Think Globally But Act Locally


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the 2017 National Scout Jamboree will kick off in just a few weeks. You may have also heard someone complain that the jamboree serves “only” 35,000 or 40,000 Scouts and adults, leaving many times that number on the outside looking in. I hear similar complaints from troops that get shut out of Philmont Scout Ranch or that can’t afford a trip to Florida Sea Base.

What I would remind these people—and you—is that national-level programs can never serve more than a tiny fraction of our Scouts, both because of capacity and cost. You and I must to serve the rest.

Program is the responsibility of unit-level Scouters (working, of course, through youth leaders) not the job of folks who wear silver or gold shoulder loops. It’s wonderful that the BSA provides jamborees and national high-adventure bases, and it’s great that local councils offer summer camps and their own high-adventure activities. But the fact is that those activities can never do more than supplement the unit program.

As unit leaders, we need to look at these supplemental activities as steppingstones to a better unit program—not curse them as stumbling blocks when we can’t get in or when the costs are too high or the distances too great.

Some troops that can’t get into Philmont year after year forgo high-adventure activities altogether. But the smart ones find a local council that offers similar activities … or connect with an outfitter … or simply create their own adventures—perhaps spending a week on the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. Is the planning harder than getting ready for Philmont? Of course. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

So celebrate this year’s jamboree if you have Scouts going. But then get to work planning other awesome adventures for your Scouts who won’t be spending 10 days at the Summit Bechtel Reserve this summer.

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

Marshall McLuhan and the Eagle Court of Honor


Media critic Marshall McLuhan famously argued that the medium is the message. And there’s no doubt that the way in which a message is transmitted inevitably shapes the message. Just consider how you react to a TV report on a violent crime–complete with disturbing video–and a newspaper story about the same crime.

Far from the world of violent crime, the medium of an Eagle court of honor also shapes the message guests receive. If the room is comfortably full, the event will seem successful, but if the room is three-quarters empty–even with 150 people in the audience–there will be a negative vibe. If the setting is a courtroom or church sanctuary, the event will take on a more serious tone, but if the setting is a park, the event will feel more relaxed.


And if the setting is the U.S. embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria–as shown in the photo above–you can count a pretty impressive flag ceremony to kick off the ceremony. (You can see more photos from that 2017 court of honor at

Of course, if you don’t have U.S. diplomats in your troop, you’re not likely to hold your next court of honor in the great hall of an embassy, but I’m guessing you have troop families with access to impressive and appropriate venues. By selecting a venue that offers the right atmosphere, you can ensure that your medium and message match–and perhaps have your event featured in photos seen around the world.

For more great ideas, check out my 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

Summer Camp and Scoutmaster Conferences


It’s summer camp season. If you’re a Scoutmaster, that means you’ll probably spend a lot of time this summer sitting around a campsite somewhere.

Summer camp offers leaders a great chance to relax, but it’s also a great chance to hold Scoutmaster conferences with the Scouts in your troop. Unlike at troop meetings, it’s easy to find blocks of uninterrupted when you can meet with each Scout individually. (And a large campsite typically offers plenty of space to have a private conversation in full view of other Scouts and adults, as Youth Protection Guidelines require.)

Of course, most of your Scouts won’t be ready to advance in rank this summer, but that’s okay. There’s a common misconception that the Scoutmaster conference must be the last requirement signed off before the board of review. That’s simply not true. You can hold Scoutmaster conferences at any time, and they don’t even have to be tied to rank advancement. (For example, a Scout who isn’t advancing could benefit from a conference.)

