Scouting Aims, Methods, and Balance



The Boy Scout program seeks to develop character, citizenship, and personal fitness—the three aims of Scouting. To do so, it relies on eight methods: advancement, association with adults, ideals, leadership development, outdoor programs, patrols, personal growth, and the uniform. As Scout leaders, we must remember that the aims are our goals; the methods are just how we get there.

To understand the difference, imagine the situation of a football coach. In simplest terms, a coach’s aim is to win football games. To achieve that aim, he calls a variety of plays, some that require passing, some throwing, and some kicking. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how good his players are at passing, throwing, and kicking if they don’t get the ball into the end zone.

It’s the same way in Scouting. It doesn’t matter how many Eagle Scout badges you hand out or how many consecutive months your troop has gone camping if you aren’t instilling the values of character, citizenship, and fitness in your Scouts.

The problem is that some Scouters confuse the methods with the aims—focusing so much on camping, for example, that they forget to work on character or citizenship. That’s like a football coach saying in a post-game press conference, “Sure, we lost by 49 points, but we sure did pass the ball well!”

We can draw another lesson from the football analogy, and that is balance. The most successful football teams are those that can both run and throw the ball and whose offense and defense are equally strong. Few teams make it to a bowl game on the strength of their passing game alone.

In Scouting, it’s easy to focus too much on going camping or building strong patrols or having a boy-run troop. Those things are all important, of course, but you should give each of the methods sufficient attention. No one method is more important than the others.

Are you looking for more tips on how to manage a troop, maintain your sanity, and make a difference? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook today!

Can Teens Drive on Scout Outings?



A Scouter in an online forum recently asked whether Scouts can drive themselves and their friends to outings. The answer is almost always no, but some context is perhaps helpful.

One of the first rules outlined in the Guide to Safe Scouting is driver qualifications. In virtually all cases, drivers must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license that hasn’t been suspended or revoked. (You must also have a tour leader who’s at least 21 years of age.)

Licensed drivers who are 16 or 17 years old may drive under very limited conditions, which virtually eliminate the use of under-18 drivers during troop activities. The conditions are:

  • The trip is to a Venturing activity or an area, regional, or national Boy Scout event (e.g., the National Order of the Arrow Conference).
  • The driver has at least six month’s experience as a fully licensed driver—not including time with a learner’s permit.
  • The driver has no record of accidents or moving violations.
  • You’ve obtained parental permission from both the driver and any riders.

By the way, each vehicle used on a Scout outing must be covered by automobile liability insurance with limits that at least meet the requirements of the state where it’s licensed. The BSA recommends coverage limits of at least $50,000/$100,000/$50,000 (or a combined $100,000 single limit coverage). Vehicles that can carry 10 or more passengers—even if they’re half full—must have limits of $100,000/$500,000/$100,000 (or $500,000 combined).

So do the driving rules mean Scouts can’t drive themselves to weekly meetings (or to your meeting place to catch a ride to an outing in an adult’s vehicle)? Not at all. That commuting isn’t part of the event.

For lots more on this topic, see Bryan on Scouting.

Are you looking for more tips on how to manage a troop, maintain your sanity, and make a difference? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook today!

A New Eagle Congratulatory Letter–from Me



When I started planning Eagle courts of honor, one of the biggest challenges was gathering congratulatory letters. Back in the day, you couldn’t just Google a list of dignitaries to hit up and you had to send requests via snail mail. (On the plus side, I did get pretty proficient at Microsoft Word’s mail-merge feature!)

These days, I write about Eagle courts of honor more than I plan them, but I know that congratulatory letters remain a popular ceremony feature. Whenever I blog about letters–especially when I tell Scouters and parents about specific letters–I see a spike in page views.

As the author of The Eagle Court of Honor Book and a host of other Scouting publications, I occasionally get requests to send out congratulatory letters, which I’m always happy to honor. Now, to simplify the process, I’ve created a fillable PDF version of the letter I typically send. To use it, all you have to do is download it from my website, fill in the honoree’s name and address and the court of honor date, and print it.

While my offering won’t get as much traffic as Mike Rowe’s famous letter, it also won’t cost you a stamped, self-addressed stamped envelope. And it will allow me to offer my sincere congratulations to your newest Eagle Scout.

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

Avoid Decision Fatigue at PLC Meetings



When I began as a Scoutmaster, our patrol leaders’ council meetings were scheduled to last an hour, which I thought was plenty of time. But then we had the session where the Scouts discussed for 10 minutes–10 minutes!–who would do the opening ceremony at the first troop meeting.

At the time, I thought the Scouts were all just trying to shirk responsibility. Now, however, I think they were suffering from decision fatigue. What’s that? According to psychologist Roy Baumeister, decision making has a cumulative impact on our willpower, much like strength training has a cumulative impact on our muscles. In a New York Times story a few years ago, Baumeister said, “It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed or to hold off going to the bathroom. Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”

Or, in teen terms, your ability to decide which patrol should do the opening next week may be reduced simply because you took an algebra test that morning or worked on a team project after school.

I came across that quote from Roy Baumeister in a story about how President Obama wears basically the same suit every day. As Obama told Vanity Fair, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Incidentally, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has a similar philosophy, as did Apple’s Steve Jobs, and I’ve noticed that Donald Trump seems pretty consistent in his attire as well. (Score one for the Scout uniform, which eliminates one decision you have to make before troop meetings.)

Which brings us back to the patrol leaders’ council. While you could let your Scouts argue indefinitely about trivial details like assignments for openings and closings, you could also encourage them to “routinize” the planning process. For example, each month the senior patrol leader could assign a program patrol (for openings and closings) and a service patrol (for room setup and clean up). Or you could delegate detailed planning for each outing to a youth leader and an adult adviser, who would do their work outside the PLC meeting. Or you could set up a rotation for where you go to summer camp: in council in even-numbered years, out of council in odd-numbered years. Or you could do a better job at your annual planning conference of selecting outing dates and themes so the month-to-month planning is easier.

