), assembling all the equipment, props, and awards that will be a part of the ceremony, and handling the lights, sound equipment, and air conditioner or heater. This is a vital job, and one that can’t be done by someone who’s on stage.

For more information—including an equipment and awards checklist—see The Eagle Court of Honor Book.

Thorns and Roses and PLCs



One of the most valuable activities crews do at Philmont Scout Ranch is something called “Thorns and Roses.” This is a guided reflection crews are encouraged to use each evening before heading to their tents. The basic idea is to go around the circle and let each person describe any “thorns” (bad experiences) or “roses” (good experiences) from the day. This is not a gripe session, but rather an opportunity to debrief and to find ways to improve in the future. (In fact, some crews add “buds” to the mix; these are goals for the future.)

The beauty of “Thorns and Roses” is that it gives everyone a chance to reflect on the day in a relaxed, non-confrontational environment. It also gives equal emphasis to what went right and what went wrong. Done well, it can reduce conflict within a crew and ensure that each day goes better than the one before.

I bring up “Thorns and Roses” because I fear that many troop don’t do a very good job of reflection and debriefing when they’re not on a high-adventure trip. Think about your troop. Do you take five or ten minutes at the beginning of each PLC meeting to talk about how last month’s outing went? Do your Scoutmaster and your senior patrol leader chat after each troop meeting about what went right and what went wrong? If not, how can you ensure more roses than thorns in the future?

To paraphrase George Santayana, those who forget the mistakes of the last campout are doomed to repeat them.

The Best Thing to Do With That Court of Honor Script



One of my favorite movies of a decade or so ago is “Shakespeare in Love.” The movie tells the fictional, seriocomic tale of how an ill-fated romance led the playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon to create “Romeo and Juliet.” Just before they must part, Shakespeare gives his lover a copy of the “Romeo” script, lovingly transcribed by a calligrapher and tied with an elegant ribbon.

You could do something similar with your next court of honor script. Rather than leave the honoree with nothing but a dog-eared photocopy of the script (if that), take the time to create a nicely formatted version and print it out on high-quality paper. If tying it with a ribbon doesn’t seem quite right, put it in a presentation folder instead. With a little time and effort, you can create a great keepsake item for your honoree.

Of Wood Tape and Balancing Points



In the Disney classic “Follow Me, Boys,” Scoutmaster Lem Siddons’ biggest challenge is to tie a sheepshank. For the rest of us Boy Scout leaders, I think the biggest challenge is to figure out just how much support to give our youth leaders, especially the senior patrol leader. To continue with the rope analogy, some Scoutmasters give their SPLs enough rope to hang themselves, while others keep the leash so short that their SPLs are little more than dancing marionettes.

The best approach, of course, is somewhere in the middle, but finding the balancing point can be difficult—especially since it changes from Scout to Scout (and even from week to week with the same Scout).

I read a story a few years back that vividly illustrates the challenges—and the joy—of hitting just the right balance. It’s about a dad and his four-year-old son taking a trip to Home Depot for some project materials, but I think the lessons are equally applicable to Scout leaders.

I encourage you to read the story—it’s at—and put yourself in the dad’s place. Then, think about how the story relates to your relationship with your youth leaders.

Read the story and then consider these truths jumped out at me:

  • The dad was willing to go along with his son’s plan even though he wasn’t quite sure what that plan was.
  • The dad didn’t criticize his son for the things he didn’t know.
  • The dad didn’t jump in and take over, even though he could have gotten things done much faster and more efficiently.
  • The dad nudged his son out of his comfort zone but showed his support by his presence.
  • The dad stayed in the background, even when other adults wanted to cut his son out of the loop.
  • The dad recognized that the journey was far more important than the destination.

What jumped out at you? How can you apply these lessons in your troop?

The Destination Court of Honor



A generation ago, most weddings occurred in houses of worship, courthouse offices, and Las Vegas wedding chapels. These days, however, destination weddings are becoming increasingly common. In fact, the Destination Weddings Travel Group says a quarter of all U.S. weddings now occur far from home. The top destinations: Mexico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Hawaii.

While it would be crazy to hold your next Eagle court of honor in a foreign country or at an oceanfront resort, it does make sense to think about whether your location adds to the ambiance and draws guests or whether it’s just a place with chairs and a stage. Over the years, I’ve heard from readers of The Eagle Court of Honor Book who have held courts of honor in local museums and historic courtrooms, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and at the sites where their honorees completed their Eagle Scout service projects. If your new Eagle Scout built a park amphitheater, why not hold the ceremony there? If he built a playground for a school, why not make the swings and slides the backdrop for his ceremony?

Destination courts of honor–like destination weddings–are about more than just backdrops, however. If you pick the right location, you can offer guests the chance to do something fun before or after the ceremony–a picnic in the park, for example, or a museum tour.

Pick the right location, and you just might pique the interest of invitees who are on the fence about attending. Plus, you’ll end up with some fabulous photos of the ceremony.

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

Three Ways to Make Merit Badges Magical



I recently had a great conversation with a merit badge counselor for a Scouting magazine article. This longtime Scouter is an expert in his badge’s subject matter. He has worked professionally in the field and has taught the subject for years at the college level. He even wrote the most recent edition of the merit badge pamphlet.

So when I asked him about his experience counseling the badge, I was surprised. In all his years of being registered as a merit badge counselor, not a single Scout had sought him out!

That’s a shame–not so much for this volunteer, who has plenty to keep him busy, but for the Scouts who have missed out on the chance to learn at the feet of a true master. And his story is not unusual. Since so many Scouts don’t earn a single merit badge beyond their troops, summer camps, and the merit badge fairs they attend, they miss out on amazing opportunities to rub shoulders with incredible adults who can open their eyes to potential careers and lifelong hobbies.

Who’s to blame? I think we as Scout leaders are. We need to discourage shortcuts (like letting Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones counsel badges they could barely earn themselves), but we also need to find creative ways to connect Scouts with qualified counselors.

Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • If you’re a troop leader, invite counselors to preview their badges at a troop meeting. This could involve setting up a display during the preopening or planning an activity during the meeting that lets Scouts get a requirement or two completed.
  • If you’re a roundtable commissioner, turn an occasional session into a meet-and-greet with local merit badge counselors. This could look like the exhibit hall at a trade show, or it could involve hands-on activities that demonstrate badge skills.
  • If you’re an advancement volunteer, don’t simply publish a counselor directory that lists names and contact information. Ask your counselors to give you Twitter-sized descriptions of their qualifications and add that info to the list.

We’ve all heard the story of how Steven Spielberg’s career was launched by the Photography merit badge (in the days before Cinematography and now Moviemaking). Stories like that don’t have to be relegated to the pages of Scouting history. They can happen today–if we start writing them.

How have you made merit badges magical? The comments section is open.