In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I suggest that Scoutmaster conferences have five purposes:

  • To make sure the Scout is ready for his next rank—not in terms of retesting or reviewing but simply checking that he’s completed each requirement and that the requirements have been signed off in his book. For the higher ranks, I also like to write in what leadership positions he held and what service projects he completed.
  • To sign off on Scout spirit and participation requirements. Many Scoutmasters reserve the right to sign off on these two requirements as part of the Scoutmaster conference.
  • To build rapport. Find out how he’s doing in school, what his family is like, and what his hobbies are.
  • To explore problems. The Scoutmaster conference is a good opportunity to discuss behavior and attendance problems, as well as any problems the Scout sees in the troop (e.g., boring meetings, hazing by older Scouts). You need to keep the conversation positive, however.
  • To set goals. Scoutmaster conferences used to be called personal growth agreement conferences, and they were supposed to include the formal setting of some sort of goal that the Scout would work toward before his next rank. Try this in your Scoutmaster conferences—but be sure to check on the Scout’s progress the next time around.

You can accomplish these purposes back home, of course, but at this time of year the best place is probably at camp.

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

Courts of Honor and Last-minute Heroes


I love baseball, but I’ve never quite figured out the rule governing whether the starting pitcher gets the win (or takes the loss) or whether the closer gets credit for a victory. However that rule works–and feel free to explain it in the comments section–it doesn’t always seem fair to award the victory to a last-minute hero.

And what about that reliever who comes in to face a single batter? He doesn’t get any credit even though the out he earns may well prevent a grand slam. But I digress.

Eagle courts of honor can have their own last-minute heroes. Early in my time as Scoutmaster, I planned a court of honor for a Scout who’d spent most of his time under my predecessor. Traditionally, courts of honor give a lot of attention to the Scoutmaster–he or she is the one who typically handles the presentation phase of the ceremony–but that hardly seemed fair in this situation. So I made sure my predecessor had a prominent role to play in the ceremony.

You should do the same in your next court of honor if more than one Scoutmaster has worked with the honoree. Don’t let last-minute heroes like me hog the spotlight!

For more great ideas, check out my 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 the Temptation to Skip Summer in Your Troop


The BSA has struggled for years to get Cub Scout packs to maintain a year-round program. There’s even an award, the National Summertime Pack Award, that recognizes packs for doing what they should have been doing anyway.

Troops don’t get the summertime blues quite as badly as packs—probably because of summer camp and high-adventure trips—but some troops are still tempted to take most of the summer off. My advice: Resist the temptation. Taking an extended break over the summer slows advancement, interrupts your momentum, and makes starting up again in the fall difficult.

That’s not to say that your August program must look just like October’s. Far from it. In keeping with the season, your summertime program should probably take on a more leisurely feel. Here are a few ideas for adding interest to your summertime meetings:

  • Meet outdoors, perhaps at a local park. (This is actually something good to do year round!)
  • Switch to activity uniforms (Scout T-shirts instead of uniform shirts) while school is out of session.
  • Plan purely fun meetings instead of emphasizing advancement. For example, you could hold a bike rodeo or a patrol Olympiad.
  • Meet earlier in the evening than usual and fix dinner.
  • Take a field trip to a minor-league baseball game or a water park.

One of the biggest concerns with summertime activities is adult-leader burnout. This is a great time to encourage less-active parents to step up so some regular leaders can catch a break.
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

An Out-of-this-world Eagle Certificate


Way back in 1999, the very first tip on my Eagle Tips list (the forerunner of this blog) described how to request congratulatory letters from NASA astronauts. At the time, all you had to do was send a letter to the Johnson Space Center.

These days, you can save yourself a stamp. Instead of responding to thousands of mailed requests each year, NASA has made available a downloadable Eagle Scout certificate, which you can find at (There’s also a certificate for recipients of Girl Scouting’s Gold Award.)

Note: Back in the day, NASA certificates sometimes came with a autographed photo of an astronaut. (Who that was varied every few months.) While such photos were nice keepsakes, I totally understand the move by NASA and other agencies toward downloadable certificates. Last year, there were 55,186 new Eagle Scouts. If just 10 percent of them requested certificates, that would require the space agency under the old system to send out more than 100 certificates every week.

So what’s the best Eagle Scout certificate or letter you’ve seen? And how have you used these documents in your courts of honor? Post your thoughts in the comments section.

For more great ideas, check out my 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