Actions like those would get the job done more efficiently and let the Scouts save some of their decision making power for something more important, like planning a game or researching new Dutch-oven cobbler recipes.

An Eagle Scout Certificate from the American Legion



One of Scouting’s oldest supporters is the American Legion, America’s largest service organization for wartime veterans. That’s no big surprise since honor, patriotism, and cool-looking uniforms are important to both groups.

The Legion sponsors Scout units that serve more than 60,000 young people across the country. It also makes available a colorful certificate you can present to any Eagle Scout, whether he has a Legion connection or not.

To access the certificate, visit the Legion’s Scouting web page. You’ll need to create a free account and specify the number of certificates you expect to present, but you can then download a fillable PDF like the one shown above.

While you’re on the Legion’s website, be sure to check out the information on the American Legion Eagle Scout of the Year program. (Note that nominees must have a Legion connection–either because they’re part of a Legion-chartered unit or because they’re the sons or grandsons of American Legion, Sons of the American Legion, or American Legion Auxiliary members.)

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

When Hype Hurts High Adventure



A few years ago, I got the “opportunity” to venture out to one of our local malls on Black Friday. I didn’t go at the crack of down–more like the crack of 10:30–but I found the crowds to be decidedly normal. Either the hardcore shoppers had maxed out their credit cards hours earlier or Black Friday wasn’t the shopping tsunami people have made out to be.

My personal theory, unsupported by research, is that the years-long hype about Black Friday has convinced most sane people to avoid the malls that day, much like local TV news shows’ constant reports of inner-city violence keep people away from neighborhoods that are actually pretty safe if you don’t venture out at 2 a.m. on Sunday or get involved in a drug deal gone bad. (Of course, online sales, Thanksgiving store hours, and other factors have had an impact as well.)

What’s the connection between Black Friday and Scouting? For years, Philmont Scout Ranch has had the reputation for being all but impossible to get into. I remember hearing a decade or more ago that there were as many units on the waiting list as received slots in a given summer, and I’ve talked to troop leaders who said they had been shut out for several years running.

I think stories like those (plus Philmont’s difficult-to-use phone-in reservation system, which has since been replaced with an online lottery system) have convinced a lot of troop leaders not to even try to get into the BSA’s premier high-adventure base. That’s too bad, because they could actually go next summer–yes, next summer–if they wanted to.

On the Philmont website, you can see a current list of open slots for the 2017 summer season. As of early November 2016, there were 293 slots for 12-day treks (arrival dates from July 19 through August 9), as well as 58 slots for 7-day treks in mid-August. Sure, many of these dates conflict with the national jamboree and others fall too late in the summer for those of us whose schools start up during the second week in August, but one of them might well work for your troop, especially if you have the backpacking skills and fundraising prowess to put together a contingent relatively quickly.

If the following year suits you better, you’re in luck as well. You have until midnight MST on Nov 16, 2016, to enter the lottery for the summer of 2018. And based on recent history, that’s a lottery you could easily win.

When Doing It Yourself Doesn’t Work at Eagle Courts of Honor



Wanting to make her son’s Eagle court of honor especially memorable, one of our troop moms decided to hire a caterer. She planned for the caterer to arrive and set up just before the ceremony was scheduled to begin.

As the clock ticked down, she prowled the entrance to the church, waiting in vain for the caterer to appear. Finally, she came inside for the ceremony, assuming (hoping? praying?) that the food would get to the church on time.

You can imagine her disappointment when she went into the reception room right after the ceremony and discovered there was no caterer and no food! (Fortunately, someone else had picked up the sheet cake from the bakery, and we had been able to scrounge soft drinks from the church kitchen as the ceremony proceeded.)

So, where was the caterer? At another church with a similar name about 10 miles away. This simple communications snafu guaranteed that the reception was memorable. In fact, I don’t think that mom will ever forget it!

You can draw two lessons from this cautionary tale. First, be absolutely clear that caterers, presenters, and guests know where your ceremony will be held. Specify the street address and provide maps if necessary.

Second, put someone other than family members in charge of important details like meeting a caterer, even if they have to skip the ceremony to get the job done. If a troop committee member had been on the lookout for that phantom caterer, for example, he could have placed a phone call when it was clear that nobody was going to show up and probably would have tracked down the missing food in time.

The More Things Stay the Same



The other day, a youth minister friend sent me an interesting article. Entitled “Five Reasons Today’s College Students Are Nothing Like We Were,” it explores how the collegiate environment has changed in recent decades–and how people working with college students should change their approach as a result.

As I read that article, I realized we do tend to assume the college experience hasn’t changed all that match since we were on campus. Oh sure, the dorms are nicer and technology has improved, but most of the basics seem the same: Our kids pledge the same fraternities and sororities as we did. The familiar game-day traditions continue during football season. Commencement exercises are just as long, and the keynote speeches are just as forgettable. But the more things stay the same, the more they change–under the surface.

The same is true for Scouting. I think those of us who were Scouts as kids are actually at a disadvantage as adult volunteers because we assume the program and the kids it serves haven’t changed that much: We still go camping every month. The uniforms look pretty much the same. Eagle Scout is still the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn. But underneath the surface, everything is different.

To serve today’s kids, we need to understand who they are, not who we were. That youth ministry article offered some advice that applies equally well to Scouting:

As we open ourselves to young people, remember that they are, in many ways, from a completely different planet than the one that existed when we went to college. May we not make assumptions about their planet and how life works on their world. May we ask questions, and expect answers that do not always make sense.

What kind of questions are you asking?