Isaac Newton, Inertia, and Your Troop’s Trajectory


I recently followed an online discussion about why the BSA is turning out more Eagle Scouts these days than ever before. People suggested all sorts of reasons, and of course an old-timer or two argued that the requirements are considerably weaker than in the good old days when they became Eagle Scouts (casually forgetting that many of today’s Eagle projects would put their four-hour projects to shame).

There are probably several valid reasons for the increase in Eagle Scouts, but I think one of the biggest one dates back to 1686, when Isaac Newton presented his three laws of motion. The first of those laws, as you may remember from physics class, says that “every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.”

In Scouting terms, a troop that’s good at producing Eagle Scouts will keep on producing Eagle Scouts because it has the resources, the know-how, and, well, the inertia required to do so, while a troop that’s bad at producing Eagle Scouts will keep on struggling to establish a tradition of achievement.

But I think Newton’s law of inertia applies to more than just advancement. The more high adventure trips you plan, the easier they become to organize. The more times you neglect to hold a monthly outing, the harder it is to hold the next one. The more you use or ignore a method of Scouting, the stronger or weaker that aspect of your program becomes.

Troops tend to plod along or speed along at much the same pace unless an external factor speeds them up or slows them down. That factor could be the departure of a long-time Scoutmaster, the arrival of a dynamic new committee chair, a change in chartered organizations, an influx of new Scouts, or something else entirely. In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I argue that every troop has a natural membership level, which is will eventually return to regardless of how many boys in recruits. Now that I think about it, that’s more or less a restatement of Newton’s law of inertia.

Are you happy with your troop’s inertia? If not, what force can you apply to change its momentum?

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at